In a bid to shore up its management line, Microsoft has announced the acquisition of privately held DesktopStandard, a developer of group policy-based enterprise desktop and server management tools, in a move designed to help customers leverage the value of policy-based management and their investments in Active Directory, the two companies said in a statement.
Group Policy lets administrators control desktops and servers throughout a network by assigning policies according to user groups. The ease with which Group Policy can be administered can have positive effects upon an enterprise's bottom line.
Larry Orecklin, general manager, Microsoft's Windows Enterprise Management division, said that the acquisition enhances the company's ability to meet the needs of its customers to perform group policy lifecycle management, consolidate the number of policy objects being managed, and increase desktop management functionality.
“DesktopStandard products are already seamlessly integrated with Microsoft group policy and are completely complementary with Microsoft technology,” Orecklin said.
The software giant said it will eventually incorporate DesktopStandard's products into Microsoft Group Policy, a software line that permits administrators to control multiple systems through one interface. The integration will make it easier for administrators to install and manage Group Policy, as well as back up important data, according to Orecklin.
DesktopStandard's software works with Active Directory and integrates with Microsoft's Group Policy Management Console (GPMC). GPMC comes standard with Windows Server 2003 and manages operating system settings for multiple computers across a network. It is also supported on Windows 2000 and Windows XP.
"It makes a lot of sense for Microsoft," said Natalie Lambert, an analyst with Forrester Research. "DesktopStandard has made a lot of policy enhancements to the Windows environment."
Lambert noted that the purchase will give administrators the ability to grant less privileged users increased access to network resources, which should ease some of the burden on I.T. managers.
Microsoft's Group Policy lets administrators manage, customize, and lock down desktop and server settings on the basis of a set of network-wide policies. Policies are kept in the directory, and groups are assigned privileges that either allow or prevent them from changing settings or accessing applications.
Lambert explained that the line of software also can prevent users from changing settings and can disable services, such as USB capabilities, to prevent use of removable storage devices.
The ease, with which Group Policy can be administered, especially concerning change management, can often affect a firm's bottom line.
Difficulties in change management can lead to a very high proportion of service issues that may require desk-side support, Crawford said. Generally, difficulties in change management will significantly increase the cost of administration because anything that can reduce that cost and improve the efficiency, maturity and reliability of change management is itself a pretty good investment, he said.
DesktopStandard's software will add stronger tools for centralized administration to Group Policy, giving administrators greater control over what rights users have. "That in itself is a challenge in the Windows environment," said Scott Crawford, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates.
The type of administration will be changing with Longhorn, Microsoft's next-generation server system, and Vista, the successor to Windows XP. However, for this generation, it will lower the total cost of ownership by centralizing the policy administration, according to Crawford.
DesktopStandard currently has more than 3,500 customers using its software suite, covering a spread of some four million desktops.
Lambert said the move follows the recent trend of Microsoft's enterprise security software shifting away from "pure security" toward application management.
"It is not at all surprising that Microsoft made an investment in this space," said Crawford. "It is not terribly surprising that they invested in DesktopStandard because DesktopStandard has worked very closely with Microsoft to extend the Group Policy Management Console itself," he added.
The acquisition includes DesktopStandard intellectual property, facilities, contracts and customer base, but not the PolicyMaker Application Security business, which will be available from BeyondTrust, formerly a wholly owned subsidiary of DesktopStandard and which focuses on enterprise security products that eliminate the need for security administrators to place trust in computers or users.
DesktopStandard will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Under the deal, Microsoft gets the GPOVault, ProfileMaker, Dragnet, PolicyMaker Standard Edition, Registry Extension, Share Manager and Software Update; all of which integrate with and extend Microsoft's existing group policy management tools.
John Moyer, DesktopStandard's CEO and co-founder, will become BeyondTrust CEO, while Eric Voskuil, DesktopStandard CTO and co-founder, will join Microsoft's Windows Enterprise Management division as a software architect.
It is an exciting opportunity to move forward with BeyondTrust at a time when organizations are focused on increasing protection from zero-hour exploits, data theft and unauthorized malicious use, Moyer said in a statement.
Joining with Microsoft will allow DesktopStandard to more quickly meet our goal of helping customers extend group policy to handle the majority of their distributed management tasks and to provide a more manageable environment for doing so.
Customers will benefit now and into the future as our innovative team joins Microsoft in building the future of model-based policy management technologies, Voskuil said in a prepared statement.
The deal also pushes some customers toward Windows Server Update Services as DesktopStandard's Policy-Maker Software Update will no longer be available for purchase. But Microsoft will provide patch information for six months and support customers according to the terms and conditions of existing agreements, the two companies said.
Microsoft would also continue to meet all of DesktopStandard's customer support agreements through their terms, with GPOVault, ProfileMaker, PolicyMaker Standard Edition and Share Manager continuing to be made available through existing DesktopStandard partners and directly from Microsoft, while ProfileMaker will be available only from existing DesktopStandard partners.
DesktopStandard will continue to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft while the DesktopStandard technology transitions across, the companies said.