Business desktop PCs are set to get smarter next month with the arrival of chip maker Intels vPro platform for corporate desktops.
The platform, which is based on Intels recently introduced Core 2 Duo processor along with a new supporting chip set that includes baked-in management technology, will be unveiled in early September, company officials have told eWEEK.
When it launched the vPro brand in April, Intel promised the ensuing platform would help make business PCs easier for IT staffs to administer by offering a number of remote management tools, promoting closer ties to management software makers such as LANDesk and stepping up security. The key to those features is an updated version of Intels Active Management Technology and the ability to use virtualization. Dubbed AMT 2.0, the hardware/software management engine provides the on-board capability to accomplish tasks such as monitor a PCs hardware and software configurations and thus assess its overall health.
“We think its time to reinvent the desktop,” Paul Otellini, Intels CEO, said during the April 24 vPro brand launch event in San Francisco. “We think its time to reinvent those 85 million [desktops shipped per year] and help bring better manageability [and] better security into the business environment. Its all about driving costs down and driving productivity up for our employees.”
After months of development and testing, numerous PC makers are expected to launch at least one vPro desktop model. Among them are Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group.
Although it might appear that vPros baked-in capabilities level the playing field among the manufacturers in some respects—PC makers often use the so-called manageability features of their machines to differentiate themselves—companies such as Lenovo are instead welcoming the platform as a springboard to help set their machines apart.
Lenovo will pair vPro with LANDesk management software and its own ThinkVantage technologies, which center on maintaining and protecting users data and applications, for example.
“We actually think that when you sit down and look at all three of these solutions together, a ThinkCentre from Lenovo probably has the most innovation out of all the PC manufacturers that are out there,” said Thomas Tobul, executive director for global desktop marketing at Lenovo, speaking from the PC makers Beijing offices.
Tobul declined to offer details on Lenovos vPro plans, however.
In addition to basic tasks such as tracking desktops hardware configurations, vPro will be able to offer more advanced services, including remote boot, troubleshooting and repair capabilities. PCs based on the platform can also be set to alert IT staffs when critical software, such as anti-virus applications, are turned off or removed. A feature dubbed Circuit Breaker can remove a PC from a computer network if a malware threat is detected.
But Intel will also offer even more advanced features via a new strategy that seeks to build software-based appliances directly into PCs. >
That strategy, which will address security and management at first, will take advantage of virtualization—technology that can partition a PC to run different types of software simultaneously—thats built into the vPro platform. It will use the technologies to create virtual partitions on PCs, which can house specialized security and management software.
Intel will supply software that allows PC makers to create virtual partitions, which can house security or management applications. When used for security, the approach can set up a checkpoint between the network and the machines operating system and data. A security application can guard the PC by monitoring network traffic into the machine. It can be made to intervene if a malware attack is sensed. It can also work to automatically update virus definitions.
Intel tapped Symantec as its first vPro security partner. Symantec has said it will offer a security agent that will reside in the partition, which it says is both more proactive—it will include behavior analysis designed to root out zero-day attacks—and quicker to deploy signatures.
When it comes to PC management, Altiris has been working on a agent designed to simplify the management of vPro PCs. But, initially, PC makers will only be able to offer PCs with either a security partition or a management partition, not both on the same machine, the chip maker said.
Meanwhile, not all computers sold under the vPro brand will come with its security and management features. The platform will offer two basic configurations, including a basic and a premium configuration. Only the premium configurations will includes vPros management and security extras.
A vPro Professional desktop will come with all of the features. It will also include the new Core 2 Duo, Intels Q965 Express Chipset—a chip set that handles the movement of data inside a PC—which includes graphics, Intels AMT 2.0 (Advanced Management Technology 2.0) and things like Gigabit Ethernet. A new Intel network adapter card is also included, the company said.
A vPro Fundamental PC, which lacks most of the security and management features, will come with Intels Pentium D and a lesser chip set. The Fundamental PCs will offer some baseline business features, such as Intels stability guarantee, under which it pledges to offer its hardware unchanged for 15 months, including three for testing and 12 for deployment. But vPro Fundamental desktops will lack AMT 2.0 and therefore not include management technologies found in the Professional-series PCs, the company said.
Intel will continue to extend vPro features over time. The company will deliver AMT to notebooks in 2007. A forthcoming notebook platform, dubbed Santa Rosa and due in the first half of 2007, will incorporate AMT and virtualization features, along with the Core 2 Duo processor for notebooks, according to Intel.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.