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Microsoft Widens Test of Cloud Management for SMBs

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The theme at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2010 this year is that the company is “all in” when it comes to cloud computing.

Perhaps lost amid all the cloud computing announcements and demos at this year’s partner event, was the news that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) said it has begun the second beta test of its Intune online services. Intune is designed to provide enterprise-class system management tools to small and medium-sized companies via the cloud — at a reasonable price.

Microsoft released the first beta test version of Intune back in April. At that time, Microsoft limited the number of testers to 1,000.

With the second beta test, Microsoft plans to reach out to some 10,000 more testers, comprised of both customers and partners. However, casual testers are discouraged from jumping on the beta band wagon just yet.

“The goal of this beta is to gather the feedback we need to ensure a quality final release — so we ask that you only sign up for this beta if you are able to test it on at least five PCs,” Alex Heaton, group product manager for Windows, said in a post to the Windows Team blog Monday.

“Intune is an all-in-one solution that provides anti-malware, update management, software and hardware inventory, and remote assistance technology,” Heaton told in a private briefing.

The Intune technologies are delivered through Microsoft’s burgeoning cloud computing platform — although not via Windows Azure.

Additionally, whereas beta one was limited to testers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, beta two has been expanded to include testers in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.

With Intune Microsoft is shooting to attract smaller companies, resellers, and systems integrators that focus on the SMB market. The idea is that even small businesses can afford the same sorts of management tools that enterprise IT organization have without the high setup costs and ongoing expenses that enterprises typically have to ante up.

“Because Windows Intune is built on a cloud service, customers and partners can realize the benefits of having a modern PC management and security system without the upfront software licenses, server hardware, and IT labor costs that are required to setup a traditional on-premise solution,” Heaton said in his post.

Intune will cost $11 per PC, per month — and will include rights to update users’ systems to run Windows 7 Enterprise as well as future Windows releases, Heaton told

Spending an additional dollar per PC, per month, will add a subscription to Microsoft’s Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), the company’s suite of management, deployment, and virtualization tools, which has been very popular with corporate customers over the past several years.

Expanding the management console for multiple customers

Microsoft also made an addition to Intune for beta two based on requests from partners who wanted to use the management console to manage multiple customers at once.

“Based on their feedback, we’ve added a feature in this beta called the Multi-Account Console, which is designed to help partners manage multiple accounts through the single Web-based console,” Heaton’s post added.

The final release of Intune is due out in early 2011.

Anyone interested in participating in the second beta can register here.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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