By providing two distinct perspectives on the market, the annual SQL Server Magazine Editors' Best and Community Choice award programs offer a unique way to recognize the hottest products among the past year's offerings. Our Editors' Best program highlights products that SQL Server Magazine editors and contributors believe are worthy of recognition, whereas our Community Choice program lets our readers decide which products are the best.

For the Community Choice program, we didn't just present a predefined list of products and services that limited your selection. Instead, we let you nominate your favorites, built the voting survey from there, and let everyone participate in the final voting phase. For our Editors' Best program, we also reached out to readers to find out how the Gold winners help you do your jobs. We spoke to real users about real experiences, and we hope these testimonials benefit you in your environment. In these pages, you'll find our Gold, Silver, and Bronze Editors' Best winners directly adjacent to the Community Choice winners in each category. Sometimes our editors and readers agreed on favorite products and services in a given category, but more often they didn't. Choosing favorites from such a competitive field can be a challenge, but this year's winners show an uncommon breadth of functionality and originality.

Do you agree with our editors' choices? Or do our readers' picks carry more weight? Let us know! Regardless of whether the winners were chosen by editors or readers, you can be sure that all these products are worth serious consideration if you're in the market for a new tool.

Best Backup and Recovery Software Product

Editors' Best

GOLD: SQL Backup Pro • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

SILVER: LiteSpeed for SQL Server • Quest Software • www.quest.com

BRONZE: SQL safe backup • Idera • www.idera.com

Why It Won: Red Gate Software's SQL Backup Pro stands out in the SQL Server backup market thanks in part to two features: The product provides network resilience, which allows your backups to pick up seamlessly from where they left off in the event of a network outage, and a fourth compression level, which lets you achieve higher backup compression rates.

"We had a situation where backups were taking far too long to complete and where network latency was causing backup failures. While we are in the middle of an infrastructure overhaul, we needed to address the existing situation quickly and reliably," says SQL Backup Pro customer Kiara Rodemaker, the manager of IT Accounting Services at Czarnowski. According to Rodemaker, her team chose SQL Backup Pro over other SQL Server backup tools because "SQL Backup Pro combines ease of use with great value for the price. It installs easily and ultimately just works well." Rodemaker says that SQL Backup Pro provides "reliable backups that compress well, don't fail, and can be automatically moved across the network."

Community Choice

GOLD: SQL Backup Pro • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

SILVER: SQL safe backup • Idera • www.idera.com

BRONZE: LiteSpeed for SQL Server • Quest Software • www.quest.com

Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • Symantec's NetBackup
  • CA's ARCserve Backup
  • Acronis's Backup & Recovery

"SQL Backup Pro reduced the size of our SQL Server native backups by 75 percent." 

Best Business Intelligence and Reporting Tool

Editors' Best

GOLD: BI xPress • Pragmatic Works • pragmaticworks.com

SILVER: Attunity SQL Server-CDC for SSIS • Attunity • www.attunity.com

BRONZE: Tableau Server • Tableau Software • www.tableausoftware.com

Why It Won: Pragmatic Works' BI xPress enables you to efficiently develop, deploy, and maintain standardized SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages.

Daren W. Wagner, Design & Solution Architecture, Application Engineering at Ernst & Young, explains that his company was looking for a solution that would improve the productivity of its SSIS developer, while also standardizing the operational support of SSIS packages. The company chose BI xPress because it allows for real-time monitoring of the SSIS packages running on the server, and the package builder feature lets the company reuse components and accelerate script development. According to Wagner, the greatest benefit of the product is the "auditing and monitoring framework, which helps to track down performance issues and defects in SSIS packages."

Community Choice

GOLD: Attunity SQL Server-CDC for SSIS • Attunity • www.attunity.com

SILVER: BI xPress • Pragmatic Works • pragmaticworks.com

BRONZE: List & Label • combit • www.combit.net

Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • Tableau Software's Tableau Server
  • SAP Business Objects' Crystal Reports
  • Microsoft PowerPivot

"Attunity provides [business intelligence] flexibility in real time for users!" 

Best Database Development Tool

Editors' Best

GOLD: SQL Developer Bundle • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

SILVER: Toad for SQL Server • Quest Software • www.quest.com

BRONZE: Rapid SQL XE2 • Embarcadero Technologies • www.embarcadero.com

Why It Won: Productivity is vital for every database developer, and Red Gate Software's SQL Developer Bundle is a collection of 10 essential SQL Server development tools that are both powerful and easy to use.

"Red Gate's SQL Developer Bundle includes SQL Prompt, which provides IntelliSense-like help for writing T-SQL scripts," says Michael Otey, technical director for SQL Server Magazine. "It also provides SQL Source Control, which facilitates team development, as well as SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare, which let you compare and synchronize databases. In addition, the SQL Search tool enables you to quickly find database objects. The tools in the SQL Developer Bundle are integrated with SQL Server Management Studio, making them easy to assess and use."

Community Choice

GOLD: Toad for SQL Server • Quest Software • www.quest.com

SILVER: SQL Toolbelt • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

BRONZE: PowerShell Plus • Idera • www.idera.com

Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • Red Gate Software's SQL Prompt
  • Embarcadero Technologies' Rapid SQL XE2
  • Red Gate Software's SQL Developer Bundle

"Toad knows the way."

Best Database Management Product

Editors' Best

GOLD: SQL toolbox • Idera • www.idera.com

SILVER: DBArtisan XE2 • Embarcadero Technologies • www.embarcadero.com

BRONZE: Event Manager for SQL Server • SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.com

Why It Won: Idera's SQL toolbox is a rich collection of database management tools.

"Managing a production database involves a diverse set of tasks, all of which are important and cover a wide range of activities," says Michael Otey, technical director for SQL Server Magazine. "Idera's SQL toolbox helps the DBA perform the most important of these management tasks. SQL toolbox includes the SQL admin toolset for system-monitoring diagnostics and troubleshooting. It also includes a number of other important utilities. The SQL comparison toolset compares data and schema, SQL safe lite provides compressed backups, and the SQL virtual database enables quick database recovery. One feature that sets Idera's SQL toolbox apart from other database management tools is its SQL doctor feature, which provides an easy-to-use wizard that helps non-DBAs diagnose and remediate SQL Server performance and tuning problems."

Community Choice

GOLD: SQL Toolbelt • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

SILVER: Event Manager for SQL Server • SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.com

BRONZE: SQL admin toolset • Idera • www.idera.com

Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • Embarcadero Technologies' DBArtisan XE2
  • Red Gate Software's SQL Compare
  • Idera's SQL toolbox

"SQL Toolbelt is a great choice for folks looking for a cost-effective option, and it comes complete with everything you need to maintain healthy databases." 

Best Database Monitoring and Performance Product

Editors' Best

GOLD: Performance Advisor for SQL Server • SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.com

SILVER: Spotlight on SQL Server Enterprise • Quest Software • www.quest.com

BRONZE: SQL Monitor • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

Why It Won: SQL Sentry's Performance Advisor for SQL Server provides deep and comprehensive performance monitoring.

"This product's performance dashboard provides you with the overall health of the server instance from a single pane of glass," says Michael Otey, technical director for SQL Server Magazine, "and it also allows you to switch between real-time and historical performance analysis. Query Plan Analysis lets you quickly find high-cost query plans by color-coding the different query tasks. One feature that really sets Performance Advisor apart from other performance-monitoring solutions is it graphical disk-space display, which shows database utilization by disk."

Community Choice

GOLD: SQL diagnostic manager • Idera • www.idera.com

SILVER: SQL Monitor • Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

BRONZE: Performance Advisor for SQL Server • SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.com

 Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • Quest Software's Spotlight on SQL Server Enterprise
  • Pearl Knowledge Solutions' SQLCentric
  • Confio Software's Ignite for SQL Server

"SQL diagnostic manager is the primary diagnostic tool for our business—it's always open on my screen!" 

Best Security/Auditing/Compliance Tool

Editors' Best

GOLD: SQL compliance manager • Idera • www.idera.com

SILVER: Security Explorer • ScriptLogic • www.scriptlogic.com

BRONZE: ChangeAuditor for SQL Server • Quest Software • www.quest.com

Why It Won: Providing proof that a company is meeting its regulatory-compliance requirements is a major pain point for DBAs. But auditing doesn't need to be difficult, if you have the right tools. Idera's SQL compliance manager continues to rate best-in-class by providing low-impact, real-time auditing of all user activity as well as data and object changes. The product offers filters so that you're collecting only the data that is needed to fulfill auditing requirements, lets you create alerts for more than 200 SQL Server event types, and provides reports that enable you to easily demonstrate that regulatory requirements are being satisfied.

"Due to our requirement to be PCI-DSS compliant as we deal with credit card payments for various customers, we required a tool that would easily enable us to audit activities within our databases," says Kevin Chant, a SQL Server database administrator at HTEC. "We noticed that [SQL compliance manager] was used by other PCI-DSS compliant vendors in the industry, and after testing it we realized that this product was our best option due to its pricing strategy and simplicity." Kevin goes on to say he has found several benefits to using SQL compliance manager. The product is simple to install and configure. In addition, the GUI provides an array of options that lets his team audit and filter a vast range of database activities. Finally, Idera offers levels of support "from account management to customer support," says Chant.

Community Choice

GOLD: SQL compliance manager • Idera • www.idera.com

SILVER: Symantec Endpoint Protection • Symantec • www.symantec.com

BRONZE: ChangeAuditor for SQL Server • Quest Software • www.quest.com

Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • Idera's SQL secure
  • Symantec's Control Compliance Suite

"I’ve tried several auditing products, and Idera's SQL compliance manager is the only one that has lived up to my expectations." 

Best Storage Hardware Product

Editors' Best

GOLD: Hyper ISE • XIO Storage • www.xiostorage.com

SILVER: Drobo B1200i • Data Robotics • www.drobo.com

BRONZE: StorSimple Appliance • StorSimple • www.storsimple.com

Why It Won: At a turning point in the trajectory of the storage industry, XIO Storage-with its awesome Hyper ISE-is pioneering a unique path that focuses on performance rather than capacity.

"Microsoft Partner Solutions Center (MPSC) hardware-testing projects are designed to put maximum stress on systems so that customers can have the utmost confidence in deploying them in support of business-critical functions," says David Hayes, director of the MPSC. "In such a demanding context, XIO Hyper ISE performed beyond our wildest expectations with the [hard disk drive/solid-state drive] solution that we tested. Where most storage systems have underperformed before, we felt like we hardly put a dent in the Hyper ISE performance potential. We estimate it would take an increase of workload by a factor of 10 to push the Hyper ISE we tested to its actual performance threshold. We're looking forward to deploying it in the MPSC environment."

Community Choice

GOLD: ioDrive• Fusion-io • www.fusionio.com

SILVER: EMC VNX Family • EMC • www.emc.com

BRONZE: Dell EqualLogic SAN• Dell • www.dell.com

Other hot products in this year's survey …

  • HP's StorageWorks solutions
  • EMC's VMAX

"Fusion-io is the future!" 

Best Free Tool

Editors' Best

GOLD: SQL Sentry Plan Explorer • SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.com

SILVER: SQL Server Maintenance Solution • Ola Hallengren • ola.hallengren.com

BRONZE: SSMS Tools Pack • Mladen Prajdic • www.ssmstoolspack.com

Why It Won: SQL Sentry Plan Explorer is a free tool that provides the ability to view plan details from seven perspectives, letting you more easily read SQL Server execution plan details.

"You can use SQL Sentry's Plan Explorer to get faster performance and tuning information from SQL Server query plans," says SQL Server Magazine author Kevin Kline in his Tool Time article "Plan Explorer."  In "Plan Explorer," Kline explains that this free tool's readability and usability features are efficient and easy to use, and they make analyzing SQL Server execution plans a snap.

Community Choice

GOLD: SQL Server Maintenance Solution • Ola Hallengren • ola.hallengren.com

SILVER: SQL Sentry Plan Explorer • SQL Sentry • www.sqlsentry.com

BRONZE: CA ERwin Data Modeler Community Edition• CA Technologies • www.erwin.com

Other hot tools in this year's survey …

  • combit's List & Label Free Edition
  • Idera's SQL check
  • Adam Machanic's Who Is Active?

"Hands down, one of the best tools out there! If you’re responsible for a database, you should be using Ola's scripts. It’s very comprehensive, is efficient with resources, has numerous options, and is a brilliant piece of SQL coding!"

Best Vendor Tech Support

GOLD: Microsoft • www.microsoft.com

SILVER: Idera • www.idera.com

BRONZE: Red Gate Software • www.red-gate.com

Fun Server Names You've Seen

1. Skywalker, Solo, Leia, Kenobi, Vader, Chewbacca …

2. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Uhura, Sulu …

3. Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli …

4. Logan, Xavier, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Beast, Mystique …

5. SQLFEE, SQLFI, SQLFO, and SQLFUM

6. A server called Server. My little girl has a dolly called Dolly and a mouse called Mouse, but somehow Server isn't nearly as cute.

7. Named after Quark particle orientation or flavor: Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Bottom, and Top

8. Each server was named after a precious metal (Gold, Silver, etc.) and each workstation was named with a Periodic Table abbreviation (Tn, Pb, etc.).

9. DigDug, MoonPatrol, Joust, KungFu, Frogger, and Pong

10. HOMEY1, HOMEY2, DOWNTOWN, UPTOWN, MOTOWN

What's the Highest Number of SQL Server Systems You've Ever Seen in One Environment?

1. I'm too old to count that high.

2. 100,000

3. 49,000

4. 12,000

5. 5,000

6. 3,000

7. 2,500

8. 1,100

9. 500

10. 2

What's the Number-One Thing You Should Never Do to a SQL Server System?

1. Submerge it in water.

2. Shrink the database!

3. Let someone else have the admin password.

4. Run any sort of a delete statement without BEGIN TRANSACTION... END TRANSACTION. You never know when you're going to screw up (or outright forget) your Where clause.

5. Ignore it for even a minute!

6. Run scripts indiscriminately on the production server.

7. Configure your SQL server with only one drive letter.

8. Try unknown scripts on a production database.

9. Use a write-caching SCSI controller and shut down the server hard.

10. Install with the default configuration.

Your Favorite SQL Server Bloggers

1. Brent Ozar

2. Adam Machanic

3. Robert Pearl

4. Andy Warren

5. Pinal Dave

6. Grant Fritchey

7. Kalen Delaney

8. Steve Jones

9. Paul S. Randal

10. Kimberly L. Tripp