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Windows Intune helps strapped IT departments with desktop management

Small IT departments say it's better late than never for Windows Intune -- a cloud-based desktop management app for remote desktop access, patches, antivirus and software updates.

For IT departments with limited resources, Microsoft's year-old, cloud-based desktop management tool, Windows Intune, can be extremely useful -- but it isn't for BYOD shops that need to manage mobile devices.

Windows Intune is a combination of Windows Defender anti-malware protection and the Windows System Center and Forefront Endpoint Protection management services. The cloud-hosted utility lets IT administrators centrally manage desktop antivirus protection, software updates and patches. Admins can also use Intune to provide remote assistance to employees and inventory hardware and software.

Industry analysts say Intune is a good tool for bootstrapped IT departments that want to consolidate desktop management services and save money. It doesn't support mobile devices or servers, however.

This means that companies supporting iPads and smartphones with bring your own device (BYOD) programs can't use Intune for those devices. Despite Windows Intune's limited scope, its PC and laptop management capabilities are enough some organizations.

How Windows Intune works:

Intune uses a client that is installed on end-user devices, similar to Security Essentials. The Web-based management console for IT admins requires a Windows Live account, Internet Explorer and Silverlight. The management console lets administrators view the status of each computer running Intune, including installed software and antivirus signature files, and it provides "good visibility into machines," Save the Children's Supersano said.

Using Microsoft's desktop management tool
At Save the Children, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., and Westport, Conn., the IT department faces several unique challenges, including a remote workforce and a small, under-resourced IT department.

Before adopting Windows Intune, many of the desktop management necessities like software upgrades and patches fell by the wayside.

"It all got done badly," said Ken Supersano, the senior director of IT at Save the Children. The organization had multiple management products in place, but those tools weren't used, he said.

Using Windows Intune, Save the Children's IT department consolidated many of its neglected desktop management tools into one program. "It was a no-brainer," Supersano said of the decision to adopt Intune.

"We run a lot of legacy apps we haven't gotten rid of yet, so it's an excellent planning tool for our desktop manager," he said.

Admins are able to keep track of old equipment and old versions of software and plan to push necessary updates from a single interface. They no longer have to chase remote workers to make sure the latest antivirus definitions are installed.

Supersano said that "Intune might not be an ideal solution for large businesses or ones where Internet connectivity is hit or miss," but it has become an everyday tool for his department.

Thomas Castleberry, chief operating officer of Skywire Media, a Las Vegas-based mobile marketing company with an extensive cloud-based IT infrastructure, also adopted Windows Intune with positive results.

Castleberry had sought a single, effortless tool to manage the company's laptops. Despite Intune's inability to manage other enterprise hardware, he says the software does exactly what he hoped it would do.

"The ability to have consistent versions of software across all of our devices and remove unwanted or unapproved software has been a beneficial tool for us," he said. Other IT admins said they hope future versions of Windows Intune will include management capabilities for servers and mobile devices, as well as better integration with Active Directory.

Microsoft said some of those changes could be coming, but it wouldn't provide specifics or a time frame.

Let us know what you think about this story; email James Furbush or follow @slyoyster on Twitter.

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