October 08, 2009, 1:26 PM — Want to be your own IT? Small business owners may not want to outsource their PC management or buy an expensive management package--but they still need to keep track of what's happening with the PCs in their network. Intel's IT Director (free) allows you to monitor stats for each PC, such as the amount of disk space used, whether or not the Windows firewall is enabled, and whether or not antivirus software is installed.
IT Director also checks for the Intel Matrix, which is the company's RAID-like solution, and reports power on and power off times to track computer usage. With Intel vPro (Intel's embedded management technology found in some business-grade machines) installed on the PCs, you can even control some of their behavior.
To use IT Director, you install it on the PC you'll be using to do your monitoring and select a password, then install it on all the PCs on your network that you'll be monitoring. The program supports up to 25 PCs and and the local subnet (e.g., 192.16.1.x) plus one definable subnet. When you fire up the IT Director dashboard from the system tray, you'll see a list of PCs sorted by IP address with the info I described above for each. As I mentioned, IT Director becomes even more useful if the PCs on your network have vPro. On PCs with vPro, you can safeguard sensitive data on your network by blocking copying to USB devices, albeit at the OS level--which means thieves with their own boot discs still have access.
Configuring vPro machines for IT Director requires saving settings to a USB drive, then rebooting so the info on the USB drive can be used to automatically "provision the Intel AMT" (Active Management Technology). VPro has a number of capabilities beyond those I've described, such as allowing you to access computers while they're turned off or blue-screened; however, IT Director doesn't leverage these capabilities.
The IT Director dashboard may be accessed from any PC on which it resides from an account with administrator rights (the Windows norm) and the proper password. You may render the program invisible to accounts without admin rights, but personally, I would rather it weren't available at all on client machines. But for that to become a reality, Intel would have to allow you to adjust settings for other machines from the dashboard on the master machine. As it stands, you must physically access or remotely control the PC whose settings you want to change.
Despite its local-only configuration procedures (which really aren't painful at all in the SMB environment), IT Director is a handy and free method to get a handle on the activity and security status of the PCs on their network. Since Intel is no doubt using it as a lever for vPro and other technologies, it will almost certainly remain free as well as gain more features.