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Microsoft is almost on key with a new Windows Intune

Microsoft updates Windows Intune with iOS 7 support, giving enterprise IT another tool for deciding which EMM platform to deploy.

Microsoft has given its enterprise mobility management platform Windows Intune a facelift, offering IT more administrative rights for mobile devices.

The updates give IT administrators control over mobile devices with email profile management, support for the new configuration settings in iOS 7, and remote lock and password reset. These are features many other competing products already include.

 Microsoft's update comes as enterprise mobility management (EMM) players strive to deliver meaningful products to control the increasing number of mobile devices in the enterprise.

The young industry already has experienced a wave of consolidations, illustrating the market's potential growth. Last week, VMware Inc. paid a hefty $1.5 billion to acquire AirWatch, and in 2013, IBM purchased Fiberlink, Oracle Corp. bought Bitzer Mobile, and Citrix acquired Zenprise.

Dell Software launched  its EMM platform in December and Microsoft introduced its EMM platform last fall, which includes Windows Server 2012 R2System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 R2, and the cloud-based Windows Intune.

Microsoft is playing catchup, said Brian Katz, director of mobile innovation for a large pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. However, "never count Microsoft out because [of its reach] in the enterprise," he added.

EMM vendors often compete against Microsoft tools such as ActiveSync, so the market landscape stands to change if Microsoft's latest attempt sticks.

"If Microsoft can make it easier and very cheap, they can make it a little bit harder to sell standalone EMM products in the enterprise," said Chris Hazelton, director of mobile and wireless for 451 Research in New York.

The software behemoth's determination to bill its management products as an EMM platform addresses one of the biggest gaps in its mobile strategy: how to manage the myriad of mobile devices in an organization. 

Microsoft shops have been on the fence about what to do for mobility, Hazelton said, noting that customers will have an easier decision if Microsoft provides a solid EMM platform.

One medical organization that uses Microsoft's SCCM and has piloted Surface Pro tablets for both patient and clinical use sees Intune as a viable EMM option

"We don't [use Windows Intune] yet, but we are considering it, especially with this new initiative," said Dr. Nick Patel, a medical director and medical informatics officer at Palmetto Health, based in Columbia, S.C.

Windows Intune would be "the simplest and fastest way to do it," Patel noted. But his organization needs to do its due diligence in researching other products before making a decision.

What's new in Windows Intune

Microsoft now offers a cloud-only mobile management option through Windows Intune without on-premises integration with SCCM. SCCM customers can use the Windows Intune updates as extensions, however, which will appear alongside existing configuration options.

For email management, administrators can configure email profiles, which in turn automatically configure to the device for that profile's email server and policies. Administrators can also conduct a remote wipe that would delete both the user profile and email.

Configuration settings support for iOS 7 includes the Managed Open In capability, which protects corporate data by allowing IT pros to control which apps or accounts can open certain documents. The iOS 7 Touch ID feature can also be disabled in the update.

Microsoft said support for these configuration settings does not extend to Android devices, but the new remote lock and password reset features do.

Microsoft has plans for several additional new EMM features this year, including application wrapping, bulk enrollment of devices, more comprehensive email management, including conditional access to Exchange, URL filtering and allowing or denying certain applications on devices.  These features will become available this year, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is offering a free 30-day trial for Windows Intune, with SCCM included as part of the licensing. After 30 days, Windows Intune is available for $6 per user per month or $11 per user per month for organizations with a Windows Software Assurance license.  

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