Platforms work better in the open

Intel's vPro platform encapsulates the company's view of the future of business desktop computing. That vision is dangerously closed

In unveiling PCs built to its vPro platform standard, Intel is concentrating on the systems' manageability. Speed, graphics and flexibility are all part of the mix, but the biggest unique selling point is the inclusion of iAMT, the Active Management Technology that provides remote diagnosis and control.

We're all for better management, and Intel's model of out-of-band control through systems independent of the main processor is a good one. It follows in the footsteps of decades of mainframe and mini practice, and if properly implemented and used lets IT managers retain control and fault-finding capabilities in the direst situations.

It also resurrects some of the darker traditions of legacy computing. Intel has not published the details of its iAMT system, and it is not possible to create hardware or software using that standard without a commercial relationship with the company itself. As a result, the options for management software come from the same tired selection of names — EDS, Siemens, CA — and their usual tired excuses for innovation and value.

Modern systems management must be open. It must work in heterogeneous environments, be able to adapt to different environments and hardware. As it is, Intel's NDA approach to iAMT would seem to rule out proper integration with Linux or other GPL software, with AMD-based systems, or indeed anything that doesn't fit one particular view of acceptable corporate computing.

This is a dangerous and ill-advised stance. Intel can't be blamed for wanting to replicate its Centrino success elsewhere, but it must be aware that a good platform creates more opportunities, not fewer. A worthwhile platform provides good value, extra reliability, superior security and efficiently tuned components. The only lock-in should be because the alternatives are inferior, not because of artificial barriers to integration.

System management needs more innovation, not less. It needs more people bringing new ideas and being inspired by others. It needs to embrace difference, not exclude it. Something as powerful and useful as iAMT will have many more applications than even Intel can imagine — now the company needs to let the world get on with taking it as far as it can go. Surely it can manage that.