By Sharon Pian Chan
Taking a step deeper into the cloud, Microsoft will start selling Windows and computer management as a cloud service for businesses.
The service, Windows Intune, launches Wednesday in 35 countries at the Microsoft Management Summit, which started Monday in Las Vegas. Intune represents another evolutionary leap by Microsoft, taking the company from selling software in boxes to offering software delivered remotely from the cloud — large data centers Microsoft runs.
Last year, Microsoft launched Azure, a cloud platform for software developers. Later this year, it will start selling Word, Excel and PowerPoint as a cloud service called Office 365.
Microsoft said cloud services will free up time businesses now spend managing software upgrades and patching security holes.
Windows Intune is expected to cost $10 to $11 per user per month. The monthly service fee includes a license to upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise edition. Microsoft is also offering a 30-day free trial. It hopes Intune will push more companies to upgrade to the Windows 7 operating system. The company declined to comment for this story.
Designed to help businesses manage their information-technology operations, Windows Intune could potentially compete with services Microsoft partners provide.
Many partners resell Microsoft software and provide added services — for instance, helping a company set up its PCs, connect them to a network and keep the computers updated with the latest software and security patches. These partners have driven sales of Microsoft software throughout the company’s history.
Windows Intune cuts the partner out of the relationship between the customer and Microsoft, some partners said.
“I can’t resell and bill for BPOS [an earlier name of Office 360] and Intune,” said Jamison West, chief executive of JWCS, a services provider in Seattle. He added that to efficiently use it, he would have to persuade all of his customers to switch to Windows Intune.
He has been talking to Microsoft about the changes he hopes to see to Intune and Office 365. “I’m cautiously optimistic that they’re listening and there will be a change,” West said.
Two other partners that serve small and midsized businesses said they will continue to use a competing product to Windows Intune.
“They have a little catching up; they’re coming to the party kind of late,” said Mary Hester, chief executive of LAN Systems in Atlanta. Her company, which provides IT services for small and midsize companies, uses GFI MAX, a competing product that LAN Systems privately brands as its own service and bills its customers directly for it.
Windows Intune can only be sold from Microsoft, so partners would not be able to privately brand or bill for the service.
Blade Technologies in St. Louis uses a competing product called IT Controls, which allows the company to monitor its clients’ servers and desktop PCs. “It’s pretty limited. It only allows you to maintain PCs, not servers,” said Blade Chief Operating Officer David Mellinger, of Intune.
One company, eMazzanti Technologies in Hoboken, N.J., has a more favorable impression after testing Intune since last summer. Chief Executive Carl Mazzanti said that while it won’t replace his main software for remotely monitoring and managing his clients’ PCs, it has been useful to manage PCs in his customers’ branch offices.
“With Intune, because it’s designed for an enterprise that might have an office in Italy, in Hong Kong, in Washington, in New York, you can see multiple sites in one main screen,” he said.
Like executives at some other partner companies, Mazzanti would recommend the product to corporate IT managers at larger organizations to manage computers not on site. Mazzanti has also been using it to manage his parents’ computers from afar. “Almost all families have one person who takes care of all their PCs. That’s me,” he said.
All partners said Microsoft will have a bigger hit with Office 365, which is expected later this year. Previously known as Business Productivity Online Services or BPOS, it’s a combination Web-based and desktop versions of Office that will compete with Google Docs and Apps.
Microsoft has not said when it will start selling Office 365.