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Intel hardware will support Windows management, virtualization

Chip maker Intel touts firmware advances to make life easier in Windows shops.

Windows managers can now look for firmware to enhance both Microsoft management and virtualization technologies.

Intel Corp. and Microsoft executives gave a joint presentation this week at the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, showing off hardware advances that work in tandem with Windows virtualization tools, as well as Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003.

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On the management side, the chip maker emphasized its Active Management Technology (AMT). AMT is intelligence built into the silicon that will be an add-in for SMS. The technology lets IT administrators manage desktop computers, even if they are turned off or unplugged, said Martin Reynolds, a Gartner Inc. hardware analyst who attended the event.

"AMT is clever," Reynolds said. "The real key is remote management. It integrates into the platform. A microcontroller allows an administrator to wake the system up, even when it's lights out."

Reynolds also said AMT eliminates the need for software capabilities such as Wake on LAN, a feature that lets Windows administrators switch desktops on or off from a central console to make changes or upgrades. Wake on LAN is expected to be part of SMS 4.0, due to ship next year.

Hardware management technology has been a long time coming, said Richard Ptak, principal at Ptak, Noel and Associates, a New Hampshire consulting firm. "Intel talked about embedding this kind of intelligence into the chips several years ago and then seemed to go silent on it," he said.

The processor giant may indeed be ratcheting up its emphasis on cutting-edge advances to prove leadership in the chip space. Rival number two, chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., has been nipping at Intel's heels.

Windows shops that already have SMS 2003 will be able to use AMT with Intel's Professional Business Platform, code-named "Averill." It combines microprocessor, chipset, communications and software technologies, according to an Intel statement. New PCs with the technologies are slated for later this year.

Microsoft and Intel also highlighted a specification for assigning input and output devices to virtual environments at the IDF. Intel Virtualization for Directed IO, or Intel VT-d, makes it possible to map input/output devices to targeted virtualized environments. Intel's Virtual Technology (VT) will be supported in Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 Release 2, Service Pack 1. Beta testing on the product will begin in the next three months.

"This is building on further deployment of virtualization software," Reynolds said. "Virtualization hardware will certainly offer more efficient, more robust use of virtual machines."

Reynolds also noted the other emphasis at IDF: power efficiency in the data center. Intel executives showed off several new chips, including Conroe, a desktop processor that is 40% faster than the current generation while using 40% less power. A server processor, Woodcrest, boasts 80% more power and 35% less power consumption, according to Intel.

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