The evolution of Microsoft System Center
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Microsoft has finally acknowledged that it’s in its best interests to offer a way to manage Apple and Android devices alongside Windows.
The next version of Windows Intune, Microsoft’s cloud-based desktop management tool, will also manage employee-owned iPads, iPhones and Android devices, in addition to Windows phones and tablets.
Thomas CastleberrySkywire Media
It’s a significant move for Microsoft -- especially now, as the company pushes its new generation of Windows phones and tablets.
Some IT administrators have been waiting for a multiplatform mobile management tool from Microsoft and are pleased that the company has finally developed a bring your own device (BYOD) support strategy.
“We’re not a big company, but we have plenty of developers working with multiple phones, like Android and iOS, so this will help us manage our staff much easier,” said Thomas Castleberry, chief operating officer of Skywire Media, a mobile software company that beta tested the new version of Intune.
The new Windows Intune mobile device management (MDM) features don’t strike industry watchers as particularly innovative, though.
“In reality, they’re playing catch-up,” said Brian Katz, director of mobile engineering at Sanofi, a global pharmaceutical company.
Windows Intune mobile management features
Microsoft announced the next version of Windows Intune on Wednesday at the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) in Las Vegas, and a pre-release version is now available for download.
Intune will provide MDM capabilities through Active Directory (AD) and Exchange ActiveSync. It will also help IT and end users deploy applications to mobile devices. In addition, employee-owned devices that aren’t connected to the corporate AD can be deemed “domain trusted,” which will still allow them to access corporate data and apps.
“It’s not just about enabling your users on Windows anymore,” said Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for management and security, during the MMS keynote. “We are doing deep, deep integration with iOS and Android.”
The next version of Intune will let IT create links to apps within their devices’ respective app stores, and Anderson said it will also allow for the side-loading of apps -- that is, the installation of apps directly from Intune, without going through each device’s app store. Apple does not allow side-loading on iOS; in response to a question about how iOS side-loading will work through Intune, a Microsoft spokesperson cited this passage from the Windows for Your Business blog:
“Windows Intune will offer a self-service, customizable Company Portal that is simple to create and will allow IT to provide employees with the apps and tools they need to stay productive. IT can target the portal to user profiles and employees can access it through a range of mobile devices including Windows PCs, iOS and Android devices.”
When a user logs on to a specific device, Intune will also make certain apps available depending on the device and other predetermined policies. User authentication will go through Windows Azure Active Directory, a cloud service that verifies users outside the corporate firewall while keeping user data inside the firewall.
Castleberry said the new MDM features will address his biggest complaints about Windows Intune: the lack of a mobile management component and limited Active Directory integration. The new application controls for both laptops and mobile devices are also intriguing, he said.
“The new Intune lets you do more than just manage a laptop,” he said, adding that Microsoft’s new commitment to enterprise mobile management should help IT.
Katz said none of the new Intune features really jumped out at him, because other MDM tools let IT do the same kind of app delivery. But, he added, “if you’re a small or medium-sized business, I think (Intune) can make a lot of sense, if you already have it.”
Microsoft, RIM capitalize on MDM
Microsoft’s approach with Intune mirrors that of Research In Motion (RIM), which is also getting into the Apple and Android management game with BlackBerry Mobile Fusion. Windows Phone and BlackBerry are far behind iOS and Android, but Microsoft and RIM have strong enterprise backgrounds, and they see MDM as a way to capitalize on that strength while also taking advantage of the popularity of their competitors.
Meanwhile, neither company offers a way to manage the other’s devices.
Windows Intune is available as a subscription service for $11 per user per month. Microsoft said it will keep that price for the time being and let IT manage up to four devices per user.