Intel eyed McAfee for years, Gelsinger says

The company long considered McAfee or Symantec acquisitions to leverage CPUs in security

Intel considered acquiring either Symantec or McAfee for years before it announced last week that it would buy the latter, former Intel senior vice president Pat Gelsinger said on Thursday.

Gelsinger, now president and chief operating officer of Information Infrastructure Products at EMC, said he was surprised by the timing of the McAfee deal but not by its logic.

"We had looked at security and security deals for a long time ... with the basic thesis of securing the base platform," Gelsinger told reporters after a presentation in San Francisco on Thursday. Gelsinger joined EMC about a year ago after 30 years at Intel, where he rose to senior vice president and co-general manager of the company's Digital Enterprise group.

Security requires building a "root of trust" across all parts of a system to establish that someone is who they represent themselves to be, Gelsinger said. It's impossible to trust the operating system, drivers, firmware or BIOS of a PC or server because all those can be hacked, he said. Recent security incidents have proved that antivirus software and firewalls "don't work," leading to a demand for deeper security, Gelsinger said. "You come to the simple answer that silicon-based root of trust is important."

"This idea of being able to provide base-level platform silicon-connected security is a very, very rational position for Intel to take," Gelsinger said.

Intel's planned acquisition of McAfee might hurt RSA, the security subsidiary of EMC, but only in small ways, because RSA's products are largely complementary to those of McAfee, he said. Intel has told EMC since the deal was announced that it expects to partner even more effectively with RSA now, according to Gelsinger. At the RSA 2010 conference in March, the companies demonstrated a "chain of trust" that included an Intel CPU, VMware software, RSA authentication management software and a security console from Archer Technologies, which was acquired by EMC in January, he said.

Gelsinger has mixed feelings about the acquisition battle between Dell and Hewlett-Packard for 3Par. HP made the latest move on Thursday, raising its offer to US$27 per share, or about $1.8 billion. Gelsinger said 3Par is "dramatically overvalued," because it sells only high-end, block-based enterprise storage equipment. The scarcity of alternative acquisition targets is driving its price up, he said.

Gelsinger believes HP would be better positioned to use 3Par to compete against EMC, because it already has a strong presence in large enterprises. Dell, on the other hand, has an extensive OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partnership with EMC that covers products from EMC's Clariion, Celerra, Symmetrix and Data Domain product lines. EMC is devoted to its relationship with Dell, he said.

"I'd sort of prefer if they didn't add this to the complexity of the mix, but whether they do or not, we're going to be great partners with them," Gelsinger said.

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