Intel Execs Bullish On McAfee Technology, Channel Expertise

Intel's decision to pony up $7.68 billion to acquire McAfee last year was seen as a shrewd yet daring attempt to reinvent the traditional IT security model through a combination of hardware and software. So far, Intel appears impressed with what McAfee is bringing to the table.

On Monday at the opening of McAfee's annual Partner Summit in Las Vegas, Renee James, McAfee chairman and senior vice president of Intel's software and services group, assured partners that Intel has no intention of tinkering with a company that's currently hitting on all cylinders.

"We will continue to grow McAfee as standalone security company, and we will keep the management team intact," James told a crowd of roughly 650 McAfee partners. "You should not be convinced that anything is going to change, unless it's for the better."

McAfee plans to unveil its first two DeepSafe products on Tuesday at its Focus conference. DeepSafe, a combination of hardware and software that detects unknown rootkits and prevents them from wreaking havoc on machines, is the first fruit of the Intel-McAfee union and a technology that will be included in a wide range of future products, James said.

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DeepSafe also represents Intel's desire to tackle security challenges in a "ubiquitous and systematic way," she added.

"Security needs to be reinvented. One reason we haven't been successful is that doing so requires a combination of hardware and software," she said. "We are very excited about the capabilities of DeepSafe. Even the first product is a pretty big advancement in terms of things we've been trying to solve ourselves for quite some time."

DeepSafe is a layer of technology that resides below the operating system, which enables it to provide a more effective form of protection, Todd Gebhart, McAfee co-president, told attendees.

"For the first time, security software has an opportunity to sit below the OS, which gives it a whole new type of visibility into threats," Gebhart said. "This is a new generation of technology that's going to bring together hardware-assisted security and protect customers against Advanced Persistent Threats and other dangerous attacks."

James said Intel is impressed with the ideas coming from the McAfee side regarding the DeepSafe architecture. "We've exposed them to everything we have, and the McAfee team is coming back with really exciting ideas about breakthroughs they didn't have access to before they became part of Intel," she said.

Next: Intel And The Channel

But it wasn't just McAfee's technology that caught Intel's eye. Both companies are channel focused, but there is "very little overlap" between their channels, James said.

Intel, for its part, does about 35 percent of its business through the channel, which means it accounted for just over $15 billion of the company's $43 billion in fiscal 2010 revenue. Intel has more than 1,000 people supporting the channel and the company spends $50 million annually in training its partners, James said.

"Our growth has largely come from the channel. We find that the value added by our channel partners is real, and they are our face to the customers," James said.

Cloud security is complicated, tough to manage and requires an investment in infrastructure that McAfee might not have been able to make as an independent company, according to James. "Security companies are facing fundamental challenges when it comes to protecting mobile devices," James said. "Mobile security is not like PC security -- it requires a new approach."

Intel thought long and hard about the McAfee deal before pulling the trigger, but James said the evidence so far indicates that it was the right move.

"We feel very confident that based on technical analysis, McAfee is the best positioned company at a platform and a cloud level, especially with the investments they've made in mobile," she said.