Windows RT management could be a key to success for Windows 8 tablets

IT management executives from large corporations worry most about how to manage employee-owned devices safely and securely, according to clients of the Directions on Microsoft analyst firm.

Asked which of five options would have the biggest impact on their systems management over the next three years, 40% chose "Invasion of mobile devices like tablets and phones," according to Don Retallack, a vice president at the firm.

Automation and self-service came in second with 28%; the push to move to public cloud services ranked third with 12%; and handling Windows 8 and Server 2012 came in fourth with 10%. The other 10% said they couldn't predict.

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The respondents were about 120 clients of the firm attending a teleconference briefing on Microsoft's Systems Management Roadmap, Retallack says.

Microsoft's System Center management platform already addresses this to some degree by enabling simple management tasks for non-Windows devices, he says. For example, without an agent on the devices, System Center can still brick a phone or enforce policies on what data can be stored on them. But without an agent it can't manage configuration or oversee updates, he says.

By adopting the resources Microsoft offers apps developers, iPhone and iPad developers could integrate support for System Center back ends in data centers and within Azure cloud services, he Retallack says. That way System Center policies and controls could be applied to the devices running those apps.

In fact, Microsoft could make a tidy profit from backend support for managing these BYOD devices from Apple via Windows Server, System Center and Windows Azure, he says. He notes that Apple doesn't offer its own backend infrastructure, but that cloud competitors Google and Amazon do. Businesses that currently buy System Center tools based on the number of devices will pay more as they take on managing Apple devices, he says.

Microsoft could dramatically improve management of these devices with agents deployed on them, which is unlikely with the Apple devices. But this represents an opportunity for Microsoft to set apart its upcoming Windows 8 ARM operating system Windows RT from competitors' tablets, he says.

By shipping Windows RT devices with an agent, they would be subject to configuration management, access controls, software updating and the like, in short as manageable as Windows laptops, he says. That would give Windows RT a leg up on tablets that do not have agents such as iPads.

While that would make the Windows RT devices more attractive to Microsoft shops using System Center, its usefulness would still rely on employees buying them and bringing them to work under BYOD policies, he says. "Enterprises will struggle with how to manage unmanageable devices," Retallack says.

So far Microsoft has made no commitment to such an agent on Windows RT.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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