Intel vPro Enhancements Coming with 'Sandy Bridge'

With the chip architecture code-named Sandy Bridge will come the fifth generation of Intel's vPro software, and the company's acquisition of McAfee may promise future innovation for desktops and notebooks.

Much of the discussion around Intel's "Sandy Bridge" chip has centered on its integrated graphics technology. However, the next-generation Core architecture also will come with some key enhancements to the company's vPro management and security capabilities.

In his keynote address Sept. 13 at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, CEO Paul Otellini talked about the success of the vPro software in enterprise systems over the past several years, saying the company has shipped more than 55 million units. Otellini also briefly touched on the possibilities of what Intel could create thanks to the combination of vPro and the security technology the company will acquire through its proposed $7.68 billion purchase of McAfee.

He referred to moving from a reactive posture-what he called a "known-bad model"-to being more proactive in security by addressing issues before they become problems.

"Only the combination of hardware and software ... can yield this kind of innovation, and that's the reason for buying McAfee," Otellini said.

Pund-IT Research analyst Charles King said the combination could yield some significant results for businesses.

"By the time Sandy Bridge arrives, I expect we'll begin to see closer integration between vPro and McAfee's security technologies, allowing businesses to manage [and] secure employee PCs and notebooks from a single, integrated platform," King said in an e-mail to eWEEK. "That has profound implications both for vPro and Intel's business clients."

During a question-and-answer period after her keynote at the show Sept. 14, Renee James, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Software and Services Group, said the acquisition of McAfee could help in such areas as anti-theft protection.

Because the McAfee deal has yet to close, Intel executives interviewed at the show were reluctant to comment too much on the subject of what influence McAfee's technology could have on vPro. However, Rick Echevarria, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group and general manager of Intel's Business Client Platform Division, outlined several key innovations that the upcoming fifth generation of vPro will offer independent of any McAfee influence.

For one, vPro will support higher-definition graphics, Echevarria said in an interview with eWEEK at IDF. The growing importance of graphics capabilities in general-purpose computing was evident during the show, given the increasing use of computers by both businesses and consumers for three-dimensional graphics applications, high-definition video, multimedia and multitasking.

With the quad-core version of Sandy Bridge, in addition to allowing higher-resolution graphics, vPro lets users remotely switch from the lower-power integrated graphics mode to a high-end discrete graphics mode.

The chip, through vPro, will allow for host-based activation and configuration as well, Echevarria said.

On the security side, users currently can kill and restore stolen or missing PCs over an Ethernet network or WiFi. The technology essentially lets the user wipe out the hard drive remotely, leaving the thief with a blank system. With Sandy Bridge, users whose systems are lost or stolen will be able to perform the same function over a 3G network, he said.

"Basically, you send a text message to the device and shut it down," Echevarria said. "Now you can do it over 3G, in addition to WiFi and Ethernet."