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Why the Intel-McAfee merger is good news for VDI

Most analyses of Intel's plan to buy McAfee have focused on the financials rather than antivirus. But the acquisition could be good for desktop virtualization security.

Last week, Intel announced that it planned to spend more than $7 billion to buy McAfee. Since both Intel and McAfee are very involved in the desktop virtualization space, it's interesting to think about how this acquisition will affect our industry.

The press release talks about things like "hardware-enhanced security" as the reason for this deal. Other industry watchers discussed this deal primarily in financial terms, saying that Intel was under pressure to increase the percentage of corporate spend it gets, and buying a company like McAfee is a good way to do that.

Interestingly, the one thing that no one is really talking is antivirus. When most people think about McAfee, they think "antivirus." And while it's certainly true that McAfee makes a lot of money selling antivirus products, like most antivirus companies, McAfee has expanded into a full-fledged client security company. So now in addition to antivirus software, it offers email and Web security products, data protection and encryption products, mobile security, network security, risk management, and system security products. (The company did almost $2 billion in sales last year, more than Citrix and almost as much as VMware.)

As readers of this site know, security is an important aspect of desktop virtualization, putting McAfee squarely in our market. And the company has also announced a new antivirus product architecture that's specifically targeted for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) desktops.

McAfee is only half of this deal -- the other half is Intel. Of course, Intel is involved in desktop virtualization since it makes the processors that run in 80% of our servers and laptops. Intel's biggest play in the desktop virtualization space is with vPro, a series of extensions for higher-end laptops that allow administrators to remotely manage, secure and update clients.

One of the features of Intel vPro is TxT -- Trusted Execution Technology -- which is essentially like adding Secure Sockets Layer certificates into the CPU to ensure that only certain signed applications are

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used. In the virtual desktop world, TxT could require that only the official corporate-built hypervisor is booted (whether from a USB stick or the hard drive), thus preventing users (or attackers) from loading their own operating systems or hypervisors. TxT could also be used to ensure that the actual virtual machines (VMs) being loaded come from verified sources. Or maybe it would give signed VMs more access to the hardware, while unsigned "user-built" VMs would be confined to isolated bubbles and certain virtual LANs.

Clearly, there's a play for McAfee's security products to be integrated into a client environment like this. At the minimum, we could see signed McAfee client-based virtual security appliances. But in the long run, Intel could enhance vPro and TxT to more tightly integrate with all of McAfee's security products. And at the end of the day, that's what this is about. Intel wants to ensure that customers that buy devices with Intel CPUs have full access to tightly integrated security solutions, whether they're for the network, the device, the data or the apps. McAfee will operate as part of Intel's software group, and I'm sure we'll see joint solutions pretty quickly after this deal closes.

Brian Madden is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as an opinionated, supertechnical desktop virtualization expert. He has written several books and more than 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Madden's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. He is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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