Channel Partners: Microsoft Windows Intune Not a Threat

By Steve Wexler

Those entrenched in the managed services market could have viewed Microsoft’s announcement this week of the Microsoft Windows Intune hosted managed service as a competitive threat that could disrupt the growing market for managed services.

But instead, those contacted by Channel Insider said they are enthusiastic about the Microsoft Windows Intune offering.

Microsoft is piloting a managed services offering for customers with 25 to 500 personal computers. On April 19 Microsoft announced the limited beta -- involving 1,000 partners and customers -- of Windows Intune.

Pricing and channel compensation are still to be worked out, and a commercial release date is expected to be at least a year away.

According to Microsoft, with the cloud service component of Windows Intune, partners and customers will be able to:

  • manage PCs from anywhere via a web-based console;
  • centrally manage the deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs to all PCs;
  • protect PCs from the latest threats with malware protection built on the Microsoft Malware Protection Engine that can be managed through the Web-based console;
  • proactively receive alerts on updates and threats before they can cause problems;
  • resolve PC issues remotely;
  • track hardware and software inventory to manage assets, licenses, and compliance;
  • and centrally manage update, firewall, and malware protection policies, even on remote machines outside the corporate network.

Besides the Windows cloud service component, Windows Intune also includes Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights to standardize PCs on a single version of Windows, and the advanced tools included in the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) for more critical troubleshooting and complex PC management tasks (i.e. drive recovery and virtualization).

"I think it's a great move for Microsoft," says MSP platform provider Level Platforms Inc. CEO Peter Sandiford. "There are a lot of companies that don't have a way of managing their PCs." He believes it will set the groundwork for what is required, and that if you've got PCs, you've got to do these things.

"I think it will establish the floor, and anybody clearly not doing that isn't achieving core best practices in the industry. These are all things we're doing and our managed service partners are selling."

President of large Toronto-based MSP/solution provider Compugen, Harry Zarek, has seen an early preview of Intune and agrees with Sandiford that this is a positive move for Microsoft and MSPs.

"From our point of view, it helps with the vast education effort that we need to do," he told Channel Insider. Managed services brings in millions of dollars in revenue annually to Compugen, and Zarek believes the industry is going to go through a period where there will be a lot of experimentation on a lot of models to support a segment of the market which is underserved.

"I think it draws to customers' attention the question of do they need to do all these things internally or should they look to other organizations to do them instead. Having Microsoft do this legitimizes this, provides a ground floor."

Unlike Compugen, NuWay IT generates 90 percent to 95 percent of its revenues from managed services, says president and CEO Don Begg. But he agrees with both Compugen and LPI that Intune should help spread the word about the value of managed services and provide a stripped-down service that will help many customers but not compete with the more sophisticated and extensive offerings of MSPs.

He thinks it should appeal to customers looking to get more out of or minimize their IT resources and would consider outsourcing the more mundane tasks.

"Outsourced IT support services are definitely picking up interest," he says. Begg attributes that to two factors, part economic, and part businesses looking to gain greater value from their inhouse IT resources, aligning them to their business processes.

Sandiford says LPI has seen a dramatic increase in customers as the recession ebbs. And while Microsoft's Intune should attract strong interest, it shouldn't be a concern to MSPs.

For service providers you can't just look at PCs, he says. You need to look at the entire infrastructure, including servers, storage, routers, switches as well as a lot of different applications. He says his MSPs will now be able to say here's what Microsoft is doing, and here's that plus everything else that we're offering.

One thing Zarek is looking for from Microsoft is the company’s knowledge of the managed services space.

"Our hope is that they will share their learnings with their channel partners," he says.


This article was originally published on 2010-04-21