Partners Welcome Intel's Promise To Keep McAfee Separate

McAfee channel partners say Intel CEO Paul Otellini's pledge to keep the company a separate security division of the chip giant didn't come as a surprise, but instilled confidence that allows them to make strategic decisions about their mobile expansion.

In what some considered the strongest statements yet on the future of the McAfee acquisition, Otellini reaffirmed the company's commitment to keeping the newly acquired security vendor a wholly-owned subsidiary of the giant chip manufacturer.

"Our intent is not to change the business model, the sales practices, the terms and conditions, the products, the branding," Otellini said during a keynote speech during Everything Channel's COMDEXvirtual tradeshow, held Nov. 16 and 17. "All that stays the same for the foreseeable future."

Intel's $7.68 billion acquisition of McAfee had raised strong concerns with McAfee channel partners, especially regarding how Intel would handle the security company's SMB business going forward.

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As such, Otellini's promise to keep McAfee as its own security division came as welcome news for many partners.

Philip de Souza, CEO of Torrance, Calif.-based Aurora Enterprises, said that the official announcement from Otellini boosted confidence regarding his future as a McAfee partner and cemented his own strategic business decisions going forward. "I think leaving the McAfee brand intact was a wise decision," he said, adding he had heard through the grapevine from Intel that McAfee was going to remain its own security division before Otellini's announcement Wednesday. "The news came like music to our ears."

No stranger to consolidation, Aurora Enterprises partnered with McAfee through a series of acquisitions starting with CipherTrust, and followed by Secure Computing, before ending up with McAfee, de Souza said.

"Just when we got our arms around McAfee, we were holding our breath and saying 'now what?'" he said. "Intel isn't exactly security-focused, or VAR-focused for that matter."

The move initially created doubt that arose from questions about margins, pricing structures, and how his company would interact with the organization going forward, he said.

"Would we still be able to make the same money? Have the same access to support? Those were our primary concerns. They were very rapidly allayed when we found out it was going to remain untouched," he said.

Other partners said that Otellini's assertions did not come as a surprise, but in fact reaffirmed existing beliefs regarding Intel's security strategy.

Next: Otellini Reaffirms Existing Beliefs

Dennis London, vice president of London Security Solutions, a solution provider based in Fountain Valley, Calif., said that it simply made logical business sense for Intel to leave McAfee alone, as opposed to attempting to align disparate channel programs or changing the fundamental nature of the company to something other than security.

"It would be foolish for Intel to do anything other than (keeping McAfee separate)," London said. "To break up something like that -- I can't even think of something that it could be compared to. It would be absolutely stupid."

Andy Welsh, director of partner alliance for Denver, Colo.-based Accuvant, agreed that it was a "far stretch to think that (McAfee) could assimilate" into the chip space.

"We've been very bullish that this is how they're going to operate," Welsh said. "It's nice to have someone at the top come out and validate it."

If anything, the possibility for security software to be embedded on the chip could open doors for McAfee partners, giving them inroads into the mobile space or security hardware such as medical devices or cars, London said.

It also provides a strong value-add for partners who can offer their customers an additional layer of security that addresses attacks against mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones, Android smartphones, now prevalent in the workplace.

"Intel is embedded into so many things. Adding McAfee into the mix means that there is now an easier integration path," London said. "If you can add security into the firmware, as well as having security at the gateway, you now have that extra layer of protection."

However, not every partner is ready to whole-heartedly embrace the newly acquired McAfee as a positive change for the channel.

One McAfee solution provider, who asked to speak off the record, said that even though keeping McAfee separate would be a smart move for the chip giant, he would still take Otellini's assertions "with a grain of salt" until the acquisition jelled down the road. He added that thus far, he had yet to see improvements in the way McAfee operated or communicated with its smaller partners.

"When they bought McAfee, I think they thought it would be a slam dunk and that nobody would question it," he said. "Nothing has changed at the foot soldier level. We'll just have to give it time and see where it leads."