Analysis: Recurring Revenues Keep Resellers, Microsoft InTune

Azure may have taken center stage at Bob Muglia's opening keynote at the TechEd conference In New Orleans last week, but Microsoft's nascent cloud development platform was barely mentioned at a confidential pre-conference reporters' briefing. Though much of what was discussed was under non-disclosure, Microsoft did reveal one major opportunity that resellers may want to pursue.

Windows Intune is Microsoft's cloud-based PC management and security system. While we can't reveal exactly when it will be open for public beta testing, from the looks of the demo, it will likely be soon enough that you'll still have the air conditioning on.

In a live demo, a Silverlight-based dashboard presented a three-paned system overview page with system types displayed vertically on the left, statistics about the selected system in the center and available tasks on the right.

"Our intention is to have cloud-based offerings of all the things people can do in-house today," said Alex Heaton, group product manager for Windows Intune.

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Indeed, much of Intune's functionality is already available as Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), on which Intune is based. So when should a reseller recommend cloud-based management? "If you have on-premise [management], you're pretty much good, [and you should] keep using it," Heaton said.

But for SMBs looking to outsource maintenance of their Windows PCs, Intune can help resellers solve the problems of multiple Windows versions, application license reconciliation, patch and malware administration, data backup and recovery and inventory and maintenance of systems in multiple locations such as branch and home offices.

"Intune is not about Microsoft managing desktops [or] desktops in the cloud, it's about enabling IT pros and partners to do so [with] management in the cloud," he said. Customer data will be encrypted and remain the responsibility of its owner.

When the customer signs up for the service (through a forthcoming portal), the reseller can be designated as the administrator of record, and will receive 18 percent of the revenue for the first year, six percent thereafter.

Managed machines require an Internet connection and must be running Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate or Pro, Vista Enterprise Ultimate or Business, or XP Pro SP3, and service is limited to those versions. Once PCs are enrolled through the portal, a company-specific MSI is created, and can be distributed to each managed PC through a group policy (for Domain users), via e-mail or any existing distribution tool.

Next: Intune's Limitations

Intune will have a few limitations.

For instance, to qualify for maintenance, machines must have had Windows installed through a volume purchase agreement.

Also, customers pay Microsoft directly for the service. And despite the assumption "that sales will go through partners and not directly through Microsoft," the reseller will not be permitted to buy subscriptions on behalf of a customer.

The rationale for this, according to Heaton, is that "if a company falls out with a reseller, they can remove the reseller as an administrator and tell Microsoft they're no longer the administrator of record."

Also, remote assist cannot be done without first being requested by the client, and there will be no agent for non-Windows operating systems (read Linux and Mac OS X), making Intune incapable of performing a complete inventory report.

Still, Microsoft appears well along with its cloud-based management service, demonstrating the ability to monitor groups of remote machines, send malware alerts, manage updates and apply service packs for anything in Microsoft's update catalog.

Resellers also can easily render remote assistance, deploy centralized backup, perform spot-checks of hardware and software inventory and effectively service multiple clients from a single console. And when recurring revenue is involved, resellers will want to take a look.

Pricing was not disclosed.