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Intel acquisition of McAfee raises 'value-add' questions

Resellers are worried that by McAfee products' eventual integration across Intel's chip and processor lines, customers will have fewer product choices and resellers will be forced to accept lower margins.

Intel's acquisition today of security software vendor McAfee Inc. may create a stir for value-added resellers, according to some channel professionals.

They're likely going to be integrating their products together, and you're not going to have the choice of the software that runs on that hardware.

Kevin McDonald,
executive vice presidentAlvaka Networks

The embedding of security in hardware devices is an instinctive fit given the ubiquity of wireless, Internet-enabled devices, and customers' lack of vigilance in applying security software and patches. However, according to Kevin McDonald, executive vice president of Alvaka Networks, an Irvine, Calif.-based network, security and managed services consulting firm, VARs will be the ones hit hardest by an alliance between a large-scale, high-margin chip vendor and a large-scale security company.

"They're likely going to be integrating their products together, and you're not going to have the choice of the software that runs on that hardware," McDonald said. "Intel isn't going to build hardware with embedded software that can be switched out to another brand."

Putting the products into one component may remove segments from a VAR's offerings that had previously been sold separately, said McDonald, leading to lower margins for resellers.

Although Alvaka Networks is not a McAfee partner, McDonald is no stranger to acquisitions. Alvaka previously had a partnership with FrontBridge Technologies, a secure messaging services company; which gave Alvaka a direct relationship with FrontBridge customers. When Microsoft bought FrontBridge in 2005, the software giant changed its licensing program and offered the messaging product directly and with enterprise versions of Exchange, causing Alvaka Networks to walk from its FrontBridge partnership.

Acquisitions often lead to uncertainty for resellers as they adjust to new marketing materials, certifications and training on new products, but they can still forge fruitful partnerships, and they don't have to end with a partner walking out the door.

In fact, Michelle Drolet, CEO of the Framingham-based Towerwall, was a Secure Computing partner that was just getting comfortable with McAfee, a company that had acquired Secure Computing and has picked up a handful of complementary vendors in recent years, including MX Logic Inc. and Trust Digital.

"One of the concerns we had with McAfee at first was that we would be a small fish in a very large ocean, and that was never the fact," Drolet said, adding that McAfee has helped with training and maintaining customer bases. "Now, Intel is even larger than McAfee."

Although Drolet could not speak to how Towerwall's channel program would fit into the new arrangement, she noted, in general, that when another vendor is acquired, there's always room for concern.

"With any acquisition, it's important to know who the new players are, and make sure we can take care of our customers, make sure our support infrastructure is there, and make sure we understand what their programs are because they're probably different. … Hopefully they're doing the right thing for the organization, and we're a part of that organization."

"You can never relax as a VAR," said McDonald, as security vendors continue to team up with other companies, often leading to new profit calculations, marketing materials and channel programs.

The automation efforts from McAfee will challenge resellers, he added, saying that the "value-add" that a reseller can provide may be replaced by the pre-sale value that a vendor provides directly.

"Companies need to find their own value, independent of vendors."

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