Intel vPro boss outlines new SMB push

Among the multiple ways Intel is expanding its vPro platform this year, the chipmaker is bringing a new level of security and remote management capabilities in PC processors to small- to medium-sized business customers for the first time.

In a recent interview with CRN US, Stephanie Hallford, the head of Intel’s vPro business, said channel partners will play a key role in the platform’s expansion to SMB customers because they are best equipped to reach them and help such customers understand how vPro can meet IT needs for business.

With their enterprise-grade features for security, remote management and reliability, Intel vPro processors have been traditionally made in mind for larger corporate customers. But the company this year announced at CES 2022 that it had bifurcated the platform: vPro Enterprise for large business customers and vPro Essentials for SMB customers.

“Our channel partners are going to be essential — I mean, essential for vPro Essentials, quite frankly. The SMB audience is incredibly fragmented to reach, and you need specialists to be able to understand that audience, reach that audience and help that audience with some pretty complex topics like security and manageability,” said Hallford, general manager of Intel’s business client platforms.

Hallford said Intel decided to expand vPro to SMB customers mostly because of increased security concerns. This means SMB customers will soon have access to laptops and desktops with processors that come with an extra level of silicon-based security. The processors will also come with some basic remote management capabilities but not to the full extent of vPro Enterprise.

“This is part of why vPro Essentials came about: the desire for security, hardware-based security that could be complemented by the many software options that are in the market. But that hardware-based security was not or has not been traditionally offered to that many SMBs,” she said.

What follows is a transcript of CRN’s interview with Hallford, who talked about how Intel is working with more channel partners to sell vPro-based systems, why vPro expanded to SMB customers and why Intel changed the vPro badge for systems in the Intel Evo program, among other things.

What does the budget look like for Intel vPro and Intel’s business client platforms group for 2022 compared to the previous year?

We’re absolutely continuing to increase investments, so year on year. Also, we’re continuing to invest both in the ecosystem and the many growing relationships as well as on the product side as well as on the marketing side. So we have the three prongs of that, and you saw some of the new branding announcements at CES 2022, and that’s really a sign of how we’re really trying to focus in on a very clean, simple, “if you’re a business, you look for vPro.” And with the new badging being so prominent and clear, I think it’s going to help us tell that story.ADVERTISING

With the areas where you’re increasing the budget, are there any new initiatives within those three buckets that are part of that budget increase?

I would say one, we’re increasing our marketing and outreach. That includes the breadth of a number of countries and the depth at which we’ll be able to tell the message. We’re also continuing to invest more in partner enablement and co-marketing with those partners. And we’re really thrilled with our partner engagement right now, because it’s very symbiotic relationship: The hardware plus the software is quite simply better together, and our partners help us unlock vPro’s value. And we’ve also found that they tell the benefits of vPro far better than we ever could. And I think, frankly, it’s more credible when you’ve got partners coming out and saying, “This is how we utilize the technology, and this is the security that we were able to achieve, this is the manageability.” And with COVID, the examples of remote manageability have just gone through the roof.

And so as we get into a little more detail later in the quarter, you’ll see us coming out with a number of our partner examples and stories that I think really — again, I’m a big fan of lining up with our partners as we launch. And not necessarily the day of launch but through the year, because, again, I think they bring to life the technology as opposed to simply the specs and feeds. They really bring to life why it’s important, what you can do with the ability to remotely reach a network and patch it. And we all know that IT truck rolls these days just are not happening, not nearly as often as folks need, so that ability to remotely reach is key. So I would say we’ve really increased our co-marketing as well as just the pure ecosystem enablement, the number of partners that we’re reaching, and we’ve increased the team that’s able to go and help support that technically.

And when you’re saying partners, what kind of partners?

We have a range of security [independent software vendors], manageability ISVs. In the past, we’ve announced [Microsoft] Defender, we’ve announced Avanti. We’re also now with our vPro essentials starting to go work with more of the [small- to medium-sized business]-focused solution providers or ISVs that are really bringing more targeted solutions for those markets.

So I think the managed service providers and solution providers are a really key part of our strategy, because so many more companies are outsourcing, and so it’s important that we bring them along. We’ve always worked with the likes of Accenture. Now we’re starting to reach into some of the more regional and smaller SMB-focused MSPs.

Can you elaborate more on why the channel is key to vPro’s expansion this year?

The channel and our partners unlock our value, and to such a degree that we actually have pivoted much of our strategies to be channel-first. And an example of that is our [Endpoint Management Assistant], which is the cloud, mobile-friendly instantiation of the remote technology. That originally was focused as an API set of software solution that would be focused on the end user customers, which is how we always built [vPro’s Advanced Management Technology] in the past. We pivoted before the EMA launch and focused on partners first. So those APIs and that solution set was targeted on how would a solution provider utilize it versus the custom solutions that you have to do for end users. And so that’s just a clear example: We completely changed our our strategy and our technical enabling to focus on partner first. It was very successful.

It’s a very symbiotic relationship because I think we offer hardware-based security, we offer this remote manageability that so many of the service providers utilize, and those two are very intertwined. With PC fleet management, in most cases, the No. 1 concern is we continue to increase our security offerings, and you’ll see a little bit more detail as we come out, but you’ll recall for threat detection, were last year at CES, we did side-by-sides of an example of a ransomware attack, and it manifested itself in a phishing URL, and we showed side-by-side that the Intel system was able to recognize that this was cryptojacking or ransomware, and we were able to shut down the system, freeze the memory and protect it. We’re continuing to evolve that technology, and that technology is brought to life through partners.

Intel vPro traditionally covered enterprises. Now you’re using this vPro Essentials brand to expand to small businesses. What was the thinking behind expanding vPro to cover small businesses and what was the thinking behind shaking up the branding in general?

On vPro Essentials, quite simply the small and medium businesses need security too. And we looked at our offering, and it is enterprise-grade. It requires a little bit more IT sophistication, and it is made for a broader and more multinational-oriented corporation. But small and medium businesses are probably even more at risk and don’t necessarily have the IT sophistication or the budgets. And so we wanted to do a solution that was going to fit the security needs of small and medium business, give them some of the manageability that that vPro provides, but at the same time also offer you know in in the channels and the affordability that more small and medium businesses would be able to access it. So quite simply, we wanted to offer the goodness, the value of vPro to businesses of all sizes.

I know Intel plans to make an announcement soon about the new vPro features, but what can you say for now about how vPro Essentials is different from vPro Enterprise?

We will have the same built-in security. That’s the key fundamental, but we will essentially make it a less complex enterprise-grade solution, and it will be tailored to many of the partners, MSPs and others, that are targeting small and medium business. So offering a subset of some of that manageability.

With vPro Essentials, that represents a whole new market for vPro and new types of partners. Are you planning to spend more on education and enablement for partners on the SMB level?

Yes, absolutely. And this is a new space for us. We’ve got some great U.S. board of advisor programs focused on small and medium business, so we’re actively tapping into that group. In the past, that board of advisors was meeting regularly. Now that’s all virtual, but that’s been a big opportunity for us to co-partner with our U.S. account teams and reach those partners and get advice from that board of advisers as to what are the product features, what’s valued.

And this is part of why vPro Essentials came about: the desire for security, hardware-based security that could be complemented by the many software options that are in the market. But that hardware-based security was not or has not been traditionally offered to that many SMBs. Some have bought up to the original vPro, but in many cases and in the majority of cases that small and medium businesses have been using consumer-grade PCs.

How are OEMs planning to use vPro Essentials versus vPro Enterprise in their designs? Will there be any cases where you have a model where you can opt for an Essentials processor versus an Enterprise processor? Or are they just going to mostly be different models for Essentials processors and Enterprise processors?

For the most part, different models. They are aligned with the ability for our partners to go into those audiences. There may be some examples as we go forward, but in general, they’re meeting different needs and different models and different go-to-market approaches based on how small or medium businesses purchases versus more high-touch, large enterprise-type purchases.

Are there any specific ways the vPro platform will be able to take advantage of the Alder Lake hybrid architecture?

With 12th-gen, you’ve got basically two core [types], so you can imagine the things we’ve announced at CES, the ability to multitask, the ability to run heavy video collaboration apps and do this in a secure way without bogging down the performance. So I think the business lineup is going to benefit quite a bit from the 12th-gen hybrid architecture, where the performance is going to be able to manage the multitasking that we do, so you’ll see more real-world examples as we get closer to launch.

Based on what you’ve seen from the new Ryzen 6000 processors that AMD announced, how are you feeling competitively with 12th-gen vPro versus Ryzen Pro?

Extremely strong. We’re continuing to build on where we’ve been differentiated, and I think our lead is only improving, and that’s the platform. That’s really driving that hardware-based security. The remote manageability is completely differentiated from processor-based solutions. So the ability to validate our Wi-Fi and our connectivity and drive the new performance opportunities with the hybrid architecture, we’re continuing to differentiate on platform versus simply just a CPU offering.

I wanted to ask about the change in how you’re marking laptops that meet Intel’s Evo specifications. What was the thinking behind the decision to change the way vPro Evo designs are identified?

Approximately two thirds of the vPro laptop designs have met the Intel Evo certification. And as you well know, that Evo bar is set extremely high: the best mobile experience that we offer, so it’s really coupling that experience and expectations and the certifications that are required to meet that Evo certification, but with the security and manageability that we promised with V Pro.

And what we’ve done with the new branding is quite simply tried to make it easier: If you’re a business, you look for vPro. What version of vPro you need depends on your needs, your IT sophistication. You saw that we came out with vPro on Chrome, so we’ve now got multiple [operating systems]. If you are truly that mobile professional that wants the the best experience, then you look for the vPro that’s an Evo design. And so we really tried to simplify the the purchasing experience that if you’re a business, you want security, you look for vPro. According to your needs, you can segment then on what version of it. So it’s really been trying to simplify the message and help with the purchasing process.

When Microsoft’s Pluton security processor was first announced a year ago, Intel, AMD and Qualcomm were announced as partners for that. Obviously, AMD is coming out with the first support for it, but I saw your recent tweet saying that Intel has long offered the equivalent to Pluton. I’m sure people will be asking, “AMD’s new processors have Pluton integrated — how does that differ from what I can get from Intel this year?” I Can you elaborate what it means to have Pluton, what it doesn’t and what you’re still getting even if you don’t have Microsoft’s Pluton processor?

To break it down, we’re talking about a trusted platform, a security module. And again, Intel’s been in the market. We’ve got hundreds of millions of designs for many years operating with a [Trusted Platform Module]. And, again, we’ve got the experience of actually doing this in the PC industry on actual PCs in the hundreds of millions. And so I think it’s important that the whole industry continues to raise the bar by utilizing different security. But again, this is something that we’re true, tried and experienced with, and we continue to work closely with Microsoft moving forward on raising the security bar.

But we also feel importantly, as we do across all of the open ecosystem, that we offer choice. There may be times where you would want a discrete solution. There may be times you want an integrated solution, and it depends on your customers. In many cases, governments require a discrete solution, and so there needs to be an offering for our partners or OEMs to be able to provide that as well. So choice and the fact that we’ve been doing this in the PC industry for years with hundreds of millions [of devices], it’s really no competition there.

I saw that Intel was talking about expanding Project Athena to desktop. I don’t think there was talk of any branding for that yet, but I was just curious if expanding Project Athena to desktop will have any impact on commercial designs.

I think, again, the ability to provide that best-in-class innovation and lift the industry, which is really what Project Athena has been. It’s been an industry leadership effort. It will benefit our vPro designs as well. In fact, our commercial desktop business is really booming, and it’s a really important part of the vPro lineup. So we’re excited.

We saw some pure desktop-to-mobile conversions when COVID first hit, and now that’s really stabilized where you’re seeing that many companies — many small and medium businesses quite frankly, where you could picture a dentist office, etc. where a desktop is quite frankly the better solution, and they don’t need mobility. They need a stable multi-person device.

And so we’ve really seen that desktop has a very specific role, and particularly all-in-ones have been exciting because, again, you need the sleek space. Right now, I’m working with one, and it’s because I need the power, the capability, but also, I need room for all my stuff. We were laughing because some of the women, peers on staff with me, we’re laughing that, “Well, we know COVID is here to stay, because we’ve all put a makeup bag next to our PC, so we can touch up.” I said, “That’s a pathetic sign that I don’t think we’re going to be changing anytime soon.”

You were talking about how the channel is key for vPro’s expansion overall, but would you also say that the channel is also key your new SMB efforts as well?

Our channel partners are going to be essential — I mean, essential for vPro Essentials, quite frankly. The SMB audience, as you know, is incredibly fragmented to reach, and you need specialists to be able to understand that audience, reach that audience and help that audience with some pretty complex topics like security and manageability. So we are focused quite heavily on key channel partners as the means of servicing SMB. We cannot reach SMB ourselves.

So you’ll see us partnering, and as we come out later in the quarter with more details, you’ll see us working, announcing many of those partners and hopefully doing some launch events with them or co-marketing with them. I can’t stress enough how much we’ve pivoted to really make sure that that ecosystem effort is first and foremost for us. It’s clearly both a differentiator for us, and I truly believe we’re better together. Hardware plus software, when integrated and truly enabled together, we’re going to offer better security better manageability options than we could do on our own.

How is the supply situation for vPro processors this year?

Very good. Demand is through the roof. Our partners are really finding innovative ways to make sure that they are matching sets in order to prioritize what is generally a higher-end SKU so excited about that, actually very excited about that. It’s been a complex year for everyone with you ecosystem issues, and so I think we’re all a good year wiser on how to manage and plan and, you know, address the complexities of you know, the global supply chain.

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