Microsoft puts desktop management in the cloud

Remember SCODM (System Center Online Desktop Manager), Microsoft’s first attempt at a hosted desktop management service? Announced just over a year ago it never really left the starting blocks.

Remember SCODM (System Center Online Desktop Manager), Microsoft’s first attempt at a hosted desktop management service? Announced just over a year ago it never really left the starting blocks. Since then, however, SCODM has morphed into Windows Intune and been released for beta testing in the US plus a couple of near neighbours. Moreover, there’s an added inducement, in the form of upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise, set to become part of the service when released.

Aimed at small to medium-sized companies (25-500 desktops), Intune is a true cloud solution based on multi-tenanted server software, hosted in Microsoft datacentres and managed remotely via a browser. Think of it as a hosted version of System Center Essentials (there are lots of interface similarities) but with a slightly reduced feature set plus a couple of security extras.

The end result is a set of tools to manage updates and monitor the health of your desktops, requiring the usual agent on every PC and notebook to be monitored. To this end the emphasis is very much on Windows 7, with some of the tools dependent on Microsoft’s new OS, although earlier PCs running Vista and XP Pro can also be supported.

Asset management, including hardware, software and licence tracking, is another core feature, along with centralised management of desktop security. Indeed, using the same technology behind the consumer-oriented Microsoft Security Essentials product and Forefront business suite, Intune will enable administrators to set and enforce security policies across all user machines, even those not connected to the corporate LAN.

Simplified remote assistance is another useful feature, but there are a few things missing from this first attempt. Such as tools to distribute application software, for example, or to manage third-party updates, although these are likely to be added later.

The upgrade rights included with Intune are an interesting new angle. At present only available to companies with volume licences buying into the Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) scheme, Intune customers will be able to upgrade any or all of their desktops to Windows 7 Enterprise. Similarly, Intune subscribers will also get access to the advanced deployment and management tools in the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP), otherwise only available to SA customers.

It sounds tempting but whether or not the target mid-range market will think it value for money remains to be seen. No prices have been announced as yet, with a vague “within a year” promise for general availability.

Alan Stevens