Business-Class Features Evolving In 2012
Lining up the latest incarnation of vPro, the new Small Business Advantage offering, and Anti-Theft technology is enlightening. Already familiar with most of what vPro entails and not particularly impressed with what SBA incorporates (we're enthusiasts, after all, capable of turning our own machines on and off), Anti-Theft technology is perhaps the most interesting development. Intel's decision to include the base functionality in its Ultrabook brand, subsequently allowing customers to use the feature through multiple service providers (or not at all) is a great one.
The company's continued focus on beefing up business-oriented features is different than what we're seeing from AMD right now. Largely focused on the client side, AMD is putting much of its effort into creating an ecosystem of hardware and software designed to accelerate workloads using x86 and graphics resources. In the process, however, initiatives like DASH have falling away completely. When it comes to remote management and enterprise-oriented security enabled through hardware, Intel has no competition.
I'd really like to see Intel do more with its feature-unlocking business. We've seen the company dabble in this before, letting customers access additional performance. But it'd be particularly impressive to open up the door to some or all of SBA's functionality with a simple upgrade. Or, maybe it could turn Anti-Theft technology on where it might not have been accessible before, so long as other platform-based requirements are met. And let's say you're using an Ivy Bridge-based CPU on a Z77-equipped motherboard. Why not make it possible for enthusiasts to access their systems from distance using a form of KVM Remote Control?
A look at Small Business Advantage makes it clear that Intel is trying to create a low-cost solution for home users and small businesses that may not have access to tech-savvy help for simple tasks. I can think of more than a few family members who, over the years, could have benefited from nightly backups. Likewise, the ability to schedule maintenance tasks after hours has the potential to improve productivity during the day quite a bit. And it's certainly cool that a workstation will boot itself up, handle business, and shut itself down afterward to conserve energy. When my work laptop boots up in the morning and I see a critical update pending, requiring a download, install, and reboot, I lose a lot of time. I also have clients who use very restrictive USB blocking programs that ban every device, unlock Intel's USB Blocker and its ability to selectively limit access to certain hardware classes. Intel's decision to limit SBA to B75- and Q77-based platforms does make some sense, since those are business-oriented chipsets. But we hope to see the company expand out to include more mainstream desktops as well.
The additions to vPro in 2012 are decidedly evolutionary, including triple-display support (with support for portrait orientations) and administration enhancements like Setup and Configuration Server 8.0. The new platform represents a solid entry-point for businesses not already vPro-enabled. However, anyone with a Sandy Bridge-based setup should feel comfortable sticking with it for the time being. Obviously, getting into an Ultrabook now will bump you up to the latest version of vPro, though.
Anti-Theft technology, now in its fourth generation, can be enabled on both SBA and vPro platforms. This was actually my first time using a machine with this feature activated, but I found it to be easy to setup and unobtrusive during everyday tasks. There are, naturally, some constraints associated with it. For example, your protected device should be connected to a network. It's some consolation, though, that a system with its networking hardware disabled can be made to lock automatically after not checking in for a certain number of days. Also, the location services we witnessed from Anti-Theft on the desktop could have certainly been more accurate.
SBA, vPro, and Anti-Theft have no impact on the performance or, really, the power consumption of your machines. However, the convenience, cost-savings, and security they enable are compelling differentiators. Even faced with a lack of competition, we're glad to see Intel evolving its approach to the way we handle and access our business-oriented computing devices.
Maybe the editors will read it before they remove this post. It's not a terribly well-written article. That's where you can help, Tom's.
For laptops you may have to take a bit more time defining your typical usage area of course; you could even let the laptop track your typical usage location patterns so it can make recommendations for the best setup.
If the systems is outside the area either request a special password or some other form of identification to unlock the machine either for one time or for inclusions of the current location into the allowed area.
Damn, I should get that patented :-)
Customer has a blue screen? No problem, you can KVM right in and see the issue.
Workstation hung after remotely applying patches - calling the user and saying "Can you go over and hold the power button for me?" is no longer necessary. Simply shutdown the machine via vPro and power it back on. Even remotely re-imagine a machine from backup is possible.
However, my favorite use case is the instant back to work use case. End user hard drive fails - obviously a truck roll is needed, but the most important thing is to get the user productive again. Leverage vPro's ability to redirect IDE (IDEr) to a network Live Linux CD at least gets the user in to Web Outlook, if not 100% back in business.
How about power savings? Schedule machines to auto shutdown at night, and for your patch window, use vPro to power up the workstations, apply the patches, power down (from windows) and if a machine hangs on shutdown use the vPro power off command. Allows for nightly maintenance and keeps costs savings maximized.
Rolling out vPro can be a bit of work using native tools, but there are solutions available (shameless plug) like LabTech Software (http://www.labtechsoftware.com) which can remotely provision and manage vPro along with any other IT management function you can think of.
Full disclosure: Having ran an MSP and worked with many enterprises, out of band management tools were critical in every mature organization I worked with. As a co-founder of LabTech Software, I have engaged Intel and we are working closely to build out solutions that vPro truly solves for.