As Intel moves to expand its offerings for small businesses, the chipmaker announced a new bundled hardware and software product that aims to help smaller firms address security and productivity challenges.
Unveiled on Tuesday at a conference in Beijing, Intel Small Business Advantage is the result of a long period of development as the company readied its entry into the small-end market.
"Intel has been very aware of and focused on small business for some time," said Dan Russell, Intel's director of business client solutions marketing. "This is a first step into the small business space."
Intel estimates that nearly 90 percent of small businesses operate without an in-house IT department or a contract with a managed service provider, meaning that maintaining the computing environment is often a secondary concern.
Small Business Advantage is positioned as a way to address security and reliability concerns, two key pain points in many small businesses' IT operations.
In that spirit, the product includes an application Intel calls the PC Health Center, which runs automatic software updates and maintenance functions after hours. That means that even when a PC is turned off, Small Business Advantage will restart it to update software, defragment drives and delete cookies and temporary Internet files before automatically powering the machine down again.
Intel claims that, in addition to the obvious benefit of tending to basic computer hygiene, by running automatically and after hours, the PC Health Center saves time by unburdening employees from the downtime that results when those functions are performed during the workday.
The product also offers a continuous monitoring tool that ensures that security software is turned on and up-to-date, alerting users and marking event logs when action is required.
The Software Monitor tool and other Small Business Advantage features function at the hardware level of a PC, which provides an automated monitoring system that runs below the operating system.
"By building it in and embedding it in the hardware it's a lot easier," Russell said.
Indeed, a cornerstone of the new release is the ease of set-up and the use of an "out-of-the-box" solution with an intuitive user interface and simple controls. In that sense, Intel is hoping to displace existing security and reliability products that demand more time than owners have to devote to small business IT challenges.
"There are [other] solutions, but they're really hard to use," Russell said. "[Small business owners] just don't have the time -- they're too busy running their business."
Intel brings Small Business Advantage to market through its network of OEMs and resellers, who will be given considerable flexibility to customize the product and to add their own branded applications. Intel ships the product with Microsoft's Backup application, for instance, but its channel partners will be allowed to substitute their own backup service if they wish.
Intel requires only that some data backup feature be included in the PCs that ship to small businesses. The firm also insists that its PC Health Center and Software Monitor tools -- two bedrock features of Small Business Advantage -- remain in the final version of the product.
On the security side, Intel offers a USB blocker, which users can configure to block certain classes of devices while permitting others. A small business owner might wish to allow digital cameras, for instance, but block removable storage devices.
Small Business Advantage also offers an energy-saver feature, which automatically powers down machines that employees have left on in the evening, cutting down after-hours energy consumption by an estimated 95 percent.
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. You can find Kenneth on LinkedIn.
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