If you look at the desktop PC side of Microsoft's business, there are two distinct areas: the operating system (and all that supports it) and the applications. Microsoft launched its BPOS-hosted e-mail and SharePoint offering a couple of years ago, and they are said to have more than 40 million users worldwide. Later this year it will upgrade that offering to Office 365, which adds a hosted version of Office 2010 to the options. I think it's safe to say that Microsoft has fully completed a cloud version of its desktop applications. Many analysts and experts had been wondering what the plans on the other side of the business were-what will be the cloud strategy for the operating system.
Microsoft Intune seems to be the first attempt at that answer. Put simply: Intune is a cloud-based service that IT professionals and businesses can use to manage their computers. There is an agent that gets installed onto the system, and from a single Web console, you can log in, check the status, compile licensing and hardware inventories, and deploy patches, anti-malware and anti-virus software. You can also see a rolled-up view of alerts, problems or issues that may be impacting your environment.
Intune is a monthly service; the price is $11 per machine per month. This includes not only the cloud service described above, but also a Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade license. So, for $11 per computer per month, you get to standardize your environment on the latest operating system platform, and get a pretty slick centralized management portal for optimizing the performance of your network. Plus, you get the ability to manage your network from anywhere, and get a simple, centralized view of all your assets. It truly seems like Microsoft has moved everything associated with the operating system (other than the OS itself) to the cloud.
This offering stops short of being a complete cloud computing service. Who knows if a day will come when Microsoft tells you to just buy dumb terminals and lets you subscribe to virtual desktops in the cloud that already have all your applications installed. It certainly seems like that is a logical progression. Like anything else though, people need to crawl before they can walk or run. I think this is the walking stage. Offloading a large part of your computer systems management to a cloud solution is a pretty big step for some businesses. The way Microsoft has positioned this offering makes it pretty easy to stomach. You are still in complete control of your assets and your technology, all you are removing is the burden of mundane (but very important) system management. I think this is the type of service offering a lot of CIOs, CTOs and business owners will be comfortable with. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.