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More than 30 million business-class PCs have been sold with Intel’s remote management VPro technology since 2006. Yet, many organizations have only refreshed parts of their computing fleets or haven’t activated VPro capabilities until they reach a critical mass of machines.

The reason end users are waiting is they’re either waiting to purchase a critical mass of machines to maximize the remote management capabilities or they’re unaware of their machines’ capabilities. Either way, solution providers say, is a mistake, especially if they’re looking to save money.

"They need to take the first step and ask what they can do once VPro is activated and what can you do cheaper," said Ben Dixon, the southeast practice principal for ITS, a Michigan-based solution provider specializing in systems management. "You can show a savings even if only 30 percent of the machines have VPro. It’s only part of the equation, but it’s better than nothing and you can show a greater savings when you have 100 percent with VPro."

Introduced in 2006, VPro provides chip-level automated remote management for clients. VPro-enabled machines can be powered up, configured, imaged, patched or monitored from central locations, which reduces help desk dependency for routine problems and makes mass configuration changes and software deployments easier.

At the Managed Fusion event in Las Vegas, Symantec launched Altiris Client Management System 7, which complements VPro with management and reporting mechanisms for software deployment and system configuration management. CMS 7.0 includes several previously separate applications, including Real-Time Systems Management, which provides the suite with the ability to push changes to a single client. VPro and CMS together, solution providers say, makes a powerful combination for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of client management.

But the benefits from client management only come when the VPro functionality is activated and the management layer is put in place with applications such as Altiris CMS, they say.

"Partners can activate VPro and then look at the environment for process improvements," said Tracie Zenti, a product marketing engineer at Intel. "That’s one of the best ways to get a quick ROI."

Solution providers specializing in Altiris systems management applications say VPro is more about process and change control capabilities than remote management. With VPro and systems management, end users can centralized their client management—such as Tier 1 and Tier 2 help desk support—and provide a process and system for implementing change management. Some organizations have reported up to 90 percent reduction in actual desk-side IT work order repairs.

"With VPro, you’re going to get machines up and running quickly and can push mass software implementations overnight," said Kevin Groh, an Altiris consultant at System Source, a Maryland-based solution provider. "You’re not going to push software overnight every day, but it’s about having the ability to do it. It’s all about the process and you can’t do anything without having a process."

Since VPro is in the silicon, businesses must buy new VPro-enabled machines to get access to the functionality. Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba have deployed business-class PCs with VPro chips. But Gartner said PCs are expected to hit new lows in 2009, as end users look to extend the life of their existing fleets and delay equipment refreshes.

Solution providers at the Managed Fusion conference encouraged end users to look past the cost of PC refreshes and look at the benefits of employing automated management. Money saved, even on a small number of machines, could free dollars for use in other mission-critical business functions. An investment today in VPro technology could help a business save money and preserve future operational performance.

"Hopefully people aren’t losing their jobs; perhaps a company just isn’t replacing people when they leave. So maybe VPro is about how you support someone in your New York office with a person from your Philadelphia office without having to send someone to New York," Groh said.

Since VPro was introduced in 2006, Intel has released three different versions. Zenti says all VPro versions share the same common discovery and management capabilities, which makes the technology useable across each generation from the same management console.

"If you bought VPro hardware in 2006, it will look the same as the 2008 version in the latest version of Altiris Client Systems Manager," she said.