Intel is eyeing a plan for using software to boost a PCs ability to fight hackers, talk on the phone and even capture television programs in the future.
The chip maker, which launched its security and manageability-focused vPro brand on April 24, is contemplating mounting an effort to establish a standard method for adding virtual appliances—purpose-built software applications that run on top of their own miniature operating systems inside virtualized partitions—to PCs, a company executive said.
The effort would propose to change the manner in which PCs use virtualization—technology that can divide up a computer to run different software—by allowing manufacturers as well as businesses and consumers to turn to the technology to add one or more virtual appliances to their PCs to boost security, add communications capabilities or even add personal video recorders or other entertainment features.
The approach could prove more popular than using virtualization to run two or more operating systems simultaneously on a PC, something virtualization makes possible today.
Thus, it might also speed up the adoption of virtualization in the PC space. Today, the machines have little in the way of virtualization software available to them.
"The virtual appliance model has one OS, which you interact with, and a separate partition with an embedded appliance. Its a specifically-built [software] device to be able to do a very narrow set of functions," said Mike Ferron-Jones, director of Intels Digital Office Platforms Division in Santa, Clara, Calif.
"The way were setting it up is youd just go to one vendor…and they would provide you everything youd need" for an appliance to do a job like enhancing security.
vPro desktops, due in the third quarter of 2006, will be capable of handling virtualization software such as VMware workstation or Xen by XenSource. However, the numbers of businesses that will actually put them to use, broadly, are likely to be small, Ferron-Jones said.
Even at a company like Intel, probably less than 5 percent of PC users need multiple OSes, as scenario costs can add up fairly quickly when accounting for virtualization software costs, in addition to those for extra operating systems and applications, he estimated.
"The virtual appliance model is designed to be much lower cost," he said.
The first security and manageability appliances designed specifically for vPro PCs will come from Symantec and Altiris, Intel has said.
But Intel isnt the only company looking to virtualization or even pitching virtual appliances to augment PCs. PC maker Lenovo Group and Astaro, based in Burlington, Mass., have both crafted virtual management and security appliances.
Astaro introduced its Security Gateway for VMware, which it claims to be the worlds first network security virtual security appliance, on May 10.
The appliance, Astaro executives said, offers the same features as a separate hardware-based security appliance by running the firms applications on top of virtualization software from VMware.
"Its a pretty natural evolution when you consider that virtualization started on the mainframe and were only now just seeing it in the x86 PC world, as with many different technologies before it," said Alex Neihaus, vice president of marketing for Astaro.
"There are a lot of benefits that companies can realize by applying this approach to security, from the ability to respond to attacks and infrastructure changes more rapidly, to the cost savings related to buying fewer devices."
Lenovo, for its part, is nearing the introduction of a virtualization appliance-like software module designed to augment its Rescue and Recovery software.