Intel software chief: Security needs to be reinvented

Renee James Intel

Renée James, software and services chief at Intel

LAS VEGAS – If there’s one question Renée James gets a lot, it’s why her company (Intel) chose to purchase security vendor McAfee.

In front of a crowd of some 600 of McAfee’s solution providers, James made her case: after more than a decade of trying to solve some pretty complex security challenges from a hardware point of view, it became obvious that the only way it was going to happen was from hardware and software working together as tightly as possible.

“Security needs to be reinvented,” James said. One reason we haven’t been successful is that doing so requires a combination of hardware and software.”

That reinvention begins in earnest with the launch of the first products from the combined DeepSafe product line outlined by Intel CEO Paul Otellini recently. Those products are expected to be announced Tuesday as McAfee Partner Summit turns into its Focus 11 combined partner and end user event.

“Even the first product is a pretty big advancement in terms of things we’ve been trying to solve ourselves for quite some time,” James told partners.

Speaking after James, new McAfee co-president Larry Gebhart said DeepSafe was “revolutionary, not evolutionary.”

“For the first time, security software can sit below the OS, giving us a whole new level of visibility into the threats that are taking place, and giving us the ability to hide from the bad guys so they don’t know what we’re doing,” he said, adding that McAfee has been “going down the road” towards DeepSafe with Intel for more than two years now.

McAfee executives steered clear of naming the first DeepSafe products, but global sales chief Joe Sexton did provide some direction on what to expect – the first product will integrate Intel’s existing onboard hardware security measures with McAfee’s flagship ePolicy Orchestrator offering, while the second product will be the one that delivers on the promise of moving security underneath the OS and closer to the chipset itself.

Other major reasons for the purchase, according to James: “Security was the number-one request for Intel channel partners” even before the purchase, and there was very little crossover between Intel and McAfee partner bases. Plus, James said, security is “one of the only features” that customers from consumer to enterprise CIOs are willing to pay more, and are willing to do so despite challenges in the economic environment, witnessed by the continual growth in security spend even through recession.

If the “why” questions is the one James hears most often – then the second most-frequent question is probably “What are you going to do with McAfee?” And the answer, James said simply, is nothing. Absolutely nothing. She acknowledged that it’s not exactly standard M&A practice, and quipped that the approach, which she championed as the “sponsor” of the purchase within Intel, either means “I’m crazy, or that this will be the most transformational acquisition in this industry in this decade.”

She’s clearly betting on the latter.

“You should not see disruptions to your relationships,” James said. “We intend to keep things as stable as possible with the people you know and love supporting you going forward.”

She said that Intel’s commitment is to continue to grow McAfee both organically and through acquisition, to have tighter integration with Intel hardware “where it makes sense,” and to invest in the programs McAfee has already been building on. That includes growing spending on channel partners, she added.

“The more you invest in a channel, the better return for both the company and for the channel partners,” James said.