Sniffer Technologies has taken its first steps out from under the umbrella of McAfee, emerging as a new, independent and privately held company called - again - Network General.

The company was formed (or, rather, reformed) after McAfee, formerly Network Associates, sold off its Sniffer division to investors for $275 million in April. The new company will attempt to build on the Sniffer brand name and large customer base, developing the Sniffer line of network performance management technology and focusing on the needs of network managers, said Nancy Blair, vice president of marketing at Network General.

The announcement completes the partial devolution of NAI. which was formed when the original Network General was acquired by McAfee Associates in 1997. The separation is welcomed by Sniffer engineers and staff, who often found their efforts spread across NAI's array of security products such as anti-virus and firewall software, Blair said. "There was a bifurcation of focus that didn't help the customers or the employees who were struggling to get new products and services to network managers," Blair said

Even without the sponsorship of McAfee, the new company will be a major player in the market for network performance management technology, with 600 employees worldwide, 6,000 customers and over $200 million in annual revenue, Blair said. "We're the biggest startup that network management market's seen in a long time," she said.

The company will invest in new technologies that languished "on the shelf" at McAfee, including products and services designed to take advantage growth markets such as Ethernet switching, wireless networking and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, she said. Companies that are installing new IT infrastructure and phasing out older platforms such as Windows NT are also a key market, she explained.

One area where the company will expand is in what Network General executives term "application performance management". The company will be pushing its Appera product, which gives network managers information about applications that are running on a network and how network traffic is flowing between network endpoints, Blair said.

The company will also be reinvesting in the Sniffer products, including Sniffer Portable and Sniffer Distributed to create features tailored to problems facing "next generation" networks as well as traditional networks, the company said.

Network General also plans to expand its global direct sales and reseller networks and doesn't discount the possibility of partnering with seeming competitors such as Computer Associates, BMC and Mercury. Network General could provide technology that works seamlessly with point products and management tools from those companies, giving network managers a detailed picture of network and application performance, Blair said.

With new management, engineering talent from the McAfee Sniffer division, and backers with deep pockets, CEO Bruce Fram said he, too, has high hopes for the new company. "We've got the customers, the technology, the brand name, and multi-billion dollar funds backing us that are in it for the long-haul. That gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility," he said.

Start-up jokes aside, the focus at Network General and among its new owners is on growth and profitability, Blair said. "Nobody spends $275 million for a company with low growth prospects."