The news of Intel acquiring McAfee for nearly $8 billion caught the tech world off guard and perplexed analysts at face value. The fact is that it doesn't make much sense based on the Intel and McAfee of today, but as the dust settles the deal makes more sense when viewed as a visionary shift with an eye on where technology is headed--everywhere.
Intel is synonymous with processors and hardware chipsets. When people hear the "Intel Inside" slogan, the first they think of is personal computers. Intel hardware has become so ubiquitous in the personal computer arena that even Apple made the switch to "Intel Inside" for its Mac systems. But, that's today.
McAfee is synonymous with security. It doesn't enjoy the same virtual monopoly on its industry that Intel does, but McAfee is still easily one of the top computer security companies. When people hear "McAfee", the first thing they think of is antivirus software and protecting PCs (most likely with "Intel Inside"). But, that's today.
The challenge for the future of Intel is that the relevance of the PC is waning in an increasingly mobile world. Intel may be dominant in PC architecture, but in the world of netbooks, smartphones, and tablet PCs, Intel is an underdog and faces stiff competition from rival platforms.
The challenge for McAfee is to remain relevant in a security arena that offers little distinction between competitors. The need for antimalware protection and other security measures on personal computers won't fade any time soon, but the concept has become a commodity. There is a wide array of choices and they all offer essentially the same protection.
The advantage McAfee has, though--and perhaps one of the factors that made it appealing to Intel--is that it has already been aggressively expanding beyond the traditional PC security model. McAfee has been working to transform security from a reactionary, defensive posture, to a proactive, offensive strategy, and it has already had its eye on securing mobile products.
Citrix chief security strategist Kurt Roemer offers this insight. "This is one of the biggest security acquisitions in recent memory, as Intel is a major platform provider for server, desktop and mobile. I would bet that they'll be integrating security into the platform and generating some really strong offerings for a root of trust in Intel hardware."
Roemer has hit it on the head. Intel sees the mobile writing on the wall, and recognizes the formidable challenge it faces in shifting from server and desktop architecture to compete in mobility. It sees that McAfee has a strong brand in security, and that it is already working toward protecting mobile computing and other non-PC technologies, and it sees an opportunity to differentiate Intel from the competition and define its mobile offerings by making them inherently more secure by design.
Intel and McAfee are not alone. Adrian Turner, CEO of Mocana, notes that Symantec joined forces with Mocana earlier this year to work on "a smart device security platform that is device independent utilizing a universal security client serviced from the cloud with constantly-refreshed security services and apps."
Turner added this warning "The device-dominated internet will be fundamentally different from the PC security model familiar to [Intel and McAfee]. It requires an entirely different philosophical and architectural approach-- it can't just be built on top of existing PC antivirus software."
Looked at through the filter of today's PC-dominated architecture, and the traditional antimalware approach to security, the Intel acquisition of McAfee makes little sense. But, when viewed through a more visionary lens of technology trends and the ubiquitous, mobile Internet, Intel's move shows a hint of competitive genius.