Microsoft formally launched its Windows Intune service at the Microsoft Management Summit on Wednesday, after a beta period that lasted a year. Hosted by Microsoft, Intune is designed to help mid-sized businesses with limited IT support better manage and secure their Windows PC. Businesses that subscribe to the service get access to a Web console to manage computers within their organization, and because it relies on the Internet, the service will work regardless of the physical location of the workstation that is being administrated.
Some of the tasks that can be done using Intune include applying Windows updates, managing security policies, tracking hardware and software inventory, as well as providing remote assistance. In essence, Intune will make it possible to quickly and remotely perform most of the tasks that an on-location system administrator is tasked to do.
Intune is priced at $11 per seat per month, and will cost an additional $1 per PC for a set of on-premise diagnostic tools called the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). The minimum subscription term is pegged at one year, though payments are made monthly. The service is offered directly from Microsoft, as well as from a list of Microsoft-sanctioned providers. Users will need to install the Windows Intune client, which will obviously need to be connected to the Internet. Do note that Intune is only available for newer versions of Windows-Windows XP Professional SP2 and later, Vista Business and better, or Windows 7 Professional and better.
Companies worried about platform support will be glad to know that the Intune service comes with Windows 7 upgrade rights, though it is understood that the license is provided on a non-perpetual basis. Microsoft is currently offering a free 30-day trial for Intune, which is available in 35 countries including the U.S., the UK and Canada. You can see the full list of supported regions on page 8 of the Windows Intune Purchase and Support Guide (pdf).
Intune forms part of Microsoft's strategy to offer more services via the cloud. Other cloud-based solutions that have been launched are Windows Azure, a hosted version of Microsoft's Exchange Server and the recently unveiled Office 365 offering. According to PCWorld, Microsoft General Manager of Windows Product Management Gavriella Schuster noted that: "Our goal is to take all of our on-premise offerings and move them into the cloud." Microsoft intends to eventually offer services such as System Center and Service Manager as a service, and envisages even large enterprises moving to Intune "three or four years from now."
I haven't tried Intune yet, though it is easy to see why the service will be compelling to many SMBs. Without having to invest in costly server software and hardware, small- and mid-sized businesses can get access to management and audit capabilities that were previously only available to enterprises-and with a large dose of security management features thrown in for good measure.