Intel’s acquisition of McAfee explained

 As unpredictable as the Intel-McAfee matchup was, you can be pretty sure of one thing: Symantec is probably not going to start courting AMD.

I think it says something about a corporate takeover when several people in my Twitter feed retweeted the headline with the comment “WHY????” Well, the analysts quickly tried to make it seem sensible. Intel could embed McAfee’s security technology into its microprocessors. Intel could be more self-reliant in terms of security and would have an extra pipeline of making money. Surprisingly, you didn’t hear a lot of people suggesting that just maybe, McAfee was tired of being the industry’s No. 2, and was ready to admit it would never reach No. 1.

McAfee has some great products, and I always liked the idea of ePolicy Orchestrator, which seemed to bring a lot of the management functionality into a console-type of environment that many IT departments seemed to want. Beyond that, however, the company has never demonstrated the kind of vision that has driven its rivals towards what seem, in 2010, much more natural M&As, though they appeared equally bizaare at the time. Symantec bought Veritas, emphasizing that securing data meant you should also know how to store it. EMC agreed, buying RSA security as well as content management provider documentum. McAfee’s never seemed interested in storage or content. This deal with Intel probably represents the biggest risk it’s ever taken.

Such is Intel’s presence in the market that many people will no doubt wonder how Symantec, EMC/RSA, Sophos and others will respond. The answer is, they won’t. There’s no real need to. There is more than enough research to show that the vulnerabilities in enterprise IT are so multifaceted that they will never be completely addressed at the chip level. Intel would be foolish to eliminate McAfee’s existing product line, and will merely need to make some reassuring to McAfee customers that its vast fortune will only help provide insurance to the investments with McAfee that they’ve already made.

The real questions are these: To what extent will McAfee operate as a standalone entity, and what will Intel buy next? Never a company known for growing through acquisition, Intel’s McAfee deal suggests a change in direction. IBM, a longstanding giant in the mainframe and server space, has spent the last five years or so gobbling up one solution provider after another, now boasting an arsenal of products in the security, business intelligence and data centre space. Perhaps Intel will follow suit.

What can Intel offer McAfee besides a lot of money? Perhaps trust from customers who really identify with that brand, although you could argue a security company like this wouldn’t have lasted as long if its own brand wasn’t pretty trustworthy. It also creates an exit strategy, avoiding looking like a one-trick pony as Symantec and others continue to diversify. For Intel, long known as the brains within our desktops and notebooks, there is a benefit of having McAfee inside. How it keeps running McAfee on the outside may be a bigger challenge than it looks.

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