Managing from the cloud with Windows Intune

Simon May explains how Windows Intune could revolutionise the way you manage your client PCs.

Inventory

Knowing what hardware and software you've got in your organisation is a critical task for most administrators and one that introduces enough pain that most hate the task: I know I once had to write a script that used WMI to interrogate more than 5000 devices! Windows Intune includes hardware and software inventory that reports back on what software is deployed to which computers and will simply tell you what hardware each computer has. The information can be used to populate spread sheets or create HTML based reports but critically it can be used to understand what you need to do to upgrade to Windows 7.

I'll do licensing in a bit but every Windows Intune license includes Windows 7 Enterprise for the life of the Windows Intune license.

Monitoring

Not only do administrators get alerted about updates that have been missed or malware that's been detected, they also find out about all sorts of computer specific stuff that could be causing users concern. For example hard drive space shortages can be spotted and addressed by admins with a phone call explaining how to clean up some space, or by ordering a new drive. That's the kind of shift in customer service that users love and that cloud represents - IT being able to add more value and do more with less.

Remote Assistance

One of the best tools for helping users is to be able to take control of their computer or even just to watch it while they explain a problem. For me that traditionally meant knowing some kind of information about the computer and obtaining that from the user was like pulling teeth "I need your hostname" "my hostname?" "the name of your PC" "where do I find that?" "right click Computer and select properties" it says "Local Disk:C: , Devices with removable storage" "no, right click" etc. etc. sound familiar?

Windows Intune doesn't need any of that, the user clicks a link in the Windows Intune client software and the administrator is sent a link to start a remote session. No back and forth or preamble, it just works.

Client software

The only software required for Windows Intune is a client application which when downloaded from the Windows Intune administrators console is unique to your organisation. From then on as soon as it communicates with the Windows Intune cloud service the computer is identified as your organisation and off you go. Zero client configuration required, just Next, Next, Next.

The back end

It's a cloud service, there is no back end infrastructure to deploy. It's that simple.

How much does it cost?

Ah now onto the always worrisome licensing conversation. Except that it's not a worrisome conversation and in this case I think you'll like it. Licensing for the UK is 7.25 per month, per PC and included into that you get Windows 7 Enterprise installation rights for any PC that is licensed with Windows Intune. That means that for 7.25 per month per PC you can finally get them all to the same version of Windows and get the best possible Windows 7 experience. On top of that pay a little more 60p per PC and you'll get the rights for MDOPso you get App-V, Med-V, DaRT etc.

And to answer your question yes, if you have an EA it does get cheaper, and yes the more machines you have it does get cheaper, go over 250 machines and the price drops then again at other levels.

Is it right for you?

If all the above sounds fantastic then you're probably thinking you'd like to investigate further. You can get a free trial for 30 days, have a look at http://windowsintune.com for details. Who is Microsoft aiming this at though? Well it's perfect for smaller businesses that lack an existing solution and for larger businesses that don't have the need for Operating System Deployment (OSD) or Enterprise Software Deployment (ESD) those are the two things that Windows Intune can't yet do. It has however been tested up to 20,000 devices in an organisation, which will do for most people I think.

And finally

I like when there's an and finally part to a post here are a couple of things that I think are brilliant about Windows Intune but that don't get a lot of air time. It's the cloud; that means that the infrastructure is run for you, so upgrades happen for you, when there's a new version of Windows Intune there will be a smooth way to upgrade and Microsoft will do it for you.

Also because it's the cloud the second the computer can see the Internet it can see Windows Intune and the Windows Update service and that means that wherever that computer is, you can manage it. You can deploy updates, update malware definitions, update anything else needed and provide remote assistance. That for me is the biggest advantage of Windows Intune, it could mean an end to devices brining in malware and such just because they've not been connected to a VPN for a while and not hit the antimalware and patch servers that are available only inside the traditional corporate environment.

What to do now

Get the 30 day trial and give Windows Intune a go yourself and don't forget to download the trial guide to get the most out of the trial. You might also want to take a look at this video to see Windows Intune in action. Finally to get some support you'll want to take a look at the Windows Intune Tech Center.

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