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McAfee, the second largest security software company, is aiming to completely undo larger rival Symantec’s longstanding alliance with Hewlett-Packard by replacing Big Yellow’s anti-virus software on all HP personal computers.

In a Reuters interview, McAfee CEO Dave DeWalt said his company is trying to convince HP to drop Symantec’s products from its PC distributions and replace the security software with McAfee products. Symantec’s distribution agreement with HP reportedly ends within the next 12 months.

DeWalt’s aggressive remarks are just the latest shot McAfee has taken at Symantec and another sign of McAfee’s resurgence and growing confidence.

"We think everything’s steadily improved. That’s encouraging. We’ve seen somewhat of a return to normal spending. In January, February, it was almost a complete freeze in some cases, followed by March, just a little bit better. And April, better still," DeWalt told Reuters.

McAfee has been on a roll in recent months, developing new alliances and acquiring assets to bolster its competitive position. In April, McAfee signed an alliance with HP enabling it to resell its entire portfolio of security products. HP says it will incorporate McAfee products into its hardware solutions, particularly ProCurve switches and networking gear, and provide customers and solution providers with fully integrated solutions.

“In the past, it was just a warm hand-off, and that left the channel partner to deal with all the things that don’t go well [in the implementation]. Now, if something goes wrong, you can call ProCurve for support; partners have a single throat to choke,” Chris Whitener, HP’s chief security strategist, told Channel Insider in a recent interview.

McAfee recently signed a deal with storage giant EMC to develop secure cloud-based storage services. This week, McAfee announced the acquisition of SolidCore, a small vendor of whitelisting technology that improves Web filtering.

Both deals are blows to Symantec. HP’s EDS services division reportedly sells up to $400 million in Symantec products annually. And the cloud-storage service and SolidCore acquisition are clearly a shot at Symantec’s storage management business.

In an interview with Reuters, Symantec Senior Vice President Rowan Trollope acknowledged the longstanding, exclusive anti-virus distribution relationship with HP nearing expiration. However, he expressed confidence that HP would renew the deal after evaluating all relevant factors.

In an interview with Channel Insider, the head of EDS’s security services division said that HP would maintain an agnostic position in implementation and consulting services to ensure that it can deliver the products and services that customers want. “We, by our very nature, have to drive multiple vendors who may or may not be part of the HP family,” says Jim Alsop, vice president of EDS’s service delivery operations, security and privacy service line.

A decade ago, McAfee and Symantec waged a pitch battle for dominance in the nascent anti-virus market. Ultimately, Symantec won the war with slightly larger shares in both consumer and enterprise anti-virus applications. The two companies have maintained relative parity since.

Over the past few years, though, the two companies have expanded their respective portfolios beyond anti-virus. Symantec’s massive acquisition of Veritas in 2004 gave it a huge footprint in storage management. McAfee, through a series of smaller acquisitions such as IntruVert and Foundstone, has developed greater capabilities in risk management.

In the channel, McAfee is working to regain its footing among solution providers. In recent years, McAfee hasn’t been known for nurturing its partners or engaging well with the channel. However, some McAfee partners say that’s changing.

"McAfee has built a very rich program in terms of sales incentives and backend rebates. The co-op marketing could still come up a bit," says Adam Robinson, CEO of government solution provider GovPlace. "They make good stuff and that goes a long way with the customers."

The diversification has opened opportunities for smaller security software rivals to take market share away from the two giants. Kaspersky Lab, Sophos, ESET and others have claimed stealing customers from the two giants.

What remains unclear is whether McAfee winning over HP’s distribution of its anti-virus software would have the same relevance as it would have even just two years ago. McAfee, Symantec, Trend Micro and Microsoft are each developing significant cloud-based anti-virus and endpoint protection services for consumer and business users.

Microsoft recently announced an alliance with HP’s EDS services division, in which it was standardizing all of its hosted business and collaboration applications on HP hardware and leveraging EDS’s global data center network to deliver software as a service to markets around the world. HP believes the Microsoft services relationship will generate more than $3 billion in revenue over the next five years.

Symantec is conscious of the competitive threats posed by rivals such as McAfee and Microsoft, and is focused on a twofold process of improving the quality of its products and the value of doing business with Symantec to its solution provider community.

“If you don’t do a good job of integrating the technology in a way that’s easy to understand by the customer and implement by the partner, you’re doomed for failure,” Symantec CEO Enrique Salem said in an interview with Channel Insider.