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Why Windows Intune could be what your SMB customers need

Because SMB customers may not have the time to handle desktop support tasks, Windows Intune offers a solution for VAR customers, but it does have a downside as well.

VARs can capitalize on customer’s small IT staff frustrations by helping them find ways to lighten their workload. Desktop management and support using Microsoft Windows Intune offers an opportunity to do this.

Windows Intune is a cloud-based desktop management utility that allows you to manage your customer’s desktops without having to go on-site. Deploy an agent onto the desktops and it can be managed through a Web browser from anywhere.

Windows Intune capabilities
Although not as comprehensive as some of the Microsoft System Center products, Windows Intune is designed to allow several key desktop management tasks to be performed remotely. Some of these tasks include installing updates for Microsoft products, malware protection (through Microsoft ForeFront) and Microsoft product license tracking. In addition, Windows Intune provides a mechanism for monitoring desktop hardware and software inventories.

Despite the simple nature of these tasks, they all need to be done regularly and Windows Intune helps you relieve your customers of the day to day burden of completing them.

Desktop support
The best reason for using Windows Intune is that it is designed to allow users to submit requests for assistance that automatically send alerts to the Intune service. Notification of the request can also be optionally sent by email. When an administrator receives the request, they can use it to establish a remote session (through Microsoft Easy Assist) to the PC that the user is having trouble with.

Because Windows Intune can be configured with multiple administrator accounts based on specific aspects of desktop management, solutions providers can establish a multi-tier pricing structure. Some customers may prefer to handle user assistance requests themselves, so you can set one price for them and a higher price for customers who wish to completely outsource desktop support.

Intune not a cure-all
Windows Intune is a first generation release, and it has some limitations. Before you try to sell your customers on the idea of outsourcing their desktop management tasks, you should understand what these are.

Windows Intune’s single biggest limitation is that it cannot be used to perform application management. Although the service can be used to deploy updates for Microsoft applications, it cannot update non-Microsoft applications, nor can it be used to install new applications. It also cannot be used to manage servers. Windows Intune is designed solely as a desktop management product.

Windows Intune also cannot be used for comprehensive policy management. It allows you to update certain policy settings (such as those related to Windows Update), but the software can’t configure desktop’s local security policies. If your customers already have group policy settings in place, then those policy settings will take precedence over any policy settings that can be applied through Windows Intune.

Finally, Windows Intune is not an enterprise class desktop management solution, and it’s designed specifically for SMBs with fewer than 500 desktops. As such, you should not attempt to market Windows Intune to your enterprise customers.

Like any product, Windows Intune has strengths and weaknesses. In spite of its shortcomings it offers a real opportunity to increase VAR revenue streams while helping to decrease a customer’s day to day workload.

About the expert
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a six-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services, file systems and storage. Posey has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for TechTarget, Microsoft, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit his website at www.brienposey.com.

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