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.