Intel buys McAfee. Does it matter?

As you all have heard today, Intel bought McAfee. And will pay well for it.
So the question now, at least from my end, is how this can possibly affect or help the virtualization market, the one you and I live and breath on.
First of all, we all know for VDI to take off as a mainstream solution (what it is NOT at this day in 2010 – and will not be for a long time) it must get cheaper. By cheaper it means being able to cram more instances per server. This can be achieved in several ways like using the latest, greatest and fastest CPUs you can get and with as many cores as possible (and of course using quick ass disk subsystems like Fusion-io, caching/dedup like iLIO, using tons of RAM, etc).

The point is on the CPU space there is nothing that prevents other vendors like AMD to get to the level Intel is at. In many cases in the past AMD actually delivered better silicon than Intel. So Intel needs a way to differentiate itself from their competitors. Bringing stuff like AV closer to the HW is one way of doing this. Good for Intel.

And of course getting this OUT of the VMs will for sure increase scalability. That was the reason why McAfee and others were coming up with appliances and lightweight agents (to run on the VM) to offload all that work outside the virtual environment.

The main question now is really how Intel will pull this off by not being a software company really. How they will get McAfee going. Of course I think it is just way too soon for any analyst to say anything about this. Historically Intel has not managed acquisitions like this well but they were never on such scale and with such reach like McAfee has (good or bad, they do have customers and a name in the industry, especially since that .DAT file fiasco that screwed up more computers in a day than any virus they were trying to protect).

In the near future I do not expect to see anything embedded at the HW level. This is for sure something that will come way down the road as you need to come up with something that can be leveraged to anything running on top of that HW. This means you either change the OS that will be running to benefit from these new HW extensions (like vendors did when using the virtualization components exposed by Intel and AMD on their CPUs) or, in this particular AV case, you get an agent running on the OS/VM. Not an easy task to do considering the amount of hypervisors and OSs now available.

That leads us to a very important thing. To minimize this and make things much easier, would not make sense for Intel to grab a Hypervisor vendor now? Given the three main players on this space now, VMWare, Microsoft and Citrix, I am sure the low hanging fruit here is Citrix and I even wrote about this ages ago on the post ‘Intel buys Citrix’.¬†

This would give Intel a huge advantage over any other company in the Virtual Wintel echosystem. Controlling the CPU, the Hypervisor that runs on it and extra features like AV, would give you the ultimate virtualization platform, where your solution runs better or has more features than anyone else. Example? All the HW fancy features are only exposed to your own hypervisor (like Microsoft is doing with RemoteFX, only available to Hyper-V hosts) and of course your hypervisor will scale much better than the competitors as you own and know it all about the underlying HW platform. Then the next logical step would be to acquire a graphics company like NVidia (as AMD owns ATI) and leverage all that into the platform, exposing it to the virtualization layer. Then, buy a good storage vendor and a management/layering one and they are all set.

Sure such scenario could potentially bring a lot of issues to Intel from a legal perspective, as it did to Microsoft when it became what it is today. But certainly it would simplify the virtualization market a lot (and yes, I know, locking everyone into their platform Рwhat may not be a terrible thing as Apple has shown the sceptics with their iOS echosystem).

The bottom line is this acquisition for sure will help the virtualization space in the long run (do not expect mystical benefits happening overnight with this acquisition) but I see it as just the tip of the iceberg of what is potentially coming down the road from them.

Feds, you better keep an eye on Intel.

CR

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