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At first blush, the recent purchase of McAfee by Intel had some security observers puzzled.

What would the world's largest chipmaker want with a pure-play security company that specializes in anti-virus and intrusion prevention technologies, especially for a hefty price tag of $7.68 billion?

But once one looked past the Wall Street surprise, the transaction didn't deviate much from the status quo.

Security expert Bruce Schneier said giant IT companies have been scooping up security specialists for years so they can blend those solutions into their more general IT offerings. The examples are plentiful. EMC-RSA, IBM-ISS, HP-Fortify...the list goes on.

“This is where the IT industry is headed, and when it gets there, there'll be no point in user conferences like InfoSec and RSA,” Schneier predicted in a 2007 blog, which he referenced when analyzing the Intel-McAfee deal. “They won't disappear, they'll simply become industry conferences.”

Paul Kocher, president of Cryptography Research, said the acquisition signals how important software security is for a hardware company like Intel. “Intel has long been focused on increasing processor speeds,” Kocher said in an interview. “[But] it is reached a point now that the processor speed isn't the concern for IT departments. Security issues have become one of the leading complaints about PCs.”

McAfee CTO George Kurtz blogged that the deal is forward-looking, as it will enable Intel to secure the influx of IP-enabled mobile and embedded devices from the floor up. “Given the current challenges in dealing with the proliferation of virulent malware, bringing software closer to silicon will provide a real advantage for consumers and businesses,” he wrote.

In the end, said industry observers, the Intel buy was more about what McAfee's intellectual property can do for its silicon technology than what McAfee can do for it as a wholly owned subsidiary.

But some still aren't sold. Forrester analyst Andrew Jaquith said in a blog that he questioned whether Intel and McAfee are viable players in the mobile market. And even if they are, he contended, the non-PC market may not need Intel, as many device manufacturers are taking the security initiative themselves.

Time will tell how this specific transaction plays out, but one thing appears certain: consolidation is here to stay. In fact, on the day of this writing, rumors of a Microsoft buyout of Symantec sent Big Yellow's shares soaring.
But at least for now, RSA and InfoSec 2011 are on schedule.

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