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The Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) acquisition of McAfee (MFE) is about a transformation taking place within IT and pending collisions between devices, networks and systems.

At the core of this transformation is a massive shift from personal computers to network-enabled devices (smart phones, tablets, etc); a shift that will be even more disruptive than the shift from mainframes to personal computers.

A key piece of trivia: Today more devices are being added annually to the network than were connected to the network in 1999. In coming years smart phones will surpass computers in terms of network-enabled devices. I think Intel sees this coming, and McAfee is a response to the challenge. (See Network Automation is Inevitable for the trend data.)

From the Infrastructure 2.0 blog The Next Microsoft:

Yet this age isn’t about the personal computer anymore either; it is more about the network becoming the computer, as forecasted by Oracle’s (NYSE:ORCL) Larry Ellison and others. The network is already being populated by ever larger population of mobile devices, the next wave of computerization:

“More than 1 billion mobile devices will access the Internet in the New Year, research firm International Data Corp. (IDC: 33.83 +0.03 +0.09%) says. That’s catching up to the 1.3 billion users that use a PC to go online, and the rate of growth for mobile users is 2.5 times the growth rate for PC use.”

- Daily Markets Feb 6, 2010

As more devices are attached to the network -depending on it for connectivity with hosted applications- the network, in effect, becomes the “motherboard” for thinner and thinner applications running on ever more specialized and consumerized form factors, including sensors and specialized tools and appliances.

Like Microsoft, Intel has incredible strength in the PC industry but has an exposed flank in the new world of network connected devices. From Intel Buys McAfee for More Than $7.6 Billion:

"Such ties will be crucial as millions of products, including phones, cars and home appliances, gain more computing horsepower and access to the Web, according to the chief executive at Intel, Paul S. Otellini...”- Ashlee Vance, NY Times, Aug 19, 2010

After devices will come varieties of sensors with processors - including low cost or throwaways - with their own IP addresses. Add to that televisions and home appliances with IP addresses. The list is likely to diffuse into swarms of specialized devices over time for everything from security to expanded theaters of automation.

The public cloud players will also likely cater to this new device market with varieties of low cost application service models.

The biggest question may then be how the enterprise and public sector technology industry adapts, with public clouds setting new expectations for cost and service while growing specialized IT teams (hired to address the rising swarm) are dedicated to managing increasingly slow and congested enterprise networks. Note Fed CIO Kundra’s recent remarks from the NASA IT Summit:

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra acknowledged that the federal government has to “stop the madness” when it comes to wasting money on data centers and other IT resources that aren’t working effectively. – InformationWeek Aug 18, 2010

IT automation is the only way out. And - especially with the explosion in network-enabled devices - that will require network automation. Here comes the swarm.

Disclosure: No positions

Source: Intel Prepares for Swarm Computing Age