Intel buys McAfee, but why?

August 22nd, 2010 in .Blogs .Tech
Nick Holland
Clip to Evernote

Intel recently dropped a cool $7.7Bn on security company, McAfee, paying a 62 per cent premium per share in what some have described as over the odds. Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini, fired back with a different point of view though and maintains that it’s within the norm of acquisitions and Intel aims (hopes) to profit more than this in the future, by beefing up and expanding its core platform.

This seemly unusual marriage between a security software company and a hardware chip builder does beg one obvious question: why?

In the scramble to understand and from Intel’s own words it appears that Intel wants to develop hardware-based security in order to add not just another level protection to its platform, but a faster, more integrated security system. Intel already has some security bits like vPro for business, and in that respect it’s a sensible strategy to integrate more platform-level control for improved performance. A similar development would be the XD bit execution prevention in the core design of Intel’s CPUs – however nothing of the complexity and magnitude of anti-virus software has ever been successful – or even largely attempted – in hardware before.

With Intel’s continuing push outside of the traditional PC/laptop market into more modern CE and embedded devices such as internet enabled TVs, tablets, ATMs, cars, medical devices and mobile phones – building in extra critical features to sway customers from the established ARM or AMD competition is a worthy and on reflection, a necessary gamble. After all, in addition to such basic demands like internet connectivity and performance, data security is always high on the list of consumers, business’ and embedded product developers.

Intel needs to leverage that considerable $7.7Bn investment though, not just technologically but through marketing this advantage. Intel is a great marketing machine but it’s not coming from a position of strength if we talk about its software excellence. Apart from its own compilers (maybe, I’m not a software engineer so feel free to correct me on that one) it doesn’t release driver updates as often as the competition – particularly in graphics – and its outwardly done little since purchasing game middleware company, Havok three years ago. That’s just two examples of a large software portfolio, yes, but I’d challenge anyone to name an Intel funded software solution they use or hear about everyday or even know of one that’s in partnership with Intel. Uh.. ? Hmm.

We have to wonder then, given many (most? all?) security companies resort to some level of scaremongering sorry, “informative advertising” in order to sell a product, will Intel decide to stoop to the same level?

On the other hand, on the mobile front, given that we’re yet to see even a single serious virus in a market that has exploded in the last few years, it could be an investment for the inevitable and  after all, prevention is always better than a cure.

In tablets, laptops and smartphones, performance and battery life are essential facets that are always demanded by consumers, but these go against the needs of software anti-virus that even today will render a full desktop PC into a crawl during a scan, or at least load it full of services and bloat that run in the background. Given the choice of a frustratingly slow, but more secure phone or a nippy one, I argue that most people would opt to take the risk. With that in mind, it’s evident that an extra chip to take the load off could certainly yield a market advantage.

Intel says it’ll leave McAfee alone to do what has already made is successful, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions in a field of ‘what-ifs’ about the roadmap ahead.

Related Articles

Share |
    blog comments powered by Disqus