Intel's vPro: What It Means for Small Business

By Lauren Simonds
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In September, Intel plans to announce a new technology platform designed to improve the management and security of desktop PCs. Called vPro, this platform integrates Intel hardware that, when combined with specific software, offers a range of capabilities including, according to Intel, remote desktop IT management, proactive digital-threat protection and increased energy efficiency.

Systems bearing the vPro logo will roll onto store shelves in the coming months. Intel's hoping that vPro will do for IT desktop management what Centrino, the chip maker's other branded platform, did for mobile technology.

But what is vPro exactly? Mike Ferron-Jones, director of marketing at Intel, says the vPro platform consists of Intel's new Core 2 Duo processor, its Q-965 chipset, Intel's second-generation Active Management Technology (AMT) and its Virtualization Technology (VT).

What's It All About?
Major software companies have been working to develop new, and/or update current, applications to take advantage of the vPro platform. "These hardware innovations, when combined with compatible software solutions, represent the superior manageability and strengthened security behind the Intel vPro brand," says Ferron-Jones.

One of the vPro benefits, according to Intel, is increased energy-efficient performance. According to the company's Web site, the Core 2 Duo processor is 40 percent faster and more efficient than the Pentium 4. "The Core 2 Duo uses 65 watts of power compared to the 85 watts of a Pentium 4 processor. It generates less heat, which keeps the computers cooler," says Ferron-Jones. "Because the systems are cooler, the fans don't need to run as often, which means they're quieter and use even less electricity."

Active Management Technology
The ATM capability (integrated with the Q-965 chipset) is designed to improve desktop management by letting IT personnel (whether on-staff or outsourced) access and manage computers even when the systems are powered off or the operating systems won't boot up. As Ferron-Jones points out, this could be a huge benefit to small businesses that rely on managed service providers for data security, disaster recovery, data backup or a number of other remote-access services.

For example, lets say you contract with a company to provide your small business with remote desktop management. Your PCs can be serviced and maintained as long as they're on and the OS is working properly. But should a system fail, your IT provider has to send a technician for on-site repair. "That means down time for the SMB as they wait for the technician to arrive," Ferron-Jones says. It also means increased cost because they had to roll out a truck to make a service call."

He offers the same scenario, but this time the small business in question has vPro-based computers. "Even if a computer's operating system won't start, the technician can reboot the system remotely and get it back up and running quickly and without having to make a costly on-site visit," says Ferron-Jones.

Another example he offered is computer maintenance. Employees can power-down their PCs when they leave the office at night (reducing energy costs). The vPro technology lets remote technicians wake up the systems to deploy updates, install patches, update virus protection or handle any number of maintenance chores.

In theory, this could let you take care of important maintenance tasks at a time that won't adversely impact your employees' productivity. "The vPro technology helps fix more problems over the wire, decreases interruptions, reduces truck rolls and saves small businesses time and money," says Ferron-Jones.

Virtualization Technology
The VT that's a part of the Core 2 Duo processor is designed to help protect systems from security threats. According to Intel documents, systems with vPro help compliant third-party security software "identify more threats before they reach the OS, isolate infected systems more quickly and update PCs regardless of their power state."

Security software vendors will be able to take advantage of vPro's virtualization technology and create virtual appliances that handle security and tasks in a tamper-resistant area on a system's hard drive. This area is set apart from the system's OS, invisible to the user and accessible only by authorized IT technicians.

Who Needs IT?
Not every small business needs computer systems with vPro technology. And many that could benefit, will best do so if they rely on outsourced managed service companies to handle their IT needs. Ferron-Jones says that small companies with between 10 and 100 employees can benefit from vPro technology but that, "Perhaps the differentiation is less about the size of the business and more about the extent to which the business relies on IT."

"Organizations that use sophisticated applications that require a lot of processing power will have the most need," he says. "For example, design, software development, legal, financial, medical, architecture and engineering are all industries that rely heavily on IT support and thus will greatly benefit from the capabilities of Intel vPro technology."

Who's Supports It?
There are a lot of software companies working on products that will support vPro technology. Here's a partial list:

Adobe, Altiris, Avocent, Check Point, Cisco, Computer Associates, Hitachi JP1, HP OpenView, Kaspersky Lab, LANDesk, Lenovo, Lockdown Networks, Microsoft, Novell, Panorama SW, SAP, Skype, StarSoftComm, SyAM Software, Symantec and Zenith.

So how much will a vPro-based PC cost you? Intel is aiming at mid-priced PC market. "We're not looking at low-end budget or high-end performance systems," says Ferron-Jones. You'll find vPro in high-value, mainstream business systems."

He says those systems, from the usual suspects such as Dell, HP, Gateway and others, should be appearing on shelves over the next few months — in time for that end-of-the-year tax write off.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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This article was originally published on August 31, 2006
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