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Microsoft: Like the Borg, we want to absorb all the world's biz computers

Farewell, Patch Tuesday – and perhaps, farewell IT admins sucked into the big backend

Microsoft hopes to assimilate traditional IT admin roles into its cloud with the launch of its Microsoft Managed Desktop (MMD) service.

Under MMD, customers will get preconfigured hardware running Windows 10, Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscriptions, cloud-based device management, and Microsoft-managed security and feature updates.

The technology allows Redmond to scan and monitor enrolled devices, and push out security patches, operating system upgrades, and software updates to the kit as necessary. It will also use machine-learning code and analytics to, in its own words, "manage the global MMD device population."

Basically, if you're an overworked sysadmin – or you don't want an army of IT admins – you can sign up your workforce to use MMD-controlled, cloud-connected machines, and let Microsoft handle the updates, patches, security, and configuration changes. Meanwhile, you define how you want your applications automatically provisioned, and how you want to secure your users' computers, and it's all automagically executed across your fleet from Microsoft's centralized cloud.

A worker could, say, open up a new laptop delivered to their desk, and add it to your MMD plan, and get all the apps and configuration settings and updates they need, automatically, once the device is accepted and user verified. This isn't the first time Microsoft has produced an offering kinda like this, we note.


The paid subscription service is live right now for a “small number of customers in the UK and the US,” Microsoft said on Monday, with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand listed to get MMD in early 2019, and a broader rollout promised in the second half of next year. Essentially, if you're interested in this technology, contact Redmond and ask nicely – because it is being launched slowly and softly from what we can tell.

This device-as-a-service subscription model will start with Microsoft Surface slabtops. Redmond's Windows and Devices Group general manager Bill Karagounis said additional MMD-compatible kit will arrive from Dell and HP in the coming months. As well as those two PC builders, Karagounis listed services outfits DXC, India's HCL, the UK's Computacenter, and Accenture/Avanade as future MMD partners.

Karagounis also said MMD will slurp telemetry from managed devices – but only for good, and not evil, apparently. Under MMD, Redmond “can constantly monitor and improve, as well as enable us to manage the global MMD device population,” he said. Analytics and AI tools will “determine which devices are ready for feature updates or, conversely, whether a specific app is blocking a device’s ability to update so we can act.”

"We believe that MMD will be an option that allows organizations to fundamentally shift how they think about and manage their IT," said Karagounis.

"Through MMD, customers will be able to move toward a secure, always up-to-date environment with device management by Microsoft. As we expand the offering, our partners will play a key role in helping us bring MMD to market and support customers in their transition to a modern desktop. We encourage customers who are interested in MMD to contact their local Microsoft account manager as we work to broaden the offering."

In theory

Tech analyst Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights and Strategy, shared some more details on MMD that he was privy to. We're told the hardware bought via the service will be subject to three-year refresh cycles, enterprise applications can be installed and configured remotely using zero-touch provisioning, and devices will be stateless with the ability to perform warm handoffs to help desks to fix. There will be 24/7 desktop support, and computers bought via the service can be ordered on the fly and replaced the next day if broken.

Moorhead told The Register that sysadmins should welcome the service: “They can manage more devices or have more time to get engaged in a more strategic project. This kind of service transfers a lot of the day to day, second to second responsibility to Microsoft, but the theory is that Microsoft will do it a lot better and proactively based on it owning the hardware, operating system, drivers and apps.”

He added that Microsoft will need to make sure, however, that enterprises using MMD aren't dependent on hundred-percent connectivity between a customer site and Microsoft's cloud – if a link or gateway goes down, office productivity and maintenance shouldn't stop, in other words.

“I am digging into those details now, but as we have seen with many Microsoft services, there is often a fallback mechanism to the enterprise to at least get basic necessities,” Moorhead told us. “No one is infallible, but given Azure global scalability and replicated zones, I can’t see it being less reliable than a corporate managed enterprise without fallback zones.”

Telemetry has been troublesome for Microsoft in the past, however, Moorhead doesn't expect it to be a sticking point for MMD subscribers. “I can guarantee a hundred percent that these conversations will be had between Microsoft and the enterprise CISO,” he told us.

Moorhead hoped the telemetry will predict hardware failures, identify insecure or non-compliant apps, diagnose performance issues – such as problems with “bloaty drivers or the myriad security layers” – and help administrators get “the right kind of device to the right person.” ®

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