Microsoft Unveils Second Windows Intune Beta


Microsoft Monday released the second public beta of Windows Intune, its cloud-based desktop management service, and revealed what it plans to charge when it launches the offering early next year.

At the opening of its annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., Microsoft said it will charge $11 per PC, per month for Windows Intune. For this, customers get Windows Intune's management and antimalware features as well as upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise. For an additional $1 per seat, per month, customers can get on-premise management tools from the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).

Windows Intune's second beta adds an improved management console that lets partners see and manage all of their customers simultaneously, enabling them to respond quickly to issues when they arise. Partners can choose to have alerts delivered through the dashboard or via e-mail, said Alex Heaton, a product manager in Microsoft's Windows Product Management group, in an interview.

"Being able to see alerts from multiple customers all on one page is a feature designed specifically in response to partner feedback," said Heaton.

Microsoft is also expanding the Windows Intune beta to a larger set of partners and customers. The first beta, released in April, was limited to 1,000 users, but Microsoft is now bumping that up to 10,000 slots for five- to 25-seat customers and partners in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, U.K. and Italy.

Windows Intune is an emerging part of Microsoft's cloud strategy and one with specific relevance to the MSP channel. Customers currently have multiple solutions in place for management, inventorying and security, and Windows Intune brings all of these together in a single cloud-based offering, said Heaton.

"Windows Intune makes sense for customers that don't have a management solution in place and need this basic level of IT infrastructure," Heaton said. "Most of these are in the small- and medium-business space."

MSPs are excited about Windows Intune's ability to manage customer networks, said Jerod Powell, co-founder and CEO of InfinIT Consulting, a San Jose, Calif.-based solution provider. "This is a great foot in the door for partners, and a great way to generate recurring revenue," he said.

But Microsoft still has some tweaking to do in terms of making Windows Intune more applicable for MSP environments, Powell noted. "MSPs can drop a ton of clients on Windows Intune, but Microsoft needs to make it more multitenant-friendly. It still falls short of what your typical MSP needs."

Windows Intune uses pieces from several Microsoft products: It uses the Windows Update engine and the antimalware engine from Forefront Endpoint and Security Essentials. Inventorying and analysis of software and licenses on remote PCs is handled by Microsoft's Asset Inventory Service, part of MDOP.

Powell sees Windows Intune ultimately becoming an alternative to desktop management offerings from Kaseya and Dell. The advantage Microsoft has in this case is deeper integration than rivals can provide, said Powell.

"It's hard to find tools that work better with Microsoft systems than Microsoft tools," Powell said. "Patch management is one example, and Forefront tends to not let viruses through while solutions will. And the price point of Windows Intune is awesome."

If customers stop their Windows Intune subscriptions, they'll have to obtain a license to continue using Windows 7 Enterprise. Powell says this is one aspect of Windows Intune that partners will have to clearly explain to their customers.

"There are risks for the partner because at the end of the day we will deal with fallout if the customer does leave. There is some concern there," said Powell. "We have to make sure there's a clear understanding between us and the customer. Customers that have Open Value will understand this because it's the same drill; you lose rights when you stop paying."