Intel improves desktop security with vPro upgrade

Intel touts upgraded version of its vPro bundle of automated PC management features

Intel has released an upgraded version of its vPro bundle of automated PC management features and claims the new package delivers better IT security than the original product launched last year.

IT administrators who manage computers containing the new Weybridge bundle of processor and chipset can improve security by automatically sending software patches to thousands of corporate PCs, Intel said. They can also save money on the electric bill by instructing those PCs to enter a sleep state or save time by diagnosing a broken computer remotely.

PC vendors, HP, Dell and Lenovo Group, all announced new desktops based on vPro in conjunction with Intel's announcement, officially called Intel vPro Processor Technology for 2007.

To qualify for the vPro label, a desktop must use Intel's Core 2 Duo processor of the E6550 level or better, a Q35 Express chipset, and other hardware-based networking and virtualisation technologies from Intel, general manager of Intel's digital office platform division, Greg Bryant, said during a briefing in Boston. Although Intel is launching the new vPro bundle in a desktop configuration, it plans to launch a version for notebooks by the first half of 2008, when it upgrades its current Santa Rosa Centrino Pro product to a new version called Montevina.

Compared to the original Averill vPro platform launched in September 2006, those upgraded components would make it easier for administrators to manage large fleets of computers. But perhaps the biggest improvement would be in security, Bryant said.

The new vPro system uses virtualisation to run certain security software in a protected section of the hard drive, uses time-based filters to detect the patterns of an attack by a virus or hacker, and uses on-chip memory to store network security credentials in hardware instead of vulnerable software.

Those features will not replace conventional software security applications, but are designed to work alongside products from Symantec and other providers. As security threats had grown more sophisticated, administrators needed a combination of software and hardware to defeat them, he said.

"Much security today is based on threats running in software on the OS, which has to be working for them to be effective," Bryant said. "Some things, like how memory is accessed, is controlled by the chipset. So if we don't do it, who is going to do it?"

Compared to the existing vPro product, Weybridge includes enough improvements to attract new corporate buyers, though it would be less useful for small and medium-sized businesses, one analyst said.

"You're not going to see SMBs using this, with one guy reviewing the management console each night. But in the enterprise environment, this kind of thing is pretty critical to keeping costs down," an analyst with Mercury Research, Dean McCarron, said. "The last thing you want to do is go out and visit the desktops when you've got 5000 of them."

Reducing physical desktop visits was one of the primary reasons that Sutter Health, a non-profit network of health-care providers in northern California, adopted desktops with vPro 2006.

The task of managing the group's 7500 desktops and several thousand laptopswas complicated since its five hospitals and 40 clinics were spread across a 160.9 kilometres-radius, regional vice-president and chief information officer for Sutter's Sacramento Sierra region, Tim Hearing, said.

The organisation recently finished a test of the 2006 vPro and now plans to purchase several thousand HP desktops using the new vPro. "We have a few hundred of the 2006 model, just to do a pilot and play around and see if it's worth paying the few extra bucks. And at least for us, the answer was 'yes' since we have such a decentralised environment," Hearing said.

"Even if we had vPro for just 10 per cent of our units, that's still 700 PCs. You need quite a bit of windshield time when you have to go out and touch 700 devices."

HP will offer vPro on its new HP Compaq dc7800 desktop PC, available in three chassis shapes, including an ultra-small form factor that can hang from the back of a flat panel monitor. Dell will deploy the 2007 vPro technology in its OptiPlex 755 PC, offering users a choice of five processor speeds, hard-drive storage up to 250G bytes, including a minitower, desktop, small form factor and ultra-small form factor. Lenovo will offer vPro on its ThinkCentre M57p desktop and in the future on its ThinkPad T61 notebook. None of the companies provided shipping dates or prices.

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