VARs, MSPs Bank On Intel's vPro To Reduce On-Site Service Calls

Intel on Thursday rolled out its vPro desktop platform, which VARs are banking on to help them reduce on-site service calls at small-business customers.

Though vPro offers a variety of features, several solution providers pointed to the platform's ability to let them remotely turn on a computer, reboot it and diagnose problems when the operating system isn't working. Managed service providers said that before vPro, they were only able to monitor and troubleshoot remotely at the OS level, whereas now they can dig down to the hardware level.

"I think it's going to change everything," said Eric Adkins, president of Adkins Technologies, a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based VAR and MSP serving small businesses. "There will be no reason to go to a customer site anymore."

The vPro platform, news of which emerged in March, is designed to simplify the management of today's business desktop PCs. The technology combines Intel's new Core 2 Duo processors, formerly code-named Conroe, with an updated version of Intel's Active Management Technology, security capabilities and a validation platform. VPro also includes flash memory on the motherboard for low-level diagnostics and security.

Sponsored post

Adkins Technologies currently does 90 percent of its servicing remotely, but the other 10 percent of problems incur costly service calls, Adkins said. In the future, if a customer's vPro system has a serious failure, Adkins' tech team can remotely diagnose the problem and reinstall the OS and disk images. If there's a hardware failure, the technicians can order the part and have it shipped directly to the customer. Only after the part arrives will they need to go to the customer site to complete the repair.

Adkins said vPro also will help him expand his managed services practice outside his service area, such as customers with satellite offices. "It can take an hour to drive out to those locations," he said. "They tend to get less service because they don't want to pay me to drive, and I don't want to drive for free."

Just like Centrino for mobile and Viiv for entertainment PCs, the vPro mission is to establish a standard platform for the managed business desktop. Intel began delivering the Core 2 Duos in July but waited until last week to announce the first shipments of motherboards that support the vPro platform.

Of course, not all VARs will embrace vPro. The systems incorporating the platform will tend to be higher-end business desktops with Intel's newest processor, a 965 chipset and RAID. Solution providers with an immediate stake in the technology seem to be those building up their managed services practices.

Steve Dallman, director of Americas distribution and channel marketing at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel, said solution providers using vPro will be given an option to set it up for small businesses or enterprises. The small-business version will allow a secure connection via TCP/IP for remote management.

Also for solution providers, Intel will be giving away a software bundle with data protection, management, security virtualization and collaboration software, Dallman said. Online training for the software will be available at the end of October.

NEXT: Intel sees vPro as home run for channel.

Dallman thinks vPro will be a big hit in the channel.

"We think this will be a bigger play initially in the channel in small business than it will be in the enterprise," he said.

US itek, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based system builder and MSP, sees value in the vPro technology and is working on getting systems validated for the platform, said company president David Stinner. VPro's biggest benefit is its ability to make changes and diagnose problems "underneath the software layer," he noted.

"Our MSP model becomes more profitable the more we can do remotely," Stinner said.

A variety of MSP platform vendors are supporting vPro, including LPI Level Platforms, N-Able Technologies and Zenith Infotech, an India-based outsourcer that provides basic patch management and monitoring capabilities to U.S.-based VARs. Intel said outsourcers Atos Origin, EDS and Siemens Business Services also will use vPro.

Level Platforms CEO Peter Sandiford said the company has worked for the past six months to integrate vPro capabilities into its MSP offering. He said VARs also can use the technology to remotely turn on systems at night to add software updates plus collect inventory data on functioning and non-functioning systems.

Although many in the channel talked up vPro's management capabilities, few offered insight into the platform's security capabilities. Intel has said vPro can stop security threats before they reach a computer's OS and can take a system off the network if virus-like activity is detected. Yet Intel gave little information about that capability.

Dallman said Intel has just rolled out the platform, and it will take awhile for some ISVs to come online with security products.

Symantec said it's working on a product that will use Intel's hardware-based virtualization to set up a partition where all security transactions will occur. Symantec described the product as providing a "virtualized" security appliance for each desktop. A company spokeswoman said the software will be released next year.

Other IT vendors that Intel said are working on vPro-based security offerings include Check Point Software Technologies, Trend Micro and Lenovo. An Intel spokeswoman said Lenovo's Antidote software already supports vPro.