Symantec Partners See Potential In Intel-McAfee Tie-Up

But as the dust settles, some Symantec partners say the Intel-McAfee deal, if it passes muster with regulators, could present a major competitive threat because it could enable the long-held vision of a truly secure computing platform to finally come to fruition. And that's something Symantec, despite its huge security technology portfolio, can't match.

"I see Intel moving to put McAfee's technologies on a chip, which could revolutionize malware protection, and cut endpoint security makers like Symantec out of the loop," said Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, based in Beaverton, Ore. "I suspect there were some very sour faces in the Symantec board room this morning."

Darrel Bowman, CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based Symantec partner, describes the Intel-McAfee deal as an "interesting conundrum" for Symantec.

"I think enabling a chip manufacturer with that much power around security is going to change the playing field for security. It's an opportunity to engineer your security solution so that it works really well with your development team and processing power," Bowman said.

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Of course, Symantec sells much more than just endpoint security, so it's doubtful company executives are quaking in their boots just yet. However, Symantec -- and many other companies -- has to wonder how the deal with affect its own partnership with Intel.

"I don't see how the Symantec-Intel relationship can maintain the same content or character as it has in the past," Bowman said.

Symantec was one of Intel's initial partners for vPro, a set of business-focused desktop technologies that arrived in 2006, bringing with it the idea of using virtualization to divide a PC into separate partitions, one for the user environment and one for security software.

However, Symantec's work with vPro was delayed by licensing issues, and partners tell CRN they haven't heard much about it lately.

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"We haven't seen much come out of that relationship," David Sockol, CEO of Emagined Security, a San Carlos, Calif.-based solution provider. He says that's because this extra tough level of trusted security has always required a trade-off in terms of lesser performance and slimmer feature sets.

"Most of this technology hasn’t gone anywhere because it takes longer to develop an OS that has that level of security built into it and also gives you all the performance and cool features you might want," he said. "For example, Sun had trusted Solaris, but it was almost a generation behind regular Solaris."

With McAfee, Intel could have a different approach in mind for trying to achieve the same goal, Sockol says. "The notion of building antivirus right into the core of a processor does make sense. If they can embed security into the processor, and are still able to build features into the OS without delaying features, that could enable a more secure computing environment," he said.

Although the deal makes sense to security experts, investors are less than thrilled about the 60 percent premium Intel paid for McAfee, especially when there were plenty of smaller security vendors Intel could have snapped up. That's going to put massive pressure on Intel to deliver where others have failed.

Intel and McAfee have been working toward this goal as partners for the past 18 months, and the the first products featuring integrated technology between the two companies are due to arrive surprisingly soon, in early 2011.

Plato is one Symantec partner who believes there's reason to believe that Intel and McAfee can pull it off.

"There remains a lot work before this happens, but I can see a PC in the future that has a Pentium processor with McAfee inside. The deal could end up bringing security protection to a whole new level," said Plato.