IBM preps desktop management services

IBM has designed a new set of services specifically for small and medium-size businesses that need help managing their desktop PCs and printers, the company announced Wednesday.

The new suite, called IBM Desktop Management Services, is available now and is priced starting at US$40 per seat per month.

The services are delivered remotely by IBM via the Internet through servers loaded with desktop management software that IBM places at the clients' sites, said Dale Moegling, manager of International Desktop Services at IBM Global Services during a conference call with reporters.

The suite of services will enhance and reduce the cost of companies' desktop management, while freeing up in-house IT staffers to do more sophisticated work, Moegling said. "This is intended to be complementary to the work of in-house IT folks," he said.

He gave the hypothetical example of a hospital, where the internal IT staffers would be able to devote more time to hospital applications, while IBM would provide the day-to-day management of desktops, such as virus-definition updates and network monitoring. "Our offering is for more traditional, mechanical support services," he said.

Only PCs running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 and Windows XP can be serviced by IBM. Other desktop operating systems, such as those based on Linux, aren't supported, he said.

For $40 per month per user, IBM will deliver a suite of services that includes, among other things:

-- the IBM servers that are remotely managed by IBM over the Internet and that have the necessary desktop management software;

-- automated backup of end-users' desktop PCs, so that in the event of a hard-disk failure, the PC can be reconstituted by IBM remotely without intervention from the client's IT staff;

-- updating of virus definitions, sometimes before the definitions become generally available, and virus scanning;

-- remote desktop monitoring, including automatic software distribution and updates.

"This suite of services is interesting because it is fairly comprehensive and addresses buckets of different areas that are of concern to SMBs (small and medium-size businesses)," said John Madden, a Summit Strategies Inc. analyst. "It hits all the pain points."

The suite shows that IBM effectively adapted services and methods it has provided to large companies and repackaged them for SMBs in a way that is affordable and simpler, he said. Now IBM needs to continue making its case to SMBs, which may not until now have considered IBM a services provider they could afford, Madden said.

"These SMB folks may be wondering why IBM would want their business. IBM needs to convince them that not only does it want their business, but that it will go out of its way to get it," he said. "IBM needs to keep focused on making itself attractive to them."

IBM's initiative is yet another indication of the rising importance of SMBs for large IT services providers, which see a growth area in this segment of the market, Madden said. Other IBM IT services competitors focusing on catering to SMBs include Hewlett-Packard Co., Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Dell Inc., he said.

Two factors are fueling the IT services growth in the SMB segment: one is an increase in demand from SMBs themselves for IT services, and the other is a newfound interest from large IT services providers in this traditionally underserved market, he said.

"The growth has to come from somewhere, and large IT services providers are looking to the midmarket for it," Madden said. "SMB clients will feel particularly well-catered to in the coming years."

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