Intel vPro Technology Aims to Better Secure, Manage Corporate Desktops

The latest version of Intel's vPro technology for desktops, formerly code-named McCreary, adds new management and security features that should make it easier for IT managers to fix and monitor a fleet of corporate desktops. Intel is also enhancing vPro with a new feature called Dynamic Virtual Client, which will allow various virtualization technologies to work with and take advantage of Intel's vPro features.

Intel is sprucing up its vPro management and security technology for corporate desktops by adding new features, including allowing PCs to "call" an IT administrator for help. Intel is also working with partners and ISVs to improve the ability to create a virtual desktop infrastructure by using vPro technology.

Intel announced the latest enhancements to its vPro Technology platform during a Sept. 22 event. The latest version of Intel's vPro Technology-formerly code-named McCreary-includes support for Intel's newer dual- and quad-core Core 2 desktop processors. There is also a new chip set-the Intel Q45 Express-and the 82567LM Gigabit Network Connection.

The vPro technology, which Intel first introduced for desktops in 2006 and then for laptops in 2007, is essentially a chip bundle designed to make it easier for IT departments to manage and secure a large corporate fleet of PCs. Intel has been partnering with companies such as Symantec and LANDesk to provide the security and desktop management software.

The updates Intel announced around vPro represent another incremental step as the chip giant looks to convince more of its customers to begin using the technology that has been included with their corporate desktops. Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, said he believes that enterprises will need about 25 percent of the fleet to have Intel vPro installed on the desktops before it makes economic sense to invest in the management features.

"My sense now is that there are a slightly higher proportion of enterprises that have met the [vPro] criteria and Intel is starting to get some adoption," Kay said.

At the same time, Intel is hoping that by adding more features it can entice its customers to look at and invest in the vPro Technology platform.

The features that Intel introduced Sept. 22 include the ability for the IT department to connect with and fix a PC whether the desktop or notebook is inside or outside the corporate firewall. The new set of technologies also allows an administrator to contact the PC whether the machine is fully functioning or if it has been damaged and the operating system is no longer working or has been crippled.

Within this out-of-band technology, Intel has added two features. The first is Remote Alert, which allows a PC to call the IT department on its own without notifying the user first. The second is Remote Scheduled Maintenance, which allows the IT manager to schedule maintenances checkups automatically.

In addition, Intel has added a tool called Access Monitor, which keeps a log of activities within an individual PC and can also identify and stop a virus or malware. Intel is also adding support for Microsoft's NAP (Network Access Protection), which helps determine the health of PC attached to the network. vPro also supports Cisco Systems' NAC (Network Admission Control).

The fact that Intel is offering its own desktop and laptops management does not mean that it's the only choice IT departments have if they decide they need this level of protection. For its part, Advanced Micro Devices, which just released its first complete desktop platform earlier in 2008, is supporting and pushing DASH (desktop and mobile architecture for system hardware) standards as a better and more open way to secure PCs.

While Intel's vPro is proprietary, the company also supports DASH as well.

However, Intel is looking ahead toward a future where more and more companies might decide to create and invest in a virtual desktop infrastructure. Some of the companies that are pushing the VDI model include VMware, Citrix Systems and Microsoft.

To that end, Intel also introduced a program called Dynamic Virtual Client. This allows Intel to work with ISVs and other virtualization providers to offer a way for a VDI environment to work with and take advantage of vPro Technology and other features such as Active Management Technology and Trusted Execution Technology.

The Dynamic Virtual Client technology works as an application delivery system. The technology creates a secure container that can deliver the operating system and application to a client, while allowing the IT department to control the data from a central location.

For example, Intel vPro will work with Microsoft's Application Virtualization v4.5-formerly SoftGrid-to allow for remote waking and updating of a client with the virtual application cached within the client's drive. This allows IT to push an update without notifying the user and saves power by allowing for a central way to wake up and shut down PCs.

"The world is rapidly turning into a mix of real and virtual systems," Kay said. "One adaptation of vPro is to handle the virtual world better. When vPro was first introduced two years ago, virtualization for the desktop was still pretty rare. In order to adapt, Intel has to work with the virtual versions of things. With whatever client session is going on, some subset of vPro has to work with this [VDI] and allow it to come up on a console."

Finally, Intel is also moving toward making vPro available for small and midsize businesses with 25 or fewer PCs. For SMBs, Intel is providing Remote PC Assist Technology, which helps a business connect with a service provider that will use the out-of-band technology to monitor and update that business' desktop and notebooks.