In the past couple months I was occupied with System Center Configuration Manager 2007 configuration and deployment in my test lab. I have been testing software deployment and computer management scenarios. SCCM is a great thing to have in an enterprise, since it gives you all needed tools to manage and monitor computer, application and updates behavior. Also, it is a perfect tool for automation of OS deployment.
On the other side, if you do not need all the tools included in SCCM or you do not have the knowledge or manpower to sustain such service, you might want to take a look at AIS and incoming Windows Intune cloud services.
Asset Inventory Service s Microsoft cloud service that is available through MDOP which in turn is only available to SA buyers. AIS is designed to collect software inventory from your computers and collect it in your cloud database so you can create reports from it. It collects data from Add/Remove registry database, MSI database, Program Files folder and Start menu.Its main goal is to manage software compliance and licensing rights. If you have MVLS, it will automatically connect to it and tell you how many Microsoft licenses are you currently using and if you are over on under your rights.
If you want to take step up from AIS but still do not want to install your own SCCM infrastructure, Windows Intune is the right tool for you. AIS is included in Intune, and besides that you get options to install updates to your computers, manage security policies, protect computer from malware and track hardware changes. Client requirements are Windows XP SP2 (SP3 recommended), Windows Vista Enterprise, Business and Ultimate or Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. Windows Intune is currently in a beta phase and is available only to selected partners. Price per machine is targeted at $11, depending on number of licenses and your licensing agreement. One cool thing is that when you purchase Intune licenses, you get the right to upgrade your operating systems to Windows 7 Enterprise, or to downgrade to lower version. Windows Intune is ideal solution for companies that have lots of travelling worker and need complete management solution.
Concerning security, AIS and Intune use HTTPS connection between agent on client operating system and cloud service. All data is encrypted in the cloud and only owner has access to it.
If you are not satisfied with any of these solutions, you can always purchase SCE 2010 or SCCM 2007, depending on the size of your enterprise.