A definitive scorecard on the giants -- and nimble upstarts

Trying to get a grasp on the performance of thousands of tech companies could take a supercomputer. Silicon Valley is the prime pacesetter for innovation, but companies around the globe often are unheralded engines of change. And while tech's behemoths are closely watched, nimble upstarts sometimes end up flying under the radar.

That's why the Information Technology 100 is such a remarkable tool. From the beginning, this five-year-old list was designed to give insight into the dynamics of the tech industry. To do this, we work with our sister company, Standard & Poor's, to crunch data on hundreds of companies around the globe.

Sure, the Info Tech 100 gives a definitive scorecard of the performance of the giants. Companies like Dell, Nokia, and Microsoft managed to sidestep the worst of the tech slump last year and rank near the top of this year's list. But it also shines a light on companies that aren't daily bywords. No. 1 Nextel turned in an extraordinary year selling mobile-phone service with a unique walkie-talkie capability. University of Phoenix Online (APOL ) earned the No. 17 spot by targeting working adults as students for its online university, instead of kids fresh out of college. Now more than 67,000 students are enrolled.

Still, the big guys remain a staple of the Info Tech 100 for one compelling reason. They are setting the course for the industry. Info Tech 100 lists in the future will help determine how effectively they lead the way.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.