IBM's announcement last week of new services designed to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) manage their PCs focused on its ability to nab out-of-control viruses and spam. However, analysts say the move addresses an even more pressing problem -- IT administrators begging for relief from the mundane tasks of desktop maintenance.
The announcement is also another strategic move by IBM to win over the SMB market with its services offerings, and endear itself to the independent software vendors (ISVs) it's aggressively courting.
The SMB market is the current sweet spot and huge growth area for IBM. A major initiative of Big Blue is to seriously impact Microsoft's hold on that market and garner a bigger piece of the action.
For $40 per user per month, IBM will remotely service a company's PCs and printers, including critical software updates.
"It's not a big business opportunity," said Jim Balderston, senior industry analyst, Sageza Group, "but strategically, it's a real smart move because they're giving their business partners another tool to sell IBM products into that marketplace. [All that service backed by IBM] can be a very positive thing for a mid-tier business that doesn't have a lot of slack in their IT budget, and the ISVs are going to be able to sell that."
Balderston calls PC maintenance "grunt" work, and said ISVs aren't likely to have a problem giving the service work to IBM.
"It's a guy going from computer-to-computer uploading [new versions] and that's not a big money maker for third parties," said Patrick Green, director of Business Services,.
IBM says its Desktop Management Services (DMS) will support a variety of personal computing systems, not just IBM hardware.
Offered through IBM's Global Services organization, the service uses tools and technologies developed by IBM Research that transform networks into remotely managed, self-healing, self-updating systems.
IBM manages the desktop systems of Randstad Employment Bureau, a U.K.-based employment agency with 100 offices and 400 employees. Green said the company had trouble securing IT support for its smaller offices. By implementing this service, Green expects a cost savings of about 40%.
"We also hope to be able to open new offices much more quickly, since we can now leave all the associated IT work to IBM," said Green.
Tackling viruses, upgrades
According to London-based security firm mi2g, an often overlooked expense of the management of a PC is the cost of the help desk support, countless fixes and maintenance when viruses infect systems. In fact, one recent infection, MyDoom, cost businesses $26.1 billion in lost productivity.
IBM delivers Desktop Management services by installing a central, remotelymanaged server at the customer site, which distributes the necessary tools and software for managing the desktop environment. Remote management functions include 24-hour network monitoring, software image loading, virus scanning and detection, patch updates, software updates distribution and virtual help-desk services.
The services also allow customers to control and monitor the inventory of employee desktops and printers, which helps guard against fraud and inventory loss. Hardware and application protection features guard against unauthorized access and loss of valuable information, while ensuring that operating systems and related software are compliant with industry standards -- a significant and frequently overlooked cost for organizations.
" Due to the growing number of PCs, PDAs, printers and faxes proliferating in companies today, rapid business growth can be inhibited by the complexities and cost of technology infrastructure support," said Beth Feeney, director of small and medium business offerings, IBM Global Services. "SMBs who have limited access to skilled resources for network, application, Internet and security technology can now tap into IBM's extensive, global resources to free themselves to focus on their business, not IT support."
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