Intel vPro: What is New for IT

Intel Centrino 2 mobile platform for notebooks, released earlier this week, includes several updates to its vPro technology that should improve the way IT departments manage and secure business laptops.

Intel is looking to offer IT a better way to manage and secure corporate laptops.

While much of the talk this week focused on the release of the Intel Centrino 2 platform and its use of new Intel Core 2 Duo processors, the inclusion of WiMax and Wi-Fi technologies and the bevy of new laptops that PC vendors plan to bring to the market in the next month, there was little discussion about the updates Intel made to its vPro technology to better secure and manage a fleet of enterprise laptops.

One reason the discussions steered away from Intel vPro this week is that most corporate laptops that use the technology will not ship until later this year. When Intel first announced that Centrino 2 would be delayed, it pushed the shipments of chip sets that included vPro although the company said all parts are now shipping.

Still, there are several improvements worth noting, including the ability to wirelessly turn on and patch a laptop.

The Intel vPro technology, which the company first included in desktops in 2006 and in laptops in 2007, is essentially a chip bundle that is designed to make managing and securing a fleet of PCs easier for an enterprise's IT department.

Intel even renamed its business mobile platform-Centrino 2 with vPro to show that it is infusing notebooks with the same management and security capabilities it first offered with desktops.

As more and more employees use notebooks as their primary PC, managing and securing a whole fleet of laptops has become essential. While Intel is promoting vPro as a proprietary technology to help secure laptops with third-party software vendors developing applications for security and management, Advanced Micro Devices is supporting DASH (desktop and mobile architecture for system hardware) as a way to secure laptops and one that uses open standards (Intel also supports DASH standards).

With the notion that laptops need to be as secure as desktops, Intel made a number of incremental improvements to the technologies that are now included with the Centrino 2 vPro platform. While none of the improvements made headlines during the July 14 launch, the vPro technologies are important to IT departments looking to bring a sense of order to a corporate client fleet that is increasingly becoming mobile.

"Wireless management is [becoming] more and more important because more of the enterprise is mobile," said Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

The first and most significant update is that IT departments can now use vPro to manage, monitor and update notebooks that are out-of-band and no longer working off the corporate LAN (the notebook has to be connected to an AC outlet for this feature to work).

These improvements give the IT department the ability to wirelessly power on a laptop, which allows administrators to apply patches, update the desktop image or perform routine maintenance, such as defragging the notebook after hours or once a PC has left the corporate LAN. At the same time, the employee can contact IT support, and after a few basic steps, the administrator can remotely reboot the client and fix the image.

"Most management tools are inside the fire wall and within the enterprise network," Kay said. "Enterprise notebooks are often inside the network, but sometimes they are not-and all types of things can happen. When they are in a hot spot, and they download something they shouldn't have, they become a keylogger [with a virus]."

This part of vPro also has a green aspect since IT can switch off or remotely send laptops into hibernation, which can save power.

On the security side, Intel enhanced the Trusted Execution Technology of vPro to work with notebooks. In this case, the technology provides a protected execution environment where data is processed away from other software. When virtualization is added, vPro helps created a layer of trust that is rooted in the hardware level. This extra layer protects data going into the system, as well as providing an isolation area for any malicious code that might filter in.

The other significant area that Intel addressed with vPro this time is how SMBs (small and midsize businesses) can take advantage of the technology. Camille Morhardt, a marketing manager with Intel's Mobile Platforms Group, explained that the chip maker is looking to work with service providers who will act as the IT department for SMBs that cannot afford their own IT staff.

The new remote capabilities also help many SMBs that are working almost exclusively with wireless networks and are no longer buying cable to create their own LANs, Morhardt said.

"We really see wireless expanding in the small-business space, and these businesses are not rolling out a lot of LAN cable anymore," Morhardt said. "At the same time, the small businesses are turning to service providers to help-and with vPro-we are trying to give those guys the ability to remote monitor and offer manageability and support to their customers."

There is one obstacle standing in the way of more SMBs taking advantage of vPro. For now, Intel's vPro is included in high-end corporate notebooks, which are more expensive, and SMB buyers tend to look for less expensive laptops.

However, John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, believes Intel has made some strides to make vPro work better with laptops, which could lead more companies to adopt the platform.

"Right now, Intel is making vPro do for laptops what it already does for desktops," Spooner said. "Intel has a firm base to build on and they have the software partners who are ready to offer some innovation for what is essentially a platform for them to build applications on."