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Vista and the vPro Chip: A New Emphasis on Security?

When it comes to getting businesses to adopt and deploy Windows Vista, security is key--for both Microsoft and its partners. However, as recently as last winter some people at Microsoft were telling me that, with the release of Windows Vista, the company had as good as eliminated customers’ worries about Microsoft security--the company’s extensive security documentation coupled with correct use of Microsoft products had made security concerns moot. I was dumbfounded that those Microsofties had consumed such vast quantities of the company Kool-Aid.

A rude awakening from the Kool-Aid-induced trance must have come when customer data started showing that security was indeed still a concern and that security doubts were a factor in companies’ reluctance to jump to Vista from their current desktop platform. An example of such data comes from recent surveys by PatchLink: In December 2006, just before the launch of Vista, 50 percent of PatchLink’s surveyed IT customers considered Vista more secure than Windows XP. However, in a follow-up survey this summer, that percentage dropped to only 28 percent.

So today, Microsoft is busily renewing its emphasis on security. And I think it’s no coincidence that Microsoft’s partners are also focusing their product messaging on security. If Microsoft’s customers want security, then third-party vendors whose success is tied to Vista sales also need to demonstrate how their products contribute to security. Take Intel’s new vPro chip announcement this week, which highlighted the claim that the “New Intel vPro processor technology fortifies security for business PCs.”

Last March at the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) in San Diego, I talked about vPro with Intel’s Mark Boles (director, Microsoft Program Office, Intel Software and Solutions Group) and Microsoft’s Brad Anderson (general manager in the Windows and Enterprise Management Division). You can read about that conversation and listen to a podcast recording at At that time, the messaging about vPro was all about manageability with some mention of security. In contrast, this week’s Intel announcement centered squarely on “better protection against hacking, viruses and other threats,” and only mentioned manageability.

Intel’s Security Features

What are those touted security features? The vPro technology combines the Intel Core2 Duo with the Intel Q35 Express chipset and security functionality such as “the ability to wake and repair a computer with an inoperative operating system or hard drive.”

The vPro also includes the new Trusted Execution Technology (TXT, formerly code-named LaGrande) designed to protect data in virtualized environments. According to Intel, “Used in conjunction with a new generation of the company’s virtualization technology--Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O--Intel TXT ensures that virtual machine monitors are less vulnerable to attacks that cannot be detected by today’s conventional software-security solutions. By isolating assigned memory through this hardware-based protection, it keeps data in each virtual partition protected from unauthorized access from software in another partition.” A further security feature is System Defense Filters, which “can identify greater numbers and varieties of threats in the network traffic flow.”

Robert B. Crooke, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Business Client Group said, “Today, the business desktop PC just got more secure. This generation of Intel vPro processor technology arrives with new security and management capabilities along with support from every leading PC manufacturer and software solution vendor in the world.” Intel referred to several available business desktop PC models incorporating the vPro technology, including Dell’s OptiPlex 755, HP desktops, and Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M57 desktop.

The Deciding Factor

All this attention to security has to be good news for anyone on Vista or considering Vista. But it makes me wonder just how big a factor security is in your decision to move your business desktops to Vista or not. For most people I’ve talked to, security is one factor among many, including lack of excitement about Vista’s features, lack of deployment tools, and software and hardware compatibility. How important is Vista’s security to your decision? Let me know if you’ve changed your mind about security since Vista launched, and whether announcements such as Intel’s help you feel better about Vista’s security.

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