Windows shops weighing Service Desk as an option

IT managers' interest is piqued by Microsoft's foray into the help desk space, but many high-end and low-end software players are already entrenched in IT organizations.

Microsoft's elite beta users recently got their first glimpse at the software company's help desk code as it prepares to launch its first product, code-named Service Desk, by late 2007 or early 2008.

Service Desk promises to have a workflow engine to automate tasks, keep track of an organization's hardware and software assets and centralize software configurations. Microsoft made its help desk foray public last month as part of its System Center Configuration Management product family.

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At the time, Microsoft said Service Desk would include a configuration management database, a similar path taken by such competitors as BMC Software Inc., IBM and HP Co. The database allows for a federated view of all components in an organization, making it easier to track configurations.

Although Microsoft's entrance is years behind the likes of Remedy and Peregrine, now owned by BMC and HP, respectively, IT managers said they are eager to take a look at the code.

The IT team at Southwest Medical Center in Liberal, Kansas, built its own help desk application on Lotus Notes but has plans to migrate off of Notes and onto Exchange. But if Microsoft is building a help desk offering, it may be worth it to hold off on the move to Exchange until the team can check out the software company's new help desk product, said Chris Lehr, network administrator for Southwest Medical.

"This might be good timing because we need something to replace our old system," said Lehr. "Maybe it would just be easier if we moved onto Microsoft's."

The Whitman-Hanson Regional School District in Whitman, Mass., just moved over from the client to the Web-based version of Epicore Software Corp.'s Clientele help desk software and has no intention of migrating to anything else at this point, said Josh MacNeil, assistant director of technology and network operations.

Down the road is another story.

"It all depends on the price and features and how easily we can actually move to [Service Desk]," MacNeil said. "If it's going to be a nightmare, we'll hold off."

"If Microsoft is serious enough about [its help desk product], it's something to consider. It's always easier to solve problems when you have platforms that are simplistic and are designed to work with each other versus calling a third-party vendor," he said.

Windows shops will naturally gravitate toward a help desk product developed by Microsoft, said Chip Gliedman, analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "A lot of companies already have Microsoft management tools, tools for software distribution, asset management and software discovery," he said. "Then they need, or want to have, incident and change management on top of that."

As for competition, Remedy is not terribly worried about Service Desk, said Gliedman, adding that players such as LANDesk and Altiris have more to lose because Microsoft will likely target companies more down market versus large enterprises.

"Microsoft will also have to contend with the Magic [Service Desk] suite, which was bought by BMC as far as an SMB product for companies with up to 2,500 employees," Gliedman said.

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