Intel vPro promises to ease desktop management for IT managers but does it really stack up? We review Optima's first vPro machine to find out.
Managing a large number of PCs in any enterprise is a massive drain on IT resources, especially when hardware or software fails. Troubleshooting issues with users over the phone and having to visit the PC on site are very time consuming tasks which often requires repeat visits depending on the problem.
Intel's solution to this management problem is the vPro hardware management chipset. vPro is a hardware remote management chipset which is accessible regardless of whether the PC is turned on or not. It is closely tied into the network card of the computer which allows you to access its features remotely. This functionality has been in the server arena for some time now with management products such as Integrated Lights Out Management (ILOM) giving you full video, keyboard and mouse console redirection as well power control of your servers over Ethernet.
vPro does provide some of the functionality that ILOM has, but Intel have taken a different approach to remote management. The major differences between vPro and server management is that vPro does not offer full keyboard, video and mouse redirection. Depending on the manufacturers' implementation, vPro can redirect a BIOS configuration screen to a remote console but that's as far as it will go for the moment. If you wish to control a graphical interface -- such as Windows -- remotely, it has to be done through software agents.
This does not mean that vPro is a poor product in comparison, it is just different. Where vPro shines is asset management and working in conjunction with management tools such as Microsoft's Systems Management Software to roll out updates and monitor hardware.
vPro's security comes in two flavours: enterprise and small business. Both are included in every implementation of vPro and can be chosen in the vPro configuration interface. Enterprise requires all communications to be authenticated via security certificates where as small business simply uses a user name and password in order to take control of a computer.
If you have followed Intel's marketing push on vPro, you may have heard a mention of other features such as antivirus and network security ... unfortunately these features have not been officially released yet. We spoke to Intel about how these features will work and they explained how they have taken an interesting approach to the security layer by implementing it in a virtual machine which runs alongside your main operating system but essentially has full control of the network card. This virtual machine is powered by the main processor and if it detects incoming or outgoing viruses, it can disconnect the operating system from the network while still allowing management to function and communicate with the administrator's console. All vPro machines will be capable of implementing this feature through software upgrades and we are very keen to see this in action first hand when it is released.
How we tested
We tested the vPro features using Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) SP1 with the Intel AMT plug-in for vPro management running on an Acer Aspire 3620 Laptop. We payed special attention to the features vPro brings to the WorkPro X860, gauging how much added value it offers in the area of remote management.
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