McAfee's Secure Computing Acquisition: The View from Gartner

McAfee's acquisition of Secure Computing could trigger a round of consolidation and disrupt the security status quo for vendors and customers alike

Last month security giant McAfee Inc. snapped up Secure Computing Corp., a respected provider of network security technology. McAfee says the acquisition is part of a strategy to develop a new Network Security Business Unit, helmed by Secure Computing's existing executive group.

Industry watchers say the move could trigger a round of consolidation in the security segment and disrupt the status quo for vendors and customers alike.

In the near-term, note Gartner Inc. analysts Greg Young, Adam Hills, and John Pescatore, McAfee's move could trigger a round of security market consolidation, as rivals Trend Micro Inc. and Symantec Corp. -- among others -- seek to parry McAfee's advantage.

"McAfee's planned acquisition … may cause other security vendors to follow suit with similar acquisitions, but the impact on enterprises will be minor. McAfee is one of the few providers that have strong product offerings in both network and host-based security, and has also been successful, in terms of both quality and sales, with intrusion prevention systems (IPSs), an area where Secure Computing has been weak," the trio writes.

Secure Computing, for its part, helps plug a hole in McAfee's security stack: its lack of a competitive enterprise firewall offering. It also helps set the stage for another offering -- a combination of McAfee's IPS expertise and Secure Computing's enterprise firewall technology -- that could knock competitors back on their heels.

"McAfee's IPS product shows that it can produce high-quality purpose-built network security appliances, and this will present a promising expansion path for Secure Computing's products," Young, Hills, and Pescatore write. "But [McAfee] needs an enterprise-class firewall to remain competitive in network security, and Secure Computing's Sidewinder should help to fill that gap. A next-generation firewall offering combining Sidewinder and McAfee IPS is a long-term possibility, and would be a positive development."

Gartner analysts Peter Firstbrook and Arabella Hallowell point to another benefit: the acquisition gives McAfee a credible presence in key markets -- i.e., e-mail security and secure Web gateways (SWGs) and network firewalls -- where it's traditionally had a weak hand. It could also help rescue Secure Computing from imbroglios of its own making, the analysts note.

"Secure Computing has struggled with product and channel rationalization, a patent dispute and limited brand awareness," they write. "When the acquisition is complete, McAfee -- which has a significantly stronger brand and more cash than Secure Computing -- will be the only security provider offering credible solutions for both the endpoint and the network, and will be a stronger competitor against Symantec and Trend Micro."

If the acquisition is going to be a success, it's going to require ceaseless innovation on McAfee's part, Gartner cautions. "McAfee will need to work hard to correct some Secure Computing problems, including improving customer support and rationalizing multiple competing product portfolios," Firstbrook and Hallowell write. "McAfee will have to integrate a new sales force that targets the network buyer, and reconcile some of its products and features, such as its gateway appliances and the data loss prevention capabilities it gained in the Reconnex acquisition, with Secure Computing's functionality." Nor does the acquisition redress McAfee's shortcomings in the burgeoning software-as-a-service (SaaS) segment: SaaS-based e-mail and SWG services represent a "significant portion of the opportunity" in the security space, according to Gartner.

Where customers are concerned, Gartner sees a likely best-case scenario, thanks to the lack of redundancy or overlap between the McAfee and Secure Computing product lines. "Overall, McAfee's and Secure Computing's technologies are a good 'fit,' and this acquisition represents a strong positive development. Secure Computing's customers should experience improved support from a capable single vendor, as well as the benefits of an opportunity to consolidate vendor relationships," Young, Hills, and Pescatore conclude.

"This acquisition is not, however, a guaranteed success. McAfee's speed of integration must be much faster than with previous, smaller acquisitions, or this move will become irrelevant and McAfee will fall behind more nimble network security competitors."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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