Business managers can now have 24-hour service protection, updating and support through a new chip from Intel being imbedded in computers from the two leading suppliers.
Called a vPro chip from Intel, it is being installed in business PCs from Dell and HP, which provide the bulk of units sold to small and medium-size firms.
Essentially, the vPro chip permits remote desktop management and problem fixing.
It is starting to be packaged in Dell and HP computers (and will soon be embedded in laptops). The vPro chip contains what Intel calls Active Management Technology that allows computers to be set up, fixed and managed remotely, even if the computers themselves are turned off.
This means an IT person in Omaha could troubleshoot and fix the computer problems of a hedge fund manager in Greenwich, CT, even at 3:00 a.m. while the manager is asleep and his PC unplugged or crashed.
vPro's remote desktop management utility monitors the health of a PC and alerts IT staff to any warning signs such as a disk getting full or a processor overheating.
It lets technicians access system level BIOS remotely, which means they should be able to fully diagnose and treat problems without needing to go onsite.
At a large firm, this capability could help centralized IT departments take care of the PC problems of a far-flung workforce.
At small firms, such as hedge funds with only a few partners and no IT staff, the ability to have a service provider fix problems during off-hours should be appealing.
While there are such services already from Symantec and LANdesk, Intel says vPro's remote PC management features will cut the cost of IT support.
"It will allow "Value added resellers [VARs, who are typical providers of tech support] to reduce their costs and pass on some of the savings to clients, VARs say 46% of their costs come from customer site visits," said Scott Allee, Intel's small business marketing manager.
"The vPro chip allows them to monitor, fix and upgrade client computers remotely. Thereby cutting office visits and at the same time improving servicing."
Intel says vPro works with such programs and gives them the ability to do their work while the PCs they support are off.
Allee said vPro is supporting a new trend toward "managed services."
"The managed services model is growing 25-50%, according to Gartner and Forrester (research providers)," he said.
What's the difference between managed services and ordinary outsourced technical support? In concept, where usually tech support means having someone to call when a computer is broken, under managed services, all IT resources are monitored 24/7 and a certain percentage of uptime is guaranteed.
"VARs are moving from the break/fix model to the managed services model," Allee said. And Dell recently bought managed service provider SilverBack Technologies and is expected to get into this business on a grand scale.
"The way our business ran for many years was reactive," said Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, a managed service provider in New Jersey. "Managed services are proactive, making sure the right level of support is there, including providing patching and other types of maintenance so that we catch potential problems before customers call us."
The pricing model for managed services is different where traditional tech support charges hourly for the technicians' time, managed services charge a preset monthly fee for every PC, server, router, switch, printer or other item under contract.
Harrison's firm charges about $30-$50 per month per PC, $100-$300 monthly per server.
"Small businesses on average can save $30,000-$60,000 per year using managed services," Allee said.
The next version of vPro will contain enhanced security features that will compete with similar embedded-chip offerings from Microsoft and Cisco.