Microsoft unveils its first online management service

Desktop service, based on same underlying technology as Windows Update, includes host of basic capabilities

Microsoft has unveiled System Center Online Desktop Manager, the first online service built around its management tools.

The initial version will provide desktop management capabilities that are focused on software updates, protection from spyware and malware, monitoring, group policy and configuration management, asset management, update management and remote assistance. Microsoft plans to update the service on a regular cycle.

The company demonstrated the service during the Wednesday keynote at the Microsoft Management Summit. (See first pictures of the Online Desktop Manager interface are shown at MMS here,  here,  here  and here. )

The online service is built on the same underlying technology that powers Windows Update, which last month updated 650 million PCs around the world.

Microsoft plans to launch a private beta of Online Desktop Manager in the next 60 days with a select group of testers and will put out a public beta before the end of 2009. The service is slated to go live in 2010.The online management suite is another milestone in Microsoft's strategy to push its infrastructure software into the online services market. Late last year, it released online services for Exchange and SharePoint.

Once the service goes live, Microsoft will add updates every six months, according to Brad Anderson, general manager of the management and services division at Microsoft.

Anderson said Online Desktop Manager would eventually include software distribution, federation with Active Directory identity features and delegation of authority capabilities.

The Online Desktop Manager console is based on Microsoft's Silverlight browser plug-in, and runs on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and others.

To provision desktops, users will tap the same online portal that is used to provision users for all of Microsoft's online assets such as Exchange and SharePoint.

The service will likely find favor among small and medium sized businesses or those without major investments in System Center tools they run inside their firewall.

"I don't know that I want to store data about my machines and their vulnerabilities in the cloud," said Jake Muszynski, an information services analyst with Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Microsoft officials say the move to offer management tools online highlights Microsoft's commitment to the depth and breadth of its software-plus-services strategy.

"This shows how moving online, how moving to SaaS, is incredibly powerful," said Anderson.

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