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Microsoft Moves Deep Into Desktop Management Space

Quoting CRN

Microsoft's multifaceted effort to improve Windows desktop management treads into the turf of nervous ISVs and managed service providers, but they also open up opportunities for enterprising partners.

In 2007, the Redmond, Wash., software giant will launch its much-anticipated Windows Vista upgrade, which includes numerous desktop management features, as well as several System Center management products, a System Center Live service and a desktop optimization subscription for Software Assurance (SA) customers.

Last week, days after confirming Windows Vista Enterprise will ship to its SA customers on time, Microsoft announced a new subscription offering called the Desktop Optimization Pack that is promised for the first half of 2007. The catch: It's only available to SA customers.

The Desktop Optimization Pack consists of technologies from companies acquired by Microsoft during the last half of 2006, namely Softricity, a Boston-based provider of application virtualization and dynamic streaming technologies; Winternals, an Austin, Texas-based systems recovery and data protection developer; and DesktopStandard, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based leader in Group Policy-based desktop management products. Offered at $10 per desktop per year, it offers fixes for longstanding Windows desktop management problems ranging from driver incompatibilities to desktop repair and recovery services, as well as software asset management services and advanced group policy desktop management features.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. As Microsoft struggles to fend off critics and Linux advocates railing against the high costs of Windows desktop ownership, the company is preparing its next-generation Windows software to combat that perception and is readying Live services such as Forefront Client Security and System Center Live for managing and monitoring desktops.

"It goes deeper than you know. Microsoft recently purchased Winternals and DesktopStandard, so system management is really a growing thing in the Microsoft camp," said Jason Harrison, president of Harrison Technology Consulting, Nashville, N.C. "But for most SMBs, it won't be on their radar unless partners put it there and show support for it. I don't see System Center Live to be of any concern for us."

On the product side, Microsoft is prepping System Center Configuration Manager 2007 (formerly SMS) and System Center Operations Manager 2007 upgrades for release next year. The latter, formerly known as MOM, offers new support for desktop client monitoring and improvements for client health, self-service software distribution and support for non-Windows platforms, Microsoft said.

At the Microsoft Management Summit earlier this year, attendees cheered when Microsoft said it plans to provide self-healing client technology and a self-service portal for deploying updates.

Observers say ISVs and partners that offer Windows desktop management solutions such as Altiris and LANDesk should be concerned, but these ISVs are moving higher up the stack with advanced security and configuration offerings.

Altiris declined to discuss the competitive impact of Microsoft's advancing encroachment into the desktop management space. But LANDesk will depend on its loyal partners to compete and said there's plenty of room for everybody to play.

"There are a number of LANDesk Expert Solution Providers that currently run profitable businesses offering managed services," said Steve Workman, director of product management at LANDesk, Salt Lake City. "We don't anticipate this move by Microsoft into managed services will have a significant impact on [these partners] because of the more advanced technology solutions LANDesk offers its channel partners."

Still, some partners have expressed concerns about Microsoft's OneCare Live service and manages services solutions it is pilot testing with Energizer and XL Capital. Microsoft says it will offer managed services to enterprise customers, but the future of that program is in question due to the recent retirement of Microsoft services chief Rick Devenuti and transfer of Ron Markezich, who was vice president of managed solutions and co-CIO at Microsoft, into the company's Server and Tools division along with 500 Microsoft IT people focused on managed services.

Some observers maintain Microsoft's desktop management products give solution providers and managed service partners an easy-to-use platform rather than competitive products. For example, Microsoft is encouraging SMB partners to deploy the forthcoming System Center Essentials 2007 at customer sites and use System Center Operations Manager 2007 in-house to create an end-to-end managed services platform. Operations Center 2007 offers client monitoring for the first time.

One partner said Microsoft is obliged to provide products and Live services to improve desktop management but added that doesn't mean management ISVs can't add value.

"To provide a truly cost-effective virtual desktop offering that is managed, requires a company like Microsoft that can take many complex moving parts and integrate them," said Tom Richer, Global Microsoft Business Lead at ISV Binary Tree, New York. "Smart ISVs and startups will focus on extending and building solutions around the Microsoft-offered virtual desktop SMB solution vs. competing against it."

Read or comment on the original, here.

Published Monday, October 23, 2006 6:50 AM by David Marshall
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