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BIOS For The Network

Phoenix Technologies opened up hardware configuration to the network with TrustedCore NB for notebook and tablet PCs.

For years, BIOS, or basic input/output system technology has been the standard for delivering instructions that tell PCs, servers, and other devices how to boot their operating systems and manage different hardware components. BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies Ltd. opened up hardware configuration to the network Monday when it introduced TrustedCore NB for notebook and tablet PCs.

Whereas BIOS is used primarily for local hardware configuration, TrustedCore NB lets PC makers design systems that can be secured and managed over a network even if the operating system isn't working properly. Fujitsu Siemens and Samsung already plan to incorporate TrustedCore NB into their notebook PCs starting next year, says Tim Eades, senior VP of Phoenix's corporate marketing and product division. Although BIOS has evolved over the past two decades, Eades says, "it won't evolve any further unless you develop a modular architecture for networked environments."

TrustedCore NB is the first offering in Phoenix's Core System Software, which will be available for servers early next year, followed by a version for desktop PCs. While system-management software such as IBM's Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard's OpenView now reside above the operating-system layer, Phoenix's goal is to give PC and server manufacturers the ability to put these apps on a system's firmware, so they can be accessed even if the operating system fails. "BIOS will fade away, and Core System Software will replace it," Eades says.

Phoenix's strategy is likely to be embraced by equipment makers, who can at least initially use Core System Software as a differentiator for their products, Gartner VP Martin Reynolds says. "This will be useful to IT managers, but it will probably be two years out before they see benefits from it," he adds. These benefits would include reducing cost of ownership, particularly when they can remotely boot systems rather than visiting them in person.

Intel also is working on a BIOS alternative. The chipmaker's Platform Innovation Framework for the Extensible Firmware Interface, formerly code-named Tiano, is designed to offer IT managers recovery and management features in the pre-boot environment. Intel has already licensed the framework source code to BIOS makers American Megatrends Inc. and Insyde Software, based in Taiwan. Although Intel works with Phoenix, the BIOS maker hasn't licensed the framework.

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