Many attendees at the Microsoft Management Summit 2013 (MMS) in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago were there because they manage fleets of personal computers for large organizations. Others were there because they manage the cloud and data center aspects of enterprise IT. For the latter group, HP continues to shine with data center infrastructure, for example their “Serverquarium” was a popular attraction. However, HP initiatives for client computing were virtually absent on the exposition floor. There was lots of Cisco excitement too, with Nexus 1000V virtual switches and innovative use of their UCS server platform.

Departing from the systems management aspects of IT, it was a nice surprise to see that Dell is paying attention to the client side of cloud computing. While I was at the event, I was pleased to be able to sit down with Brett Hansen, Executive Director for Client Software Planning and Implementation at Dell. Brett introduced me later to Christopher Ramirez, a product group manager on the exposition floor (Figure A). Chris is standing at the display about Dell Unique vPro Extensions, one of several high-value client PC management initiatives Dell announced at MMS.

Figure A

Christopher Ramirez, product group manager at Dell, on the MMS 2013 exposition floor.

Dell goes after the client business

Brett and Chris’ group is forward-leaning on the savings and opportunities for excellence in the desktop client management space. The business PC, in whatever forms it evolves into, is not going away as a business need. That is, the IT department needs to provide a computing device to employees not expected to bring their own device. BYOD won’t work everywhere, in all industries and settings.

The business PC consumer is going to expect an excellent experience on whatever business computing device they are provided to do their work. The business IT department needs to deliver that excellent client experience for the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO). There are huge opportunities to lower the TCO in the client space, most especially when you have cost-effective and functional out of band (OOB) communication with the device. That means even when the PC is powered off, as long as the network cable is connected, the IT department can manage the device.

Dell a validated TCO winner in client space

Brett let me know that Dell hired independent consultants Principled Technologies to validate that among HP, Dell, and Lenovo, that Dell has best in industry features. The result of the study was that with unique systems management capabilities, Dell Precision workstations, Latitude laptops, and OptiPlex desktops are the most manageable systems in the industry. The one-to-many OOB provisioning is a Dell industry first and a huge step forward. All previous Intel vPro provisioning has required time-consuming in-person visits to each of possibly tens of thousands of PCs.

Showing commitment to the Microsoft client platform and leadership in the management space, Dell is releasing in April 2013 the Dell Client Integration Pack (DCIP) 3.1 for Microsoft Systems Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 SP1. In other words, Dell is here at launch of SCCM 2012 SP1 with industry-leading value-add software. Not late to the table, or waiting a release, but rather showing the way first. Chris made clear to me Dell’s goals in this space: “Dell wants to make a better experience for PCs. Reliable. Consistent. Simple. Lower TCO for Dell PC is the goal.”

Dell initiatives in client management

Figure B shows the new Dell Intel vPro AMT Plugin that delivers the unique one-to-many OOB management provisioning. Notice on the Operations menu that network-based KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) access to managed PCs is possible in addition to power management. Centralized Intel vPro provisioning is the breakthrough feature that’s been lacking since the first vPro release in 2007.

Figure B

The Intel vPro AMT Plugin is Dell’s one-to-many OOB solution: part of Dell Client Integration Pack (DCIP) 3.1

The Dell Client Integration Package (DCIP) allows end users to access a suite of tools. An additional new feature added with DCIP is the ability to report in SCCM on the battery state of mobile devices, such as when the battery was replaced, regardless of the powered-on state of the device. Another new feature is the Remote Warranty Lookup Tool which uses service tag on-line reference to present a unified view of PC warranty status, see Figure C.

Figure C

Remote Warranty Lookup Tool provides an invaluable centralized roll-up of PC lifecycle states. (Click to enlarge)

Driver support for PXE boot

Booting computers to Preboot-Execution Environments (PXE) is a common task in the enterprise PC space. That is, IT departments using mini-operating systems that exist just to format disk partitions and capture and deploy disk images for fleets of PCs. The PXE needs to support the hardware on the computer such as the network interface card (NIC) and the client’s storage devices. Having necessary hardware drivers built into the PXE boot image is a difficult task, and updating conventional PXEs like Microsoft’s WinPE is notoriously tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone.

Dell has made a commitment to making this process easier for Dell PC owners by releasing monthly WinPE driver package updates. Figure D shows an updated WinPE driver package being imported from DCIP. Brett let me know that not only is Dell committed to monthly updates (so that the latest Dell PCs can be using in enterprise imaging tools), but that these updates are programmed six months in advance so customers can plan PC lifecycle management confidently.

Figure D

Dell making it easy (finally) to stay up to date with bootable PXE images.