The coronavirus pandemic has changed workplaces, and a shift to remote work means employees need devices that are not only performance-oriented but also have an extra layer of security built-in. At the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week, Intel announced its new 11th Gen Core vPro processors for ultrathin business laptops with a major focus on security and remote manageability.
In a conversation with Indianexpress.com, Intel Vice-President Stephanie Hallford, who leads Business Client Platforms, opens up on the influence of Covid-19 on the demand for commercial notebook PCs and how the chipmaker is tackling the issue of ransomware, perhaps the biggest security problems on the web right now. Edited excerpts:
At this year’s CES, Intel launched its new 11th Gen Core vPro processors for thin-and-light business laptops. But how does Intel decide what features need to incorporate in a modern business laptop? Also, what features do business users want to see in a premium laptop?
We work very closely with our OEMs. At CES, my colleague, Gregory Bryant gave a sneak peek of our next platform, which is codenamed “Alder Lake.” We have been talking to the OEMs for over a year now. In the process of getting a new platform to market, we really do a great deal of our own direct research. But we also go in and utilise the OEMs, to tell us and help us with what they believe is selling and what they believe is most important and what they want to go big on, and where are the areas they are going to try to differentiate themselves. In that process, the basics have proved to be pretty true. Security is probably number one and manageability is super important. And then, what has risen, is the desire for a better end-user experience. I think that’s a big part of our working together and our codependence with our OEMs.
Your competitors are promising 20 hours of battery life on a notebook. How realistic are these claims?
This is where Intel’s Evo platform really comes into play because we have found it being very inconsistent on how people are judging or claiming battery life. We do some very standard testing for all Evo platforms that keeps everyone on the same playing field. And the reason why it’s even become more important is video collaboration. It really sucks away battery life.
Whether it’s 20 hours or more realistic 12 hours, it needs to stand up to the new usages. And that takes effort by Intel and the tuning and the working with the ecosystem and our AI accelerators to really drive that level of support I think, in some cases, if you’re only doing Microsoft Word or very light editing, you may want that really extensive battery life. If you’re doing more real-world video collaboration, it’s probably not going to be that long, but it will last you much longer than what often is the case these days is sometimes three or four hours.
Malware and ransomware attacks have risen during the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you think it’s time for organisations to take cybersecurity seriously?
I think the cybercriminal and cybersecurity arena has evolved quite a bit. There’s a lot of dollars going into supporting many of those and I think it’s getting more and more robust. And I do think the drastic and very fast move because of the pandemic to remote working did expose a lot of potential weaknesses, particularly with businesses that were not tech-savvy and ready for this. I do think that many cybercriminals have taken advantage of this and it’s going to be the new norm.
This is why, at Intel, we put a lot of emphasis on security. As a corporation and in our testing, we do a lot of work with the whitehat hacker community to help us find any bugs and we have a bug bounty programme even though over 90 per cent of our bugs are found internally.
But the reality is that attacks are going to be ongoing, and they’re always going to be there. We need to be ready for them. And I think with the remote realities, we need to be up to date on how we respond in that environment, because it is a new sector. I think we’re going to see a lot more attacks coming and they will expose the potential weaknesses there.
Many smaller organisations don’t have the mechanism in place to fight against cyberattacks. What is Intel doing to help those companies from rising ransomware attacks during the pandemic?
This is exactly what we do not need, and we don’t need any more challenges in schooling, and certainly not in the hospital sector. We are really trying to target and support with as much out-of-the-box easy implementation of the security items to help these kinds of non-techie companies. Now, many of their IT departments are very capable and manage these things very well. But obviously, it is a challenge when your main business is not in the technology sector.
Digital adoption has taken a quantum leap during the pandemic. But a lot of traditional companies, the ones with a non-technical background, are still struggling with tech adoption. What role is Intel playing to lend support to those organisations that are struggling with the transition to digital technologies due to a lack of skills and technical know-how?
We have been enabling many of our service partners with built-in technologies such as Endpoint Management Assistant (pronounced “Emma”) which is Intel’s remote manageability capability software. In fact, many of the Indian service providers that we are working with are now all implementing them. We work with Wipro and HCL, and they have incorporated our remote manageability into their own solutions, and they’re able to then bring out that capability of remotely managing networks for their customers. We have also found that a lot of companies are outsourcing this to solution providers because it is complex, and they need to focus on other areas. So the partnerships we have with solution providers around the world are an increasingly important focus area for us.
Small businesses usually resist adopting new technologies. Have you seen signs of change during the Covid-19 pandemic?
I think it’s always difficult to trace a little bit because small businesses often purchase through the retail sector. But where we do have a better inline is when they are purchasing through the channel whether be a distributor or a reseller. We’ve seen much of the same behavior in the sense that notebooks are growing. The need for simple out-of-the-box security is even more apparent in the smaller and medium businesses, which just don’t have the robust, complex enterprise, IT departments supporting them. And so a lot of these groups are outsourcing to solution providers to manage the network task.
What we hear from the smaller medium businesses is that they don’t necessarily need all of the complexity that enterprises require, but they want to have additional security that they get from a traditional consumer system, or a transactional system.
When we bring out market hardware-based security, which complements the software-based security, they get very interested because we all know that software alone is very breakable…it’s not enough. But when you combine software and hardware, working together, you get a much more robust security solution.
Does the education segment qualify among the biggest sectors where the purchase of PCs has skyrocketed in recent months?
Well, education without a doubt. The worldwide PC shipments to schools were up 37 per cent year-on-year. This is both, obviously, the buying from retail and buying from home, but also the institutional purchases. In fact, education tenders have gone through the roof. It’s a massive change.