IV4 Inc. is of two minds about Windows Intune. Released last March and updated in October, Intune is Microsoft’s remote management and security solution for Windows PCs. IV4, an IT consultancy and MSP with offices in Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y., is only too happy to sell the cloud-based solution to clients who manage their own hardware with it. But it has no intention of using Intune to support its managed service clients any time soon—or at least not until the system can match the functionality that IV4’s current remote monitoring and management (RMM) software already provides. “Some functionality is being added, sure, but relative to the more mature products out there, there’s still a gap,” says Mike Spoont, IV4’s CEO.
Plenty of Spoont’s peers feel the same way. Though definitive data is unavailable, Windows Intune appears to have limited traction so far among partners generally and MSPs specifically. To many such firms, Intune is an intriguing addition to the RMM marketplace that’s hobbled by limited capabilities, low margins, and Microsoft’s insistence on billing end users directly.
Gauging the Feedback
Of course, comparing Intune to typical RMM products can be tricky, as it comes with an unusual mix of features. In addition to Windows PC management functionality, the system includes endpoint security services, free upgrade rights to the enterprise edition of Windows 7, and membership in Microsoft’s Software Assurance subscription program, which offers a grab bag of additional benefits such as special support and training opportunities. The whole bundle costs $11 per PC per month, though for an extra $1 users also get the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, a suite of technologies for functions like asset inventory, group policy management, and desktop virtualization.
Microsoft is bullish on the potential market for all those goodies. “We think it’s big,” says Eric Main, director of Windows Intune product marketing at Microsoft. And SMBs are very much a part of it, he continues. As a cloud-based solution paid for monthly, Intune allows cash-strapped smaller businesses to deploy powerful management and security software without buying or supporting the hardware it runs on.
How much headway Intune is making with companies small or large, however, remains unclear, as Microsoft has yet to release hard sales data. “We’re very happy with the progress we’re seeing,” Main says. So, too, is Christopher Hertz, CEO of New Signature, an MSP and solution provider in Washington, D.C. To date, the company has sold several thousand Intune seats to 120 customers. “The velocity has been very good,” Hertz says. “There’s been a real receptivity on the part of customers.”
Partners may be a different matter, however. “Feedback from partners has been pretty consistent in the sense that they almost all see the opportunity and the reasons why this is a good step forward for customers,” Main says. But Larry Walsh, at least, hasn’t detected much partner enthusiasm for Intune. Walsh, who is CEO and president of Port Washington, N.Y.-based channel advisory firm The 2112 Group, speaks regularly with a wide range of partners. “Intune doesn’t come up in many conversations, at least in the conversations I have about managed services,” he reports.
The system’s perceived functionality gaps may be part of the reason why. “[It] doesn’t do anything that my other tools don’t already do,” observes Charles Baumgardner, president of Far North Computers, an MSP in Springfield, Ohio. Indeed, other partners add, Intune does a good deal less than RMM products that support servers and other devices in addition to desktops. “I want to manage the whole network for my clients,” notes Andrew Harper, CEO of Gaeltek LLC, an IT consultancy and MSP in Manassas, Va. IV4’s Spoont says contacts within Microsoft have privately told him that future versions of Intune will include server management capabilities, but Main will say only that the company is “looking at” that option.