The dynamics of modern Windows device management [Q&A]

Windows 11 keyboard

Despite Apple and Linux gaining ground in recent years Windows still commands over 50 percent of the endpoint desktop market.

This means that Windows device management is a key priority for enterprises. We spoke to Apu Pavithran, founder and CEO of Hexnode, to learn more about device management and how it can be used effectively.

BN: What key factors should businesses prioritize when it comes to deploying Windows device management?

AP: Windows devices are still very popular in the workplace. The diversity and flexibility of these devices makes them an essential component among many industries. Compared to MacBooks, Windows offers a lot more flexibility. And you can run anything on Windows! Device management is the same. Windows offers a lot more granular control to the IT team when managing it.

You would typically use a Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) solution to manage both Windows PCs and mobile devices. Depending upon the size of the team IT should choose UEM solutions that make their work easier, not harder. Starting with zero-touch enrollment, which minimizes the need for manual setup and makes it particularly beneficial for large-scale deployments of devices within organizations. When it comes to security, a dedicated patch management system automates updates, minimizing downtime and enhancing control over patches. Data security, ensured by Windows' BitLocker, is further managed centrally by UEMs, offering additional security layers. Similarly, capabilities such as ease-of-use, remote troubleshooting, application management, scalability, and third-party integrations are some of the most essential and sought-after functionalities in a UEM. This approach enables businesses to navigate the complexities of Windows device management with a focus on security, efficiency, and adaptability.

BN: Easy provisioning of new devices is a necessity and Windows Autopilot has made it essentially zero-touch. How has this changed the whole device management experience for the IT teams and admins?

AP: For a company with a couple of hundred devices, zero-touch or hands-free enrollment is a must have. In Windows' case, this is achieved through Windows Autopilot. Prior to its introduction, IT administrators were required to wipe the operating system that came pre-installed on a new endpoint and replace it with their personalized image. Such an image comprises of drivers, programs, settings, and policies tailored by the company for distribution to end users during the setup of a Windows device.

Much like Apple's Device Enrollment Program, Autopilot facilitates the bulk enrollment of devices into the UEM service. Windows 10/11 incorporates UEM support that can be managed by various solutions such as SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) or third-party endpoint management solutions like Hexnode UEM.

This service allows the configuration of a customized setup menu, enabling the selection of setup policies that can be skipped, setting password policies, and more. The outcome is a highly personalized, business-ready device that is set up with minimal effort from the end-user.

BN: Timely updates and patching are critical to the security of the business. How do you address these risks and give businesses control, transparency and visibility into their assets?

AP: You're right; in today's ever-evolving threat landscape, staying ahead of vulnerabilities is crucial. Businesses need 360-degree visibility into all their assets and status and should be able to respond effectively and timely, no matter the issue. The UEM first aid for a lost or stolen device is always selective or whole device wipe, device locking etc. but more on a preventive side of things, UEM can help with patch management as well. The most essential capability of any patch management system is to offer granular access, allowing businesses to target specific devices or groups based on criteria such as device model, OS version, or department. Fine-tuned update selection, configurable preferences, and the ability to defer deployments provide precise control. The platform also supports scheduled and silent deployments, minimizing user disruption, with control over restarts and a compliance monitor for prompt issue resolution.

Furthermore, Hexnode expands on this idea by offering comprehensive vulnerability reporting, critical patch prioritization, and the ability to blacklist updates for compatibility concerns, ensuring transparency through detailed audit logs. So, utilizing a patch management system allows businesses to proactively minimize cyberattacks, reduce IT workload through automation, increase device uptime with controlled rollouts, and optimize the overall security posture.

BN: Encryption is another important security feature to consider in a business environment. How does UEM fit into the encryption puzzle?

AP: BitLocker is a powerful encryption tool built into Windows and Hexnode complements it and expands data privacy in several ways. BitLocker requires manual activation and configuration on each device, often overlooked in enterprise settings. Hexnode simplifies this by allowing centralized deployment and management of BitLocker encryption policies across entire device fleets. This ensures consistent data protection across all devices.

Furthermore, UEMs allow administrators to select distinct encryption methods for fixed and removable drives, tailor recovery options, and effortlessly escrow BitLocker recovery keys to the UEM portal for convenient access. It even goes a step further by enabling the configuration of startup authentication and minimum password length, adding an extra layer of security to BitLocker.

Therefore, while BitLocker remains a valuable encryption tool, Hexnode acts as an essential partner to it offering centralized management, additional security features, and compliance assistance, making it a more comprehensive solution for safeguarding data privacy in enterprise environments.

BN: How do you see the future of Windows device management unfolding?

AP: The landscape of Windows device management is evolving rapidly in response to the surge in new technologies and the proliferation of diverse endpoints. One notable shift is the increasing emphasis on automation and self-service. Just as Windows Autopilot streamlined device provisioning, upcoming AI-powered tools are poised to automate not only basic tasks but also troubleshooting. This reliance on automation for deploying, configuring, and maintaining devices allows IT admins to focus on more strategic or complex responsibilities.

In addition to this, the scope of Windows management is extending beyond traditional PCs and laptops. The evolving endpoint landscape that started with IoT devices and wearables now demands the inclusion of mixed-reality platforms. This evolution anticipates the development of more adaptable device management solutions specifically designed to meet the unique requirements of these diverse devices, ensuring a seamless integration of data and applications.

Lastly, the ongoing trend toward zero-trust security models is gaining prominence. This model, characterized by continuous monitoring, multi-factor authentication, and conditional access, is becoming essential in the face of increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. In the coming years, it will go beyond traditional perimeter-based security, integrating with endpoint management and security solutions to establish a comprehensive and holistic approach to security.

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