Known as IBM Desktop Management Services, the hosted suite is IBM's effort to bring some of the on-demand computing practices it's been touting to larger companies down to the midmarket.
"Most competitors are selling tools; we're selling a service solution," said Dale Moegling, manager of international desktop services at IBM's Global Services division. "There's no one else providing such services on a price per seat basis. That's right in line with our on-demand strategy."
Although IBM's better known as a vendor for big companies, it's had some success in the small- to midsize business space, said Beth Feeney, director of small and medium business offerings at IBM Global Services. In the first quarter of 2004, IBM registered a 14% gain in its SMB sales over the same quarter of 2003, Feeny said. The new desktop services are part of IBM's Express Service portfolio, which is under the Global Services' umbrella.
"We're focusing on small- and midsize businesses because all the requirements in an SMB have been seen in larger organizations," said Moegling. "Those larger companies can throw software and personnel at problems, but resources like that aren't readily available to SMBs."
The new suite, priced at $40 per seat per month for U.S. companies with 100 to 1,000 desktop systems, run on an IBM-owned server that's deployed locally within the customer's network but managed remotely by IBM. In addition, IBM installs monitoring software agents on each of the serviced desktops.
IBM Desktop Management services include automated backups of desktop clients, virus and spam scanning, help-desk support, asset tracking, and automatic system patching and updating. The services can be delivered to desktops running Windows 2000 or Windows XP, although they're hardware-agnostic, said Moegling.
Customers can choose to deploy a subset of the suite's services, with a concurrent reduction in the price per seat that IBM charges.
Every night, each desktop's disk image is saved to the local IBM server, said Moegling; customers also can use the imaging service to consolidate and enforce companywide disk image policies--so that, for instance, all systems are running the same edition of Windows 2000--as well as to quickly redeploy systems within the organization.
A computer shifted from one employee to another, for instance, only needs to be plugged into the network for the server to rebuild its disk image with the new user's settings and applications.
Desktop Management also automatically pushes the latest operating system and application patches to all appropriate client machines, then installs them in the background, eliminating the need for IT to handle the chore.
On the security front, Desktop Management relies on virus signature files from multiple anti-virus vendors, including Symantec and anti-spam protection from three unnamed vendors. The defenses are installed on the local IBM hosting server.
According to Moegling, IBM will push updated anti-virus definition files to the serviced desktops even before the virus updates are released to the general public.
"As the anti-virus vendors are working on their newest signatures," said Moegling, "we'll have access to them, even before they're publicly released. We'll be able to take those signatures and implement them to the Desktop Management customers proactively."
Other features in the suite include agents that monitor its status and overall health and proactively deploy patches or other fixes to solve upcoming problems. A virtual help desk is also available to end users through a portal running on the local server, which offers up an array of online information. If that's not sufficient, the problem can be automatically bumped to the in-house IT staff.
Although Desktop Management Services is available only to companies buying 100 to 1,000 seats, IBM is working on solutions for even smaller organizations, said Moegling. "We want to bring the same services to small businesses [with fewer than 100 seats] at the same price point," he added, "but right now that's impossible."
The new services are available worldwide, but at differing prices. In Canada, for instance, the service runs $55 (U.S.) per seat per month, while in Europe the monthly cost is $50 per seat.