IT support becomes remotely interesting

As the technology gets better, remote support gets more tempting. A smart move now will pay big benefits later

The problem of IT support shouldn't arise for the fully hosted enterprise, where the worst that can happen is the line goes dead or the hardware falls over. In either case, switching to a backup will instantly restore full service — leaving someone else to fix the original problem.

We're a long way from the fully hosted enterprise. Successful online business application service providers such as Salesforce.com are niche players: the broad spectrum breakout is expected but as yet unscheduled.

Until that happens, IT support itself could be the next big thing in hosting. Indeed, Dell is already bringing its remote tech support on demand service over to the UK. It's for consumers now, but the idea is sound for anyone. With broadband edging towards the universal and remote access a reliable, effective technology, it remains the most efficient way of solving nearly all the problems that elude the user.

Nevertheless, there are substantial issues to be addressed before enterprises can contemplate off-the-shelf remote IT control — not least security and the related compliance issues. There are ways around it — such as the remote support session taking place in a virtual environment that is isolated from the rest of the support company's networks, to be destroyed at the end of the event — but they'll take time to evolve.

That's OK — it won't be the first time a technology has moved from consumer to enterprise. It's healthy, in that it gives the enterprise time to observe and experiment with the idea, and for some of the underlying problems to be worked out, making it more mature upon adoption.

There's just one problem. Really effective remote IT support needs client hardware that communicates even when the system is locked solid — hardware such as that in Intel's iAMT. Intel's judgement in putting this in its vPro enterprise platform first, but not in the Viiv consumer brand, is a mistake. Its presence in Viiv would fix a big problem and be a very strong incentive for upgrade — and would hasten its acceptance elsewhere.

Nimble competitors take note.