It may not be sexy, but Active Management holds promise

In technology, what gets the attention is usually more speed, new capabilities, smaller and cheaper. The question of how well it really works and how easy it is to manage fades into the background. It’s not as sexy, it doesn’t make for such interesting press coverage, and often technology vendors don’t have nearly as good a story to tell when it comes reliability and manageability.

At the recent Intel Developer Forum conference in San Francisco, the big news was Intel’s new Core microarchitecture and the chips — Conroe, Merom and Woodcrest — that it will spawn this year. There were intriguing concept PCs, too — my favourite was a notebook with a double-jointed screen that pulls forward over the keyboard while tilting back. Had I had this machine, I could have worked en route to San Francisco for IDF despite the passenger in front of me putting her seat back as far as it would the minute the plane left the runway.

But from the perspective of those who manage PCs, one of the most interesting things Intel talked about was an upgrade to its Active Management Technology.

It has been around since last year. It’s a set of tools integrated into the chip set to help PC manufacturers and the makers of management tools offer better ways to manage corporate computers.

So far, admitted Gregory Bryant, general manager of Intel’s digital office platform division, not much has been done with Active Management. But he vows that will change this year, thanks in part to new capabilities Intel has added.

Among those is what Intel calls Circuit Breaker. This is just what it sounds like. Hapless user connects to a shady Web site, some suspicious code starts transferring itself to the user’s computer, and pop — Internet connection shuts down and network administrator is alerted.

Or, if shutting the connection down is too much, Circuit Breaker can also be set to use throttling — limiting the amount of network traffic from the affected client so it can’t, say, spread a virus to the rest of the office in seconds.

Active Management can be set up so that, once the Circuit Breaker is tripped, the affected PC will be scanned for malware before it’s allowed full access to the network again.

Determined users thwart many attempts to manage their PCs. A management tool or anti-virus package seems to be getting in the way, so they shut it down. Active Management now provides the tools to reinstate it without sending a technician to visit the PC.

Bryant says all the major PC manufacturers will offer capabilities based on Active Management by the end of this year. And so they should.

Since they focus on remote administration, these tools don’t seem to have much relevance to home computing and might not be terribly interesting to the small office and home office market, but properly implemented they could make corporate clients much easier to handle. And really, that’s more important than faster, smaller, cheaper.

Grant Buckler is a Kingston, Ont.-based freelance writer.
gbuckler@cogeco.ca

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