Vendors and Kool Aid drinkers love to tell you that everything can be solved with off-the-shelf products and services. To me that's no different than saying every known disease can be cured by a visit to the drug store. Thankfully, we aren't all Kool Aid drinkers. And thankfully we have Microsoft's myriad platform technologies, which happen to be FREE.
Paul Thurrott has said many times that Microsoft isn't really a product builder, they're a platforms creator. They are indeed the king (or queen, if you prefer) of platforms.
Without going into a lot of messy detail, I will just say that you can do some pretty damn interesting things with a mixture of WMI/WBEM scripting, Windows Search scripting, System Center Configuration Manager and Group Policy. I'm not just tossing names out. These can indeed be combined into a cohesive solution to a complex problem.
Another recipe might involve SQL Server, ADSI/LDAP interfaces, WMI, scripting, SCCM, ASP and Task Scheduler. I'm almost done with a project that broils all these in the oven at once to make a very tasty dish.
Another recipe might involve Gmail or Live Mail, a smartphone, Active Directory, SQL Server, EVENTTRIGGERS, ASP and a six-pack of Belgian Trappist Ale in a ice cooler, relaxing on a sunny beach. That was a fun project indeed.
The coolest part is that all of these ingredients are FREE and come bundled neatly inside every installation of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Even cooler? These barely scratch the surface. There are hundreds of little building block platform resources tucked inside your Windows boxes. Unleash them.