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AT&T juices PC rescue service with Intel's Fast Call for Help

vPro versus humans

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Intel and AT&T are cuddling up to provide remote help-desk support for small and midsized businesses.

That is, if those companies' laptops and desktops support Intel's vPro hardware-assisted remote management and security technology - here's Intel's list of those that currently do.

The service, announced yesterday and scheduled for the first half of 2010, enhances AT&T's existing Tech Support 360 subscription offering, which is currently based on desktop-sharing technology. More than 100,000 small US businesses have signed up for this service since its launch last fall.

The collaboration will use Intel's Remote PC Assist Technology (RPAT), a feature of vPro, to establish an encrypted link between a remote Tech Support 360 technician and the failed PC, even if the PC has suffered a hardware, OS, or network failure, or has been corrupted by a virus or other malware.

According to a presentation provided to reporters, RPAT will be initiated by end-users - not an in-house help-desk technicians - who enter a "Fast Call For Help" key combination. Intel recommends CTL+ALT+F1, but notes that the combination must be enabled by hardware OEMs.

We can see you

That "Fast Call For Help" will, of course, only be able of value if the remote AT&T's Tech Support technician can reach the affected PC. However, as explained to The Reg by an Intel spokeswoman, even if a subscriber's system has corrupt drivers or network config settings, vPro and RPAT's redundant set of network/config settings will allow the tech to access and repair the computer via the internet.

In other words, even if you can't see out, Tech Support 360 should still be able to see in - so long as your broadband connection is up and running.

And Intel claims that even pre-Tech Support 360 vPro case studies have shown that remote diagnosis and repair can reduce the average time needed to repair hardware by up to 60 per cent and software by up to 50, and can reduce average system downtime by up to 32 per cent.

AT&T says that its vPro-enabled Tech Support 360 will allow a remote technician remove viruses and malware "more effectively" and also resolve and configure BIOS issues, reset a user's system password, and repair or update network card drivers.

Should the enhanced Tech Support 360 service work as envisioned, the benefits - depending, of course, on what AT&T charges for it - will be self-evident: reduced operating-expense costs for help-desk personnel, shorter downtimes, and fewer pack-it-up-and-drop-it-off trips to repair shops for ailing PCs.

Drawbacks are also evident. For one, reduced help-desk staff will find themselves spending less quiet time on workbenches repairing recalcitrant hardware and more time tutoring technically clueless keyboard jockeys on the nuances of Microsoft Exchange.

And then, of course, there's that poor help-desk technician who finds himself on the street, made redundant by vPro and Tech Support 360. ®

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