Altiris, Intel Team Up to Rein In PCs

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2007-03-21
 
 
 
The Altiris Manageability Toolkit 6.0 for Intel vPro Technology should significantly reduce IT management costs in large organizations.

Intels vPro technology, enabled by the companys Core 2 Duo processors, allows management software such as Altiris to provide serverlike control over desktop systems. Leveraging vPro, the Altiris Manageability Toolkit 6.0 provides device discovery, hardware and software inventory, OOB (out of band) power management, remote diagnostics and repair, BIOS access, and even network filtering using a virtualized appliance.

During eWEEK Labs tests with the Altiris platform, which has a suggested retail price of $18 per managed node, vPro test systems were much easier to manage than systems we had to physically turn on to gather inventory information or to provide patch management services. The labor savings achieved by avoiding deskside visits should be one of the chief factors for buying vPro-enabled hardware, which comes at a premium.

Power Platform

Intel announced its vPro technology in April 2006 and unveiled the business desktop chip platform in September. The Intel vPro platform comprises the Intel Core 2 Duo architecture with the Q965 chipset, Pro/1000 NICs and Intel software.

Hewlett-Packard is one of the first computer makers to ship a desktop system based on the Intel vPro platform—the HP dc7700—but Dell, Gateway and Lenovo Group have all stated that they will ship systems equipped with vPro.

vPros remote management capabilities come largely through Intels AMT (Active Management Technology). AMT provides a remote communication channel available to authorized IT staff, as well as persistent, nonvolatile memory where third-party application data can be stored.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Intels WOL (Wake on LAN) technology has been around for years and was part of the forerunner of AMT, IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface). However, AMT packets are a big improvement over the LAN segment broadcast packets—called Magic Packets—employed by WOL. The AMT packets also can be encrypted to provide a greater level of machine security than WOL ever did.

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During tests, we connected the HP dc7700 to our network, which distributed IP addresses via DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). In Dynamic mode, the Pro/1000 NIC grabbed a single IP address at boot-up time. During the time between power-up and when Microsoft Windows Vista came online, the NIC was available to the network via a handshake packet that we used to communicate with the Altiris Manageability Toolkit 6.0.

We also tested the HP system in Static mode. In our case, two static IP addresses were assigned to the system: one for management functions and one for production-network use.

We saw no performance differences between the two modes, although we expect most organizations to run in Dynamic mode.

We also could send a special packet to a PC that would power up the machine even if it had been turned off. We used this capability along with the Altiris Network Discovery application. On the Altiris console, we set up address ranges to scan for systems. We used the AMT option and ran the discovery process on a daily schedule to ensure that new systems were added as discovered.

We went right for the jugular and ran discovery with our HP dc7700 turned off. The discovery process worked without a problem, and the machine showed up in the console under the AMT device group. Other non-vPro systems were discovered and added to our inventory—but only, of course, if they were powered on.

Taking Inventory

Hardware and software inventory management is coming into greater importance as IT departments consider migrating to Vista. Even though these deployments are likely several years out, IT managers must make decisions now based on the inventory of deployed PCs.

One of the advantages of using Altiris with a vPro system is that the hardware and even some software inventory data can be collected even if a PC user has damaged or removed the Altiris agent. Because Intel AMT can provide software inventory information, we were able to get fairly complete data from systems that were in a powered-off state.

Even more important than preparing for operating system migration reports, remote inventory can assist help desk staff by ensuring that end-user systems have the hardware and software required for proper operation.

To be clear, while all these operations are termed OOB management functions by Altiris and Intel, the network connection and network card in the target system must be working properly for all this magic to work.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at cameron_sturdevant@ziffdavis.com.

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