How will the Intel/McAfee deal affect you?

By Greg Shipley
Intel’s announced acquisition of McAfee last week set much of the IT industry a buzz.  Like most professionals working in the IT field, this one caught me by surprise and I, too, have been giving the potential ramifications of this deal some further thought. At first glance I must admit that my reaction to the deal was inline with that of many peers: this deal doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Intel is in the semi-conductor industry and is known for its processors, and McAfee is in the software security business and is best known for its Anti-Virus products.  Not helping matters, much of what I read from the media and various analysts essentially mirrored the talking points of Intel’s press release.
  • We heard about the growing importance of tighter software and hardware integration, and a few articles pointed to Apple as the poster-child for this model.
  • We heard about the growing importance of mobile, wireless and smartphone security.
  • We heard about “the cloud” and protecting consumer devices.
But is it really that simple?

For starters, while Apple might be the poster-child for tight hardware and software integration, the road is littered with examples of why this is challenging on both technical and business fronts.  Just look at Sun Microsystems – now Oracle – for an example of how this model can backfire.  It’s true that Intel has been baking security components into its products that have gone relatively unnoticed (and often unused) by much of the IT software industry.  But McAfee doesn’t make operating systems or endpoint devices – is it really in a position to help advance this cause?

Next, while “mobile computing” encompasses a wide range of devices, the most dynamic areas are the smartphone and tablet markets, neither of which Intel or McAfee have a particular strong play in; the ARM processor is what dominates most of the smartphone market and McAfee isn’t exactly present on these devices, either.  (Although it’s acquisitions of Trust Digital and TenCube might help) Which leads me to my final point:

Yes, the mobile space is hot and there are – and will continue to be – growing security ramifications.  But if our answer to mobile computing threats is “run more anti-virus software” then we should just pack it up now, folks; that’s an Epic Fail if I’ve ever seen one.  As if my iPhone 3G isn’t huffing and puffing enough with the latest IOS v4 upgrade; chewing up precious CPU cycles to run 1980’s style pattern matching looking for yesterday’s “badness” is not a solution.  We can, and should, do better.

So where does this leave us?  If you are a McAfee customer what does this all *really* mean?  I think the answer is “it depends on what part of McAfee you are doing business with.”

If Intel takes a page out of McAfee’s own integration play-book they won’t mess much with the organization’s structure – at least not for the first year.  So my guess is that it will be “business as usual” for McAfee at least in the foreseeable future. However, just as we saw with the 3COM / HP / TippingPoint fiasco, sometimes all of the products DO NOT line up cleanly.  Which brings us back to the original question: what is at the root of Intel’s interest in McAfee?

Most people think of McAfee as an anti-virus company but truthfully that is only a percentage of their revenue.  Like Symantec, McAfee has made a push to diversify its revenue stream to reduce its dependency on the volatile and competitive anti-virus market.  McAfee’s acquisitions and its current portfolio of offerings is substantial. Consider the following:

  • White-listing technology from the Solidcore acquisition
  • Data Leak Prevention (DLP) technology from the Onigma acquisition
  • Network Vulnerability scanning from the Foundstone acquisition
  • Firewall technology from Secure Computing
  • Network Intrusion Prevention technology from the Intruvert acquisition

…and that’s off the top of my head; there are many more.  So while Anti-virus might seem like an odd fit for Intel, products like a network-based intrusion prevention platform and a network vulnerability scanner are even further in left field.  And there lies the future dilemma.

My take, so far?  McAfee gives Intel some brand recognition in the security space, a software footprint, some endpoint-focused intellectual property that could be useful down the road, and revenue. While it still strikes me as an odd match, I think endpoint protection products will remain relatively “safe” at Intel. However, I’m unsure how aligned the other product areas will be and time will tell whether they need to find a home somewhere else.

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