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Embedded Systems and Intel's AMT


Target Usage Models

There are three basic usage models in which Intel AMT plays a central role: remote power control, remote repair, and remote asset and software management. All three models have direct cost-saving advantage for both the equipment manufacturer as well as the IT enterprise.

Remote Power On/Off Power Savings

Many retailers today leave their machines up and running during store off-hours for a number of reasons, such as the potential for deployment of software patches, the inconvenience of having people manually turn the machines off or the time required for the machines to fully become operational when business resumes the next day. Also, while some companies enable sleep states while the machine is idle, the reality is that most POS in the field today remain fully powered even when the system is not in use. Intel AMT may be utilized to automatically and remotely power down the POS clients during store off-hours and then remotely power them back up before store employees arrive the next business day to reopen the store. The study by Global Retail Insights mentioned earlier finds that a retailer with 200 stores, 10 POS workstations per store and operating 14 hours per day, 360 days per year could save approximately USD 162,000 annually simply by implementing power-off automation. Also, if you consider that hardware using Intel AMT is inherently more energy efficient due to the newer technology microprocessors and chipsets, and that it takes approximately 3 watts of power to cool the store for every 1 watt of power that is placed into the store, retailers could realize an additional 70-percent reduction in terminal cooling costs. This equates to an additional USD 120,000 per year according to Global Retail Insights. Thus, implementing remote power down during off hours could potentially save USD 282,000 per year (USD 162,000000 + 120,000). Over an asset life of 7 years, the savings adds up to nearly USD 2,000,000.

Remote power on/off automation can be implemented using Intel AMT by simply sending the encrypted power on/off command from the IT management console at predetermined times that can be programmed into the console. Intel AMT supports power on, power off, and power cycle (power off then back on) commands. IT personnel may also remotely manage the clients when in sleep modes S3 (suspend to RAM) or S4 (suspend to disk) as long as the clients remain plugged into AC power and connected using wired networking (wireless power policies place greater priority on battery life and therefore shut down the Intel ME). This allows for even further reductions in energy consumption since in most retail environments there is a considerable amount of time when the machine is idle and not in use.

Remote Diagnostics and Repair

Another important use case for the retail IT enterprise is the ability to perform remote diagnostics and repair. As stated earlier, if the machines are down, the company is most likely not making money. In many cases a machine may be unable to boot the operating system due to a number of reasons such as missing or corrupt OS files, drivers, or registry entries. NCR RSM can leverage the power control capability in Intel AMT to power cycle the machine, employ IDER to boot from a remote image containing a small OS such as DOS, and then run diagnostic software to pinpoint the problem. In the same fashion, IT personnel can push updated drivers at runtime and patch them into the main OS. Figure 4 illustrates the sequence.

Figure 4: Remote diagnostics and repair sequence. (Source: Intel Corporation, 2008)

Preventive maintenance is another area where Intel AMT adds significant value, particularly for mission critical equipment. The ability to predict when a component might fail and take action prior to it failing is a tremendous benefit. The 3PDS area of an Intel AMT-enabled POS workstation, for example, can be used to store information about field replaceable system components. Peripheral component information such as manufacturer, model numbers, and serial numbers, as well as information like the number of hours the power supply is on, the number of lines a receipt printer has printed, the number of card swipes a magnetic stripe reader has read, or the number of times the solenoid of a cash drawer has fired could all be tracked. Thresholds can be set according to historical reliability data so that alerts can go back to the Intel AMT–enabled remote console and allow the service personnel to take action before the component actually fails and the service can be performed at a convenient time for the customer. Global Retail Insights reports that a conservative 15-percent reduction in physical service calls can save approximately USD 108,000 per year.

Remote Asset and Software Management

Tracking important system information such as equipment location, serial numbers, asset numbers, and installed software are extremely important to an IT organization. Having this information readily available allows the enterprise to better control their hardware and software inventory as well as manage software patches and licensing.

Intel AMT allows IT administrators to reduce the support costs and keep their systems operating at peak performance by ensuring their clients have the latest software updates. With Intel AMT, software patches and updates can be scheduled during times that minimize impact to the business such as store off hours or off-peak times. The remote console could also be designed to support mass deployment of software update distribution following a one-to-many model (from one management console to many remote clients simultaneously). This is a key benefit for a retail enterprise because it allows for software image uniformity required to deliver consistent device behavior and customer service. A one-to-many deployment model allows IT administrators to create groups or collections of Intel AMT enabled clients and then distribute BIOS or software updates with a single command to all clients within the group, thereby significantly reducing the time and cost it takes to make BIOS changes over a wide range of terminals.

Challenges in Activating Active Management Technology

While there are substantial benefits to be gained from Intel AMT, there are also a number of challenges to deal with. The good news is that these challenges can certainly be overcome with some up front planning and infrastructure preparation. Once an IT enterprise gains a basic understanding of the technology and its potential benefits and decides to move forward with Intel AMT activation, the following are a few things for the organization to consider:

  • Establish goals and objectives. The organization should outline what it wants to accomplish and set appropriate objectives to meet both short term and long term goals. Define which Intel AMT features will be implemented and in what timeframe. Start small then build from there.
  • Measure benefits. The organization should determine the key metrics to measure before and after Intel AMT activation; for example, percentage energy savings or percentage reduction in physical support visits or percentage reduction in total support costs, so that benefits can be quantified and then determine if a positive ROI exists.
  • Define enterprise infrastructure impact. Implementing Intel AMT often means doing things a little differently. The organization should ask: Is the necessary infrastructure in place? (DNS/DHCP servers, provisioning server, keys/certificates, remote management console that supports desired implementation features). What internal processes need to change to support this technology?
  • Define the appropriate security level for the customer environment. Insufficient security allows for potential attacks or may expose sensitive financial or personal consumer data. However, too much security is more complex to implement and may require additional expertise.
  • Allocate appropriate resources. There is certainly a learning curve required to successfully implement Intel AMT and OEMs as well as retail IT must allow for adequate time and resources. There is an extensive number of tools, utilities, software, and documentation available to assist with the learning curve.

Conclusion

Intel AMT is a powerful technology with broad and direct applicability to customer-facing, mission-critical embedded equipment. Intel AMT can save power, reduce service calls, improve uptime, and reduce overall product maintenance and support costs. Intel AMT can deliver compelling total cost of ownership savings of approximately USD 200 per machine per year and lifecycle benefit equivalent to nearly 60 percent of the original purchase price. For mission critical embedded applications, Intel AMT in most cases delivers a positive return on investment and therefore becomes a key differentiator for the OEM. While implementing the technology is not a trivial task, with appropriate planning and preparation, it can be successfully integrated into embedded, mission-critical devices and deployed into the corresponding IT environment. Intel AMT serves as an enabler for companies like NCR to build better products and deliver proactive service intelligence ultimately leading to improvements in operational efficiency, profitability, and significant increases in customer service.

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge and thank the technical reviewers of this article: Jerome Esteban, Dennis Fallis, and Mike Millsap for their valuable input. Special thanks also go to Alan Hartman and Roger Farmer of NCR Corporation for their support of this article as well as their many contributions to the successful development and deployment of Intel AMT technology in NCR products.

References

[1] S. Langdoc, Global Retail Insights, an IDC Company. "Advanced CPUs: The Impact on TCO Evaluations of Retail Store IT Investments." September 2008

[2] Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT) Software Development Kit, the reference for Intel AMT developers. http://www.intel.com/software/amt-sdk

[3] Intel vPro Expert Center. http://www.intel.com/go/vproexpert

[4] Manageability Developer Tool Kit (DTK), a complete set of freely available Intel AMT tools and source code. http://www.intel.com/software/amt-dtk

[5] NCR Analyst Day presentation, December 2008 http://www.ncr.com

[6] NCR correspondence


This article and more on similar subjects may be found in the Intel Technology Journal, March 2009 Edition, "Advances in Embedded Systems Technology". More information can be found at http://intel.com/technology/itj.


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