OPINION

McAfee’s Clear New View

Anyone who attended last year’s McAfee Focus conference was likely struck by the strangeness of the event. Since Intel had announced plans to acquire the company just a couple of months before Focus, McAfee was officially in “quiet” mode — unable to discuss literally any and every business and product issue that might in any way influence the deal or the company’s share price. In other words, at an event designed to spotlight McAfee’s innovation and value, its executives’ and employees’ lips were legally, effectively sealed.

Consider also the fact that McAfee and Intel were among the odder IT couples to come down the pike. The IT industry is certainly no stranger to counterintuitive acquisitions. In fact, a small handful (EMC and VMware is probably the most spectacular example) turn out to be terrific for their customers and shareholders.

But numerous IT analysts and scads of others in the industry seemed to have serious problems wrapping their heads around why the world’s preeminent microprocessor vendor would want, let alone pay US$7.68 billion for, a company best known as a purveyor of antivirus software for PCs. Intel’s explanation — that McAfee provided it the means to enable entirely new approaches to system security — sounded good on paper, but the practicalities seemed difficult to parse.

A New Security Class

It turns out that while details were thin on the ground at Focus 2010, the air was thick with news at Focus 2011 and at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) a few weeks earlier. At IDF, McAfee and Intel announced DeepSAFE, a new technology the pair codeveloped, which enables McAfee hardware-assisted security products to sit below the OS and provide the foundation for new protection methodologies — including proactively detecting and preventing stealthy advanced persistent threats (APTs) and malware.

While DeepSAFE made its debut at IDF, Focus 2011 served as a coming-out party for the first commercial solutions based on the new technology. McAfee Deep Defender supports a new class of PC and laptop security that resides more deeply and performs more proactively than traditional software-based client security solutions.

Rather than finding existing viruses and malware, and repairing infected and damaged systems, Deep Defender is designed to monitor CPUs and memory in real-time, detect numerous classes of threats, and react before a system becomes infected.

McAfee’s other new product, ePO Deep Command, is aimed at businesses with PCs and notebooks based on Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs equipped with vPro, an embedded technology independent of the OS, which allows administrators to remotely access systems for monitoring, maintenance and management processes. In essence, McAfee’s ePO Deep Command leverages Intel vPro to perform proactive security updates, apply patches, and remediate threat-damaged systems — regardless of whether the PC is powered on or off.

The Heart of the Matter

Just how big a deal is all this? It depends on where you reside. McAfee’s ePO Deep Command is clearly a business-centric offering but should be welcomed by enterprises looking to enhance their client security and management processes. It’s also a very nice addition to Intel vPro, a technology that has enjoyed less market traction than it deserves.

On the other hand, Deep Defender gets to the heart of why Intel pursued and won McAfee in the first place. Though it is clearly a first-entry solution, if Deep Defender performs as advertised and evolves as expected, it will likely provide McAfee and Intel the means to fundamentally change the IT security landscape for the better.

Charles King

E-Commerce Times columnist Charles King is principal analyst for Pund-IT, an IT industry consultancy that emphasizes understanding technology and product evolution, and interpreting the effects these changes will have on business customers and the greater IT marketplace. Though Pund-IT provides consulting and other services to technology vendors, the opinions expressed in this commentary are King's alone.

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