Microsoft acquires policy-based management vendor DesktopStandard

Microsoft Monday moved to improve its portfolio of management tools by acquiring DesktopStandard, which develops software that uses group policy for managing computers.

DesktopStandard develops a range of tools that extend Microsoft’s native Group Policy technology, which is supported on Windows 2000, XP and Windows Server 2003, and works in conjunction with Active Directory. DesktopStandard’s products integrate with and extend Microsoft’s Group Policy Management Console (GPMC).

Microsoft’s Group Policy lets administrators manage, customize and lock down desktop and server settings based on a set of policies maintained in the directory. The policies, for example, can prevent users from changing settings and can also disable services such as USB ports to prevent use of removable storage devices.

Despite its name, DesktopStandard’s software is used to manage both desktops and servers.

Microsoft did not announce terms of the deal, which it said closed Sept. 29. The company plans to continue selling and supporting Desktop Standard’s product under that name until it can develop new product naming and a road map, according to company officials.

“As we make more investment around the GPMC, customers were asking for more policies, more settings you can configure, more to manage your environment,” says Praerit Garg, senior director of the Windows enterprise management division at Microsoft. “The other area was around change management because multiple administrators have to manipulate those [group policy] objects.”

Experts say change management is key across a number of domains for corporate users.

“Change management is fundamental to effective security and regulatory compliance management,” says Scott Crawford, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. “If you don’t do change management right, or even do it well, not only will you run security and compliance risks you are liable to have a huge percentage of your IT service issues be a direct consequence of poorly managed change.”

Grag adds that it's too early to say if DesktopStandard’s features and products will be integrated into Windows or be added to its emerging line of management tools under the System Center banner.

“This is good for any organization that uses group policy as long as [Microsoft] integrates it well,” says Jeremy Moskowitz, who runs the Web site and conducts group policy training and seminars worldwide. “Obviously, Group Policy has grown up. If Microsoft is spending time, money and resources integrating this and making its in-the-box management tools better, then it shows that people have already given Group Policy a look to figure out if it is their way to do management and clearly the answer is yes.”

Microsoft will acquire GPOVault, PolicyMaker Standard Edition, ProfileMaker, Dragnet, Registry Extension, Software Update and Share Manager with DesktopStandard, which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary.

DesktopStandard had been developing a product called PolicyMaker Change Management that was slated to ship this year, but the availability of that product has not been determined, according to Microsoft officials. Software Update will be discontinued.

DesktopStandard’s CTO and co-founder Eric Voskuil will join Microsoft’s Windows Enterprise Management Division as software architect. About half of DesktopStandard's 55 employees also will join Microsoft.

What is not part of the deal is DesktopStandard’s user privilege tool PolicyMaker Application Security, which will be spun off into BeyondTrust, formerly a wholly owned subsidiary of DesktopStandard.

Microsoft, however, is focusing on GPOVault, which Grag says is key to the company’s plans to offer change management as part of its policy-based management tool set.

GPOVault is a repository for group policy objects (GPOs), which are collections of policies that can be applied universally.

GPOVault lets users control the creation, modification and deletion of GPOs; delegate responsibility for specific GPOs to specific administrators; assign users roles such as editing, review and approval, and audit all activity. The GPOVault also lets users recover a deleted GPO, repair live GPOs and roll back any changes.

The enterprise version of GPOVault is a client/server application that requires administrators to connect to the server to make changes. The free version is a client-only application that plugs into GPMC.

DesktopStandard introduced GPOVault Enterprise in 2005, the same year PolicyMaker Application Security and PolicyMaker Share Manager debuted. PolicyMaker Standard Edition was launched in late 2003, while PolicyMaker Software Update debuted in mid-2004.

PolicyMaker Registry Extension, which is a part of PolicyMaker Standard Edition, and GPOVault are offered as free products.

Privately held DesktopStandard is coming off a record year in terms of profitability. In fiscal 2005, it posted a 107% increase in revenues over 2004. Also, its group policy products were its strongest growth area, with an increase of 210% in sales.

Former DesktopStandard CEO John Moyer, who will assume the same title at BeyondTrust, says DesktopStandard also doubled its sales in fiscal 2006.

“BeyondTrust is taking a look what can be done outside the standard management realm,” Moyer says. “BeyondTrust starts off with Policy Manager Application Security and serves the security market from within group policy.”

BeyondTrust plans to offer a policy-based method for controlling users' privileges on the desktop. “Our product and message is to allow the network to move beyond having to trust users and really move to a state of enforced privilege. Security has to be hard coded.”

DesktopStandard was one of many Microsoft partners around group policy that include NetIQ, ScriptLogic, Quest Software, Centrify, NetPro, Special Operations Software and SysPro.

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