Microsoft goes

Microsoft Corp.’s cloud-based desktop management service Windows Intune officially went live on Wednesday.

The Web-based management platform will let IT administrators roll out software updates and keep their fleet of Windows PCs secure. The service, which was launched at this week’s Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, is available to businesses for either purchase or a 30-day, 25 PC trial.

The base price of the service is $14 per PC a month and also comes bundled with automatic upgrade rights to a subscription of Windows 7 Enterprise. The first pricing break comes when users buy 250 PCs or more, with several pricing levels up until 10,000 PCs.

Microsoft said this will let enterprises standardize on the same operating system at the same time they’re centralizing their management capability. The installation includes a one-time setup of a software agent on each PC.

The platform also brings together Microsoft services such as System Center Configuration Manager, Forefront Endpoint Protection, and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack.

Microsoft describes Intune as a way to “integrate and deliver similarly rich functionality as on-premises products” like System Center Configuration Manager, Forefront Endpoint Protection, and the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).

Alex Heaton, a group product manager with Microsoft’s Intune unit, said the company is targeting mid-sized businesses with the release, which includes shops that have less than 1,000 machines.

“These shops probably don’t know all the software they have on their PCs,” he said. “It’s probably a mix of older versions of Office. They might not even be sure if they’re licenced on all the services they’re running.”

But while these shops are the near-term target for the Redmond, Wash. software giant, Heaton said the platform will eventually make sense for large enterprises as well.

“We have a beta customer using it for 3,000 PCs, so we’re not limiting it to smaller-sized businesses,” he said. “We don’t see any limitations on customers adopting cloud services.”

One of the reasons small and medium-sized businesses don’t have a centralized management solution in place is because it takes a great deal of management staff, server equipment and training.

Sandi Conrad, a senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Inc., said that even though the platform is scalable above 1,000 PCs, large organizations will already have the infrastructure in place and on-premise.

“For larger organizations, this doesn’t change the fact that they’ll still have to do the administration work and push out the updates,” she said, adding that the platform could work as a complement to an enterprise with a large fleet of remote workers.

In future releases, she said, more software distribution options for third-party apps will need to be added to the platform.

But despite being unfit for larger shops, Conrad said the product should be considered at sub-1,000-machine IT departments that are looking for more effective inventory and licence management capabilities.

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