Intel Says vPro Tames Business PC Management

The chip maker's new platform aims to bolster security and remote management for business desktops; PC makers are stepping up to carry it.

Intel is promising to smooth PC management with the introduction of vPro, a new chip platform for business desktops.

Intel unveiled the collection of chips in a news release Sept. 7. The lineup, as expected, includes its recently introduced Core 2 Duo processor, Q965 chip set and 82566DM Gigabit network interface connector. The platform was immediately adopted by several PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard and Gateway.

Intel said vPro, made public for the first time in April, will bolster security for desktop PCs and make them easier to manage by introducing several automatic self-management capabilities and smoothing out remote management for IT staff.

Improving the functions of management and security, Intel said, will simplify the work of corporate IT managers and thus ultimately help companies save on PC management costs. The platform also sets apart Intels business PC hardware from that of rival Advanced Micro Devices, which has been gaining ground with business PC manufacturers of late.

"What were looking to do is bring together the best of business technologies into a single package," said Mike Ferron-Jones, director of marketing for Intels Digital Office Platforms Division, in Santa Clara, Calif. The chip maker wants to help "solve business computing problems in terms of manageability and better security and provide it all in an energy-efficient package," he said.

The platforms management features, many of which hinge on an updated version of Intels Active Management Technology, AMT 2.0, are what will help produce savings in PC maintenance costs, in part by allowing for automated or remote management schemes to tackle tasks that would normally require a deskside visit by IT staff, Ferron-Jones said.

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AMT, which is a hybrid hardware-software engine built into Intels Q965 chip set, is employed in a number of the vPro desktops system management and defense features. An Agent Presence Monitor, for example, tracks the status of a PCs vital software, such as its anti-virus application. If the application is not present, it executes on a pre-determined policy, to alert IT, reinstall the software automatically or even cut off the PCs network access.

A security feature, dubbed Circuit Breaker, which uses AMT and filters built into the Intel 82566DM Gigabit network connector, monitors network packets moving into and out of a PC. If it detects patterns or behaviors that are considered to be suspicious—a PC sending out packets with incorrect IP addresses, for example, or large amounts of data flowing from one port to a specific address—it takes the system off the network automatically and then can notify IT staff.

The vPro platform also allows PCs to be remotely booted, their hardware remotely inventoried and their software to be remotely updated, even if theyre switched off, Intel has said.

Several PC makers, including Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group, have pledged to launch at least one vPro desktop model for businesses.

HP on Sept. 6 unveiled its vPro desktop, the HP Compaq Business PC dc7700. HP will offer the machine, which comes in both vPro and non-vPro configurations, pre-installed with HPs OpenView Configuration Management Agent for updating software, and the desktop will also sport features such as a TPM (Trusted Platform Module 1.2) and HP ProtectTools software for securing passwords and encrypting the hard drive.

Gateway on Sept. 7 unveiled a vPro-based Gateway E-4610 corporate desktop. The machine offers the Core 2 Duo, Q965 chip set and features such as RAID support and a TPM 1.2. When fitted with a Core 2 Duo E6300, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, Microsofts Windows XP Professional operating system and a three-year warranty, the cost of the machine starts at $939, Gateway said in a statement.

Dell and Lenovo are also expected to deliver vPro PCs in coming weeks.

The vPros arrival could be a boon for corporations, provided that theyre willing to use the right tools with the platform, Richard Shim, an analyst at IDC, in San Mateo, Calif., said in a recent interview.

"Weve heard from corporate PC buyers that security and network manageability are high priorities. But, when it comes to purchasing decisions, those arent at the top of the list," Shim said. "When the money is on the table—when they actually have to pay for these features—theyre hesitant. But what vPro does is basically give [the buyers] what they want without them having to pay extra for it."

But while vPro offers a number of management and security features, most are designed to work along with external management software to convey automated alerts to IT staff or executive remote boot and inventory commands.

To that end, Intel has been working with a wide range of companies to support AMT 2.0. Companies including Altiris, CA (formerly Computer Associates), Check Point Software Technologies, Cisco Systems, LANDesk Software, Microsoft, StarSoftComm, Symantec, Trend Micro and Zenith Infotech have all either announced support for vPro or will do so in the near future, Intel said in a statement.

HP, for one, said it would offer a free update for its OpenView management software to work with AMT 2.0 and vPro.

Several IT services outsourcers, including Atos Origin, Electronic Data Systems and Siemens Business Services, will also incorporate vPro technology in their offerings, the Intel statement said.

Intel has even bigger plans for vPro PCs in the future: The company plans to work with partners to create software-based "appliances" that bolster vPros functions. Intel will offer PC makers virtualization software to create partitions specifically for the appliances.

Symantec and Altiris, the first companies selected by Intel to create specialized appliances for vPro, will offer security and management appliances, respectively. The security appliance will be able to proactively monitor network traffic to help root out and block malware attacks, and will also speed up the deployment of updates such as virus signatures, Intel has said.

However, the appliance approach could also be used for management, as with the Altiris appliance, or, potentially, to add VOIP (voice over IP) in the future, Intel has said.

Still, the Altiris and Symantec vPro appliances, announced in April along with the vPro brand, arent expected to arrive until the first half of 2007, Intels Ferron-Jones said.

That means Lenovo, which has been working with Intel on virtualized applications for some time, is likely to be the first to offer such a virtualized appliance with vPro, once its vPro models arrive.

The company has been offering a virtualized appliance, one of its ThinkVantage Technologies PC management and security add-ons, dubbed Antidote Delivery Engine, since May 16.

Antidote Delivery Engine is part of Lenovos Rescue and Recovery 3.1 software, which backs up a PCs data and then restores it after a crash or event such as a malware attack. The engine will work to patch a PCs software before its restored in order to ensure that it wont crash again or become immediately reinfected with malware. Its status as a virtualized appliance makes it more resistant to crashes and means it can still be reached by IT managers even once a PCs operating system has been compromised

Lenovo is expected to update the utility for use with vPro, Ferron-Jones said.

Intel will continue extend its built-in management features for business PCs. Its next step is to add AMT to notebooks. A forthcoming Core 2 Duo-based notebook chip platform, dubbed "Santa Rosa," will have AMT built in when it arrives in the first half of 2007, Intel has said.

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