Microsoft goes public with its plan to manage Windows, iOS and Android devices

Microsoft takes the official wraps off its newest version of its Windows Intune management service and its System Center 2012 platform for managing Microsoft and non-Microsoft mobile devices.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

On January 15, Microsoft went public with its product portfolio for managing iOS, Android, Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 devices from the cloud.

Microsoft officials shared publicly the details about the company's so-called Cloud OS management plans during a 30-minute Webcast for press and analysts on January 15.

The Redmondians are offering IT managers two primary ways to do this: Via Windows Intune cloud-management service and/or via its Systems Center 2012 systems-management suite. Microsoft is positioning its systems- and mobile-device management components as part of its Cloud OS, which is becoming the company's uber-brand for all of its products from its Server and Tools division, including Windows Azure, Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server and Visual Studio.

Microsoft quietly rolled out the fourth version of its Windows Intune service (codenamed Wave D) in December 2012. Since that time, only new users have had access to this version, which adds the ability to manage Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 devices. Existing Windows Intune users have had to wait until this week February to get the latest version of the service, which is hosted on Microsoft's Windows Azure public cloud.

Microsoft originally added iOS and Android device management capabilities to Windows Intune with Version 3. But the new version of the Intune service is less reliant on the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol for managing most mobile devices (other than Android-based ones).

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Microsoft also released the first service pack for its SystemS Center 2012 product in December 2012. SP1 adds the ability to manage Windows Server 2012, SQL Server 2012 and Windows 8. The Configuration Manager SP1 component is what's enabling mobile-device management.

Both of these management products also enable sideloading of corporate apps on Windows and Windows RT mobile devices. Intune provides a Company Portal app out of the box, which is available from the Windows Store. Companies can populate the portal with corporate/line-of-business apps it wants its users to install. Admins optionally can use a Windows Intune add-on for Configuration Manager to implement the company portal app for internal distribution.

Microsoft also announced during the Webcast that Windows Azure Services for Windows Server is now generally available to Microsoft's hosting-service providers. Azure Services for Windows Server, which Microsoft released  in test form last year, adds some of Windows Azure's capabilities to Windows Server. These add-on services include hosted virtual machines; support for high-density Web sites; a service-management portal; and a service-management programming interface (codenamed Katal). Microsoft may opt, at some point, to make Azure Services for Windows Server available to its larger customers, as well.

Microsoft officials also unveiled a Web-app-performance monitoring service running on Windows Azure and complement to System Center 2012 SP1 known as Global Service Monitor. Global Service Monitor is in preview now and will be final in March 2013.

Microsoft is offering Windows Intune at two price points: A $6 per user per month version that doesn't include Software Assurance and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) tools, and a $11 per user per month version that adds Software Assurance/MDOP.

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