Microsoft Brings Desktop Management To The Cloud

Midmarket firms -- which Microsoft defines as having between 25 and 500 PCs -- don't often have large IT teams, and they usually scrape by with just one or two employees. In Microsoft's view, this makes them logical candidates for cloud services.

Microsoft says it's seeing a solid trend of midmarket customers migrating to cloud services, so the software giant is moving desktop management to the cloud as well.

"Windows Intune is a complete desktop infrastructure management solution-in-the-cloud that simplifies management and security of PCs, no matter where users are located," said Sandrine Skinner, a product marketing manager on the Windows Client team, in an interview.

Windows Intune borrows elements from several Microsoft products: It uses the same update engine as Windows Update, and it scans PCs for malware using the same antimalware engine as Microsoft's Forefront Endpoint and Security Essentials products. Inventorying and analysis of software and licenses on remote PCs is handled by Microsoft's Asset Inventory Service, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP).

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Windows Intune also complements Microsoft's existing portfolio of cloud services and will be sold through the same subscription model as Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS). And since Windows Intune includes a client piece that's installed on each PC, enabling the cloud connection through which the configuration information is accessed, it's also an example of Microsoft's Software Plus Services vision.

Microsoft isn't talking about licensing or pricing yet, but Windows Intune will come with upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise, and the idea is to allow companies to standardize all their PCs on Windows 7 Enterprise, according to Skinner. "For companies that are evaluating the cloud, Windows Intune complements and reaffirms the strategy," Skinner said.

Microsoft is limiting the beta to 1,000 customers in North America, Puerto Rico and Mexico. If all goes well, Microsoft will release Windows Intune about a year from now, Skinner said.