Windows Intune now orchestrates third-party software

The latest tweak of Windows Intune, Microsoft’s cloud-based PC management tool, now allows IT administrators to distribute not only Microsoft but third-party applications and updates as well to PCs remotely as long as the machines are connected to the Internet.

Intune, which is being refreshed through a much shorter product update schedule of about every three months, now also features a beefed up remote task capability and an extended remote licence management feature which now also covers licences for non-Microsoft software.

“These are the upgrades that users of earlier Intune versions demanded and we listened to them,” Eric Main, Windows Intune lead, said of the cloud-based tool’s October release.

A year ago, Microsoft offered Intune to some 1,000 customers for beta testing. In March this year the cloud-based tool went on sale, although upgrades to Intune continue to be released. In Canada, Windows Intune is available for $14 per PC, per month.

Intune provides PC management, cloud security service and the upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise and future versions of Windows. Intune is sold like other Microsoft cloud services – through Microsoft partners and the Microsoft Online Commerce Portal, according to Main.

Intune features

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the Windows Intune upgrades:

Software distribution – Intune uses cloud technology to distribute Microsoft and third party applications and updates to PCs. IT administrators are able to centrally publish and deploy software to manage PCs using through Intune’s administration console.

Update packages can take the form of .EXE, .MSI or .MSP files. A wizard provides easy step-by-step instructions. Savings in storage space is also achieved because the wizard can encrypt, compress and upload the packages to Windows Azure cloud storage space until it is ready for deployment.

Remote tasks – When IT administrators right click on the icon for a specific PC, they will see a context menu that offers a number of possible actions including: add to group, retire, and remote tasks. By choosing remote tasks, the administrator can perform task such as:

  • Run a full malware scan
  • Update malware definitions
  • Force a restart of the managed computer

 

Enhanced reporting – New Intune filters help create more detailed reports on each machine. The reports include data such as: manufacturer, chassis type, available disk space, memory installed and CPu speed.

The level or granularity is ideal for developing visibility into software and hardware inventory, licence purchase or licence installation.

Extended licence management – Intune licence management has been extended beyond Microsoft volume licensing to include select Microsoft retail licences, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) licences for Microsoft software and third party software licences. This is ideal for tracking purchased licences against actual installations.

Customized alerts – Administrators can configure Intune to give out alerts based on their specified thresholds based on frequency, number or per cent of computers affected. For instance, if users are regularly overfilling their hard drives, administrators can set the threshold alert for Intune-managed PCs to 75 per cent full. This feature helps administrators head off possible issues that could potentially impact PC performance and productivity.

Read-only access – When adding service administrators to an Intune account, It administrators can select to grant full or read-only access to information. This can be useful in training new hires who need to familiarized themselves with the console but are not yet ready to handle full access control.

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A tool for small business

Intune’s pricing and simplicity of management makes it’s the ideal tool for small businesses, said Main. “Smaller organizations that do not have a robust on-site management infrastructure or no solid team to keep management and security up to date will benefit from Intune.”

But he also said that larger organizations such as campuses and government agencies that deploy remote workers. “Businesses or organizations that have blindspots such as PC operating outside the corporate firewall will find Intune’s remote PC management features very useful,” said Main.

Intune has helped Skywire Media Inc., a mobile content enabler that develops cloud-based marketing and campaign management tools suited for mobile device, to cut the cost associated with managing their remote laptops and keeping software licences up to date.

“Our company is big on cloud computing, so we always thought that Intune was a good fit for Skywire,” said Thomas Castleberry, chief operating officer for the mobile content firm which has about 80 per cent of its 27 employees working outside of the home office.

Castleberry told ITBusiness.ca that most of Skywire’s agents and sales managers either work chiefly on the road or use their office-bound desktops only occasionally. “Normally loading apps and software updates as well as checking licences can be tricky because of work schedules. You have to save at least one day for each machine.”

Since using the beta version of Intune several months ago, Skywire was able to save as much as $10,000 in labour cost associated with such chores are deploying current software versions on remote computers, said Castleberry.

“There’s been an increase in productivity of our remote workers because service downtime has been cut. Now everyone can be working with the same version of a software product in a single push,” he said.

Castleberry is also very glad that that Microsoft has decided to open up Intune to third party software. He said this provides Skywire with greater flexibility in offering its customers services that work with more varied platform choices.

 

Nestor ArellanoNestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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