IBM unveils desktop mgmt. services for SMBs

IBM Corp.'s Global Services division has begun offering comprehensive desktop management services with a focus on security for small-to-midsized businesses with up to 1,000 PC users.

Beth Feeney, director of SMB offerings at IBM Global Services, said the suite of desktop services - which include periodic backup of user data, patches and anti-virus updates, helpdesk services and image management for operating system versions and settings - will cost about US$40 per month in the U.S. The services will also be available in Europe and Asia.

The remote desktop management on behalf of customers will be done through a specialized server placed on site by IBM. IBM Global Services says the new service isn't intended to eliminate IT department staff, but instead to free up their time.

"This is intended to be complementary to the in-house IT helpdesk," said Dale Moegling, manager of international desktop services at IBM. IT departments sometimes dedicate "half a person" just to doing work with anti-virus software installation, he added.

IBM's server-based approach requires users to have the specialized IBM desktop-management software agent to support the services on each desktop. The services eliminate the need to use desktop-management tools, such as LANDesk Software Inc.'s management suite or PowerQuest's DeployCenter.

According to Moegling, the Desktop Management Services will keep any Microsoft Windows XP or 2000 desktop up to date on software patches and anti-virus signature updates, which would be provided by Symantec. If a virus outbreak has erupted on a customer's desktops, IBM says it will isolate the virus, clean up the hard drive and re-image it.

IBM will also have in place as part of the service a "virtual helpdesk" available via a Web portal that will contain a "vast array of information" on gaining support in a multi-vendor environment. In addition, IBM will provide an anti-spam and anti-virus gateway filtering service through third-party vendors that it declined to identify.

Around the world, "firms are grappling with lack of access to PC skills," Feeney noted.

Feeney said consultancy Meta Group Inc. estimates that desktop management typically costs organizations between $2,000 and $5,000 per year for a single PC. Small-to-mid-sized businesses, especially those without extensive IT departments, are likely to find the idea of "PCs as a service" a compelling one, Moegling concluded.

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