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Intel aims to change the corporate desktop landscape with its vPro platform.

The business desktop chip platform, which incorporates Intel’s recently introduced Core 2 Duo processor and a new supporting chip set that includes its Advanced Management Technology, will be unveiled on Sept. 7 and is expected to be used in PCs from some brand-name PC makers almost immediately, sources familiar with Intel’s plans said.

Intel says vPro, made public for the first time in April, will bolster security for desktop PCs and make them easier to manage remotely, two things it says will aid VARs and corporate IT managers and ultimately help both parties save on PC management costs.

The platform’s management features, many of which hinge on an updated version of Intel’s Active Management Technology dubbed AMT 2.0, will produce the savings in part by applying automation or remote management to tasks that would normally require a deskside visit by IT staff, Intel said.

To read about Level Platform’s plans for Intel’s vPro, click here.

“We think it’s time to reinvent the desktop,” Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO, said during the April 24 vPro brand launch event in San Francisco. “We think it’s time to reinvent those 85 million [desktops shipped per year] and help bring better manageability [and] better security into the business environment. It’s all about driving costs down and driving productivity up for our employees.”

Managed Services platform vendor, Level Platforms, of Ottawa, recently integrated into its managed services support for Intel vPro, which uses AMT, to identify, repair and protect computing assets.

In the managed services context Intel’s technology, originally targeted at the enterprise, has the appeal of building a greater flexibility into the service provider’s arrangement with the customer.

AMT makes it possible to remotely reboot computers and distribute software for maintenance and repair purposes even if the PC is powered down. If a user forgets to leave the computer on for scheduled maintenance overnight, the MSP (managed services provider) can still perform the work because of the remote rebooting capability.

PCs based on the platform can keep track of their own hardware and software, storing the information in nonvolatile memory. A PC that tracks the status of anti-virus applications, for example, can alert IT staff should its anti-virus software be turned off or removed. One additional feature, called Circuit Breaker, can remove a vPro PC from a computer network if a malware attack on it is detected, Intel has said.

To date, several PC makers, including Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group, have pledged to launch at least one vPro desktop model for businesses.

HP and Lenovo are expected to be among the first out of the gate. HP has said it intends to host a Sept. 6 client computer event in New York, at which it’s expected to detail several new business machines. Lenovo, for its part, has been working with Intel on virtualized applications for some time.

The arrival of vPro could be a boon for corporations, said Richard Shim, an analyst at IDC, in San Mateo, Calif. That is, he said, provided that they’re willing to use the right tools with the platform.

“We’ve heard from corporate PC buyers that security and network manageability are high priorities. But, when it comes to purchasing decisions, those aren’t at the top of the list,” he said. “When the money is on the table—when they actually have to pay for these features—they’re hesitant. But what vPro does is basically give [the buyers] what they want without them having to pay extra for it.”

But while vPro offers a number of management and security features, most are designed to work with management software. That software must be able to interface with Intel’s AMT, the hybrid hardware-software engine built into its Q965 chip set, in order to take advantage of vPro’s features.

“You’ll get some of the stuff you need with vPro, but if you really want a more complete solution, you’re probably going to want something else,” Shim said.

To that end, Intel has been working with a wide range of companies, including Altiris, BMC Software, CA (formerly Computer Associates) and LANDesk Software, to connect their management software to AMT. Of those companies, most are expected to deliver support for vPro and AMT 2.0 on or near the Sept. 7 release date.

The Next Step: Software-based Appliances

Later, Intel will take vPro PC’s capabilities even farther by working with partners to create software-based “appliances” that bolster vPro’s functions in PCs using the platform. Intel will offer PC makers virtualization software—to create partitions specifically for the appliances.

Symantec and Altiris, the first companies selected by Intel to create specialized appliances for vPro, will offer security and management appliances, respectively. The security appliance will be able to proactively monitor network traffic to help root out and block malware attacks, and will also speed up the deployment of updates such as virus signatures, Intel has said.

However, the appliance approach could also be used for management, as with the Altiris appliance, or, potentially, to add VOIP (voice over IP) in the future, Intel has said.

Still, the Altiris and Symantec vPro appliances aren’t expected to arrive until the first half of 2007, sources familiar with Intel’s plans said.

To read more about vPro’s malware-fighting capabilities, click here.

Although the arrival of vPro might look like it could level the playing field among business PC makers, which often tout manageability features built into their machines to differentiate their hardware from others, some are instead welcoming the platform as a springboard they say will help them set their machines apart.

Lenovo has already introduced a virtualized software appliance for its PCs. Its Antidote Delivery Engine, a part of its ThinkVantage Technology Rescue and Recovery application for restoring software on crashed PCs, resides in its own virtual partition. The approach makes Antidote Delivery Engine more resistant to crashes and helps to ensure that it can still be reached by IT managers even if the operating system of the PC it’s on has been compromised.

The engine, which works to patch the software of a PC before it is recovered so as not to reinfect it, can also allow the PC to act as network traffic monitor so that an infected PC does not regain access to a company’s main network without having been patched and rendered safe, Lenovo has said.

Lenovo aims to pair vPro with LANDesk management software and its ThinkVantage technologies to get ahead, the company said.

“We actually think that when you sit down and look at all three of these solutions together, a [vPro] ThinkCentre from Lenovo probably has the most innovation out of all the PC manufacturers that are out there,” Thomas Tobul, executive director for global desktop marketing at Lenovo, in Raleigh, N.C., said in a recent interview with eWEEK. Tobul declined to discuss Lenovo’s plans for vPro.

Although Intel will position vPro as the platform for mainstream business PCs—desktops that sell for prices in the $800 to $1,000 range—not every Core 2 Duo business desktop will be a vPro machine, nor will all vPro brand machines include all of the security and management features cited by Intel.

vPro “Professional” desktops will come with the full range of manageability and security features, however, Intel has said. Such a machine will include a Core 2 Duo processor, an Intel Q965 Express chip set with built-in graphics and AMT. A new Intel network adapter card is also included in the bundle, the company said.

A vPro “Fundamental” PC will come with Intel’s Pentium D and a lesser Q963 chip set. Those machines will meet Intel’s stability guarantee, under which it pledges to offer its hardware unchanged for 15 months of testing and deployment time, but will lack AMT 2.0 and all of its associated features.

PC makers are also likely to market business machines based on Intel’s G965, a version of the Intel 965 chip set family with built-in graphics, which also lacks AMT features.

Intel will continue extend its built-in management features for business PCs. Its next step is to add AMT to notebooks. A forthcoming Core 2 Duo-based notebook chip platform, dubbed “Santa Rosa,” will have AMT built in when it arrives in the first half of 2007, Intel has said.

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