Microsoft Windows Intune: Better Way to Manage PCs?

Microsoft just launched Windows Intune, a Web-based service to let IT manage chores including updates, service packs, inventory and security. Will Windows Intune, aimed at companies with 25 to 500 PCs, save money on management costs?

Windows Intune, Microsoft's Web-based PC management and security platform, is available today for purchase or for a 30-day free trial.

In a nutshell, Windows Intune is a Web-based console where IT administrators can manage the deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs to all PCs, keep track of hardware and software inventory, fix PC issues remotely, manage protection from malware threats and set security policies. It can be accessed anywhere an Internet connection is available.

A Windows Intune purchase also includes upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise and future versions of Windows.

Microsoft is aiming Windows Intune at companies with 25 to 500 PCs, as businesses of this size typically don't have the resources to manage and configure servers in an on-premise desktop management environment.

However, feedback from testers of Windows Intune's second beta revealed more interest from enterprises in Windows Intune than Microsoft had expected.

Although 62 percent of Microsoft enterprise customers use on-premise SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) software to manage their fleets of PCs, a significant amount expressed interest in a lighter, cloud-based PC management suite such as Windows Intune, says Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's general manager of Windows product management.

"Not all our enterprise customers use SCCM and many are looking for a cloud-based service that does end-to-end PC management, and that means security protection, patch management and hardware and software inventory all from one Web console," says Schuster.

To that end, Microsoft is building parts of high-end, on-premise Microsoft enterprise products such as SCCM, Forefront Endpoint Protection and MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack) into Windows Intune.

Microsoft also plans to integrate Windows Intune with the upcoming cloud version of Office, called Office 365, so that IT pros can use Intune to deploy and manage Office in the cloud.

Windows Intune does not support mobile devices currently; it just supports any version of Windows client (i.e. PCs). But Schuster hinted that increased support for mobile devices in the next version of SCCM could make its way into future versions of Windows Intune.

Although Microsoft built its business (and its fortune) on software running on servers, it is now positioning Windows Intune as a key way to reduce server management and give customers the "hybrid" option of mixing cloud services and on-premise software to manage PCs.

"We are predicting that 70 percent of our customers will be using on-prem and cloud in the next few years," says Schuster. "IT departments are moving from managing servers to managing users."

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