WebEx has produced a hosted systems management service to cover asset management and automated backup.

Its System Management Services will provide access to software distribution, patch management and virus protection, and come under WebEx's existing Support Center, which provides remote access and support.

The services come through partnership with management vendor Everdream, and is part of the company's effort to expand from its Web conferencing roots by using its MediaTone Network to carve out a spot as a provider of software-as-a-service.

"They are saying: 'We have this network that works very well and we should add more to it'," said IDC analyst Robert Mahowald. He says the initial target customer may be existing WebEx customers, but small and mid-size businesses may also find the services attractive.

"This is a very good option for SMBs because they don't have to ramp up more IT costs and they get a high level of service. It is just flipping a switch and training administrators to use it," Mahowald says.

WebEx hopes to compete with other hosted service providers, such as GoToAssist and LogMeIn, as well as on-premises vendors such as PatchLink and Shavlik Technologies, and systems management giants including CA, HP, IBM and Microsoft.

WebEx's asset management service performs a complete inventory of a user's network and tracks all installed software and hardware. It also tracks software licensing to help manage costs. The patch-management service is integrated with Microsoft's patch download site and the virus-protection service is based on Symantec's Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition. The services do not require users to install anything on their networks.

Pricing ranges from $5 to $15 depending on the number of services deployed.