Systems administrators can use the new processor and chip set bundle, which was code-named Weybridge, to automatically send software patches to thousands of desktop PCs, according to Intel officials. They said the upgraded technology can also be tapped to instruct PCs that aren't being used to enter a sleep state or to remotely diagnose broken systems.
In conjunction with Intel's announcement, Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd. all introduced desktop PCs based on the new vPro bundle, which officially is called the Intel vPro Processor Technology for 2007.
Intel plans to add a version of vPro for notebooks during the first half of year, at the same time that the company upgrades its current Centrino Pro processor with a new chip that is being called Montevina.
Greg Bryant, general manager of Intel's digital office platform division, said during a briefing in Boston that to qualify for the vPro label, a PC must use an Intel Core 2 Duo processor from the E6550 device on up, plus the company's Q35 Express chip set and other hardware-based networking and virtualization technologies.
Compared with the original vPro platform launched last September, the upgraded components will make it easier for IT administrators to manage large fleets of PCs, Bryant said. But perhaps the biggest improvement will be in security, he added.
For example, the new vPro offering uses virtualization to run some security software in a protected section of a system's hard drive. It also includes time-based filters for detecting the patterns of security attacks, as well as on-chip memory for storing network security credentials in hardware instead of more-vulnerable software.
Those features won't replace conventional security applications but are designed to work alongside such products, Bryant said. He claimed that as security threats have grown more sophisticated, IT managers need a combination of software and hardware to defeat them.
"Much security today is based on threats running in software on the OS, which has to be working for [the security mechanisms] to be effective," Bryant said. "Some things, like how memory is accessed, are controlled by the chip set. So if we don't do it, who is going to do it?"
Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research Inc. in Cave Creek, Ariz., said that Weybridge includes enough improvements to attract new corporate buyers, although he noted that it isn't aimed at small and midsize businesses.
"You're not going to see [small and midsize businesses] using this, with one guy reviewing the management console each night," McCarron said. "But in the enterprise environment, this kind of thing is pretty critical to keeping costs down. The last thing you want to do is go out and visit the desktops when you've got 5,000 of them."
Reducing on-site support calls by IT technicians was one of the primary reasons that Sutter Health, a not-for-profit network of 26 hospitals and other health care facilities that operates primarily in Northern California, is adopting desktops with the vPro technology.
Tim Hearing, regional vice president and CIO for Sutter's Sacramento/Sierra region, said the task of managing his unit's 7,500 desktops and several thousand laptops is complicated by the fact that its five hospitals and 40 clinics are spread across an area with a 100-mile radius.
The organization recently finished a test of the original vPro offering and now plans to purchase several thousand HP systems that include the new version of the technology. "We have a few hundred of the 2006 models, just to do a pilot and play around and see if it's worth paying the few extra bucks," Hearing said. "And at least for us, the answer was 'yes' since we have such a decentralized environment."
Hearing noted that even if vPro was installed on just 10% of his operation's PCs, that would help to cut down on the trips to remote facilities by IT staffers. "You need quite a bit of windshield time when you have to go out and touch 700 devices," he said.
HP said it will offer the new vPro technology in its HP Compaq dc7800 desktop PC.
Dell will deploy vPro 2007 in its OptiPlex 755 system, offering users a choice of five processor speeds and hard drive storage of up to 250GB. And Lenovo will make the Intel technology available in its ThinkCentre M57p desktop and eventually in its ThinkPad T61 notebook PC as well. None of the PC vendors disclosed shipping dates or prices.