Google and Amazon have been the leaders in the cloud space, but Microsoft's recent offerings, such as Windows Azure, Office 365, and Windows Intune, have pushed the company to the forefront of cloud computing. In fact, Windows Intune could be the first cloud-based application that businesses really adopt. Windows Intune provides simple cloud-based management and security for the desktop PCs in your environment. In its early stages, Intune is no replacement for System Center, but all indications are that Microsoft will be vastly expanding the capabilities of future Intune versions. Here are the top 10 benefits provided by Windows Intune.

10. Price—While Intune does possess a client component, Intune is sold as a service. The current price for Windows Intune is $11 per PC per month. This price might seem a bit high for small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs), but it also includes an upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise edition. You can get a free 30-day trial of Intune for up to 25 PCs from Microsoft's website.

9. Components—Intune is comprised of two basic components: a client agent and an administrative console. The administrative console is web-based and it requires Silverlight 3.0. The client agent lets you manage desktop PCs; it comes in an .msi file that's signed with a certificate, making it unique to each customer. It can be downloaded directly from the Intune site or distributed through Group Policy.

8. Malware protection—The Intune client takes advantage of the same Microsoft Malware Protection Engine that's supplied with the well-regarded Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) product. The Intune malware engine protects against both viruses and spyware, and it shares the same malware definitions and research that MSE uses.

7. Centrally managed updates—Like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), Intune can deliver software updates to Windows as well as Microsoft applications. Unlike WSUS, which works over your network infrastructure, Intune delivers those updates from the cloud (i.e. the Internet). Intune supports auto-deployment rules as well as customized installation and notification of the updates deployed.

6. Centrally managed security policies—Although Intune isn't integrated with Active Directory (AD), administrators can still use it to distribute security policies to all Intune-managed PCs. Intune lets the administrator control updates, firewall settings, and endpoint protection policies. If these PCs are also managed by AD, then AD's Group Policy settings will take precedence.

5. Remote assistance—Another big benefit that Intune brings is the ability to provide remote assistance. A desktop icon on the Intune client lets the desktop user request remote assistance, which sends an alert to the Intune administrative console; these requests can also be sent through email. The administrator can then respond to the request, which starts a Microsoft Easy Assist session where the administrator can chat, send files, or share the desktop with the end user.

4. Tracking hardware and software inventory—For each Intune-managed PC, the Intune administrative console lets you see the basic hardware configuration as well as the software that has been installed on the client system. Inventory scanning lets the administrator find unapproved and unlicensed applications. In case you were wondering, Microsoft can't access your Intune license reports.

3. Reporting—Out-of-the-box, Intune delivers Updates, Software, and Licenses reports. Each of these reports allows custom filtering and reporting criteria. The Updates report shows the status of the patches and updates deployed. The Software report lists the installed applications. The Licenses report compares deployed software to your current license agreements. Reports can be exported to HTML or to CSV files for importing to Microsoft Excel.

2. Desktop monitoring—One of the primary benefits that Windows Intune provides is the ability to monitor the health of the Intune-managed desktops. Windows Intune uses the Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 agent in conjunction with the Windows Intune Monitoring agent. The Ops Manager agent reports on hardware and software health, and the Intune Monitoring agent reports on the status of the Intune agents themselves. Alerts are sent to the Intune administrative console.

1. Manage multiple accounts—Because Windows Intune is cloud-based, it isn't limited to monitoring a single location. The Windows Intune Multi-Account Console provides a summary view of the current status of multiple customer accounts, which is a great feature for consultants working with different customers. The Multi-Account Console lets you filter accounts based on their status as well as drill down into the specific status of each account