Intel Powers Up vPro Security in Westmere

SAN FRANCISCO — The next version of vPro, Intel’s security system for client computers, will include a variety of upgrades, from data encryption to tracking down a lost laptop to a remote kill switch, to — of all things — keyboard/mouse/video (KVM) support in the chip.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) last updated vPro in late 2008 and does not plan to release a new version until at least next year, with the launch of the 32 nanometer “Westmere” generation of CPUs. However, the company discussed the new generation of the technology here at the Intel Developer Forum.

The primary focus of the net vPro is around three areas, according to Andy Tryba, director of Intel’s digital office platform market. For starters, Westmere will support Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for encrypting drive content.

“What we’re seeing is more and more business folks are utilizing drive encryption, so we asked how we can make it better, and the answer was to speed it up with CPU instructions,” he told

Intel will take that one step further with its “poison pill” technology, which allows a laptop to be locked if it’s lost. Now, instead of rendering the whole notebook useless, future versions of vPro will kill the notebook’s data but leave the applications and the operating system untouched.

Another feature will allow the laptop to be tracked down physically, much like the new iPhone 3GS has the ability to be located if it’s lost or stolen.

The addition of the KVM support is for enterprise-level management. This is not like the typical usage case for a KVM, in which two computers on a person’s desk share one keyboard, mouse and monitor. Instead, the new feature is for administrative purposes, where an admin has to manage hundreds of systems remotely.

The feature would mark a dramatic change, as a result. Often, administrative KVM use requires network-class, multi-port KVM switches that can run into the thousands of dollars and are the size of a network switch. On a one-to-one basis, remote administration can be done by using a utility like CrossLoop, but that is no good if the remote computer is crashed or otherwise not running Windows.

The native KVM support in vPro will give a remote admin full control of a computer remotely, letting them see the whole screen, even if Windows crashes. They will have total control of the computer even when it’s rebooting, if they need to go in and check the BIOS .

This feature proved appealing to AT&T, which announced it will support the remote assistance in its Tech Support 360 service for small and midsized businesses. AT&T (NYSE: T) claims to support 100,000 SMBs through this service, doing both remote service as well as in-store service at AT&T outlets around the country.

“They’re really excited about vPro because vPro enables their tech guys to be able to help remediate machines in states they were not able to do before, like blue screen or locked up,” Tryba said. “For a small business guy, their PC is their business, so they gotta get back up as fast as possible, so they’re real excited about this offering.”

AT&T will launch the service in the first half of 2010, around the time when Westmere will be coming to market.

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