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Brains Behind Browsers on Web 2.0

NEW YORK -- In roughly four years, Opsware  has carved itself a nice piece of the server-provisioning market, a segment of the multi-billion-dollar industry for management software.

The company, whose software automates the tedious tasks IT workers have traditionally undertaken to make sure networks and servers are running up to speed, cracked the $100 million revenue mark in 2006.

Opsware has achieved this plateau by winning such customers as GE, Target and EDS , as well as through a key reseller deal with Cisco Systems  that gives it deeper penetration into territory eyed by larger rivals IBM , HP , CA  and BMC Software .

The software maker has even made some acquisitions, including storage automation specialist CreekPath last summer and IT process automation startup iConclude just two weeks ago.

Having the brains behind browsers at its helm doesn't hurt, either. Opsware Chairman and co-founder Marc Andreessen first put his stamp on Mosaic, the first graphical browser, which then led to the development of Netscape. And then, well, the browser wars began.

Ben Horowitz, Opsware CEO and co-founder, also put his own prints on the industry, having spent time at AOL before joining Andreessen at Netscape. Now the two have their eyes on the next stop in the world of the Internet. Can anyone say Web 3.0?

Internetnews.com caught up with Andreessen and Horowitz at Opsware's analyst day here to discuss the company's market opportunities and plans.

Q: Marc, you mentioned in your opening discussion that Opsware is having success versus the larger vendors -- IBM, HP, CA, BMC -- because Opsware has a more modern architecture suited for today's computing. But those vendors are also advocating the service-oriented architecture (SOA) model. What's so different?

Marc Andreessen
Marc Andreessen

Andreessen: They're fine companies and they have fine products, but the challenge is IBM has Tivoli, HP has various products, CA has UniCenter, BMC has Patrol. They have other products that do service-oriented architecture but those products that we would in theory sell against were architected in the 80s.

In the 80s, the typical IT infrastructure was a fairly small number of servers running primarily database software, supporting desktop applications, running primarily Windows 3.1: the fat client desktop architecture on a relatively simple network, with relatively simple network routers and switches -- NetBEUI, NetBIOS, Novell Netware. That was the state of the world. That's when those products were architecture. Fast forward 20 years. Here we are in 2007 and what's the world like today?

Large-scale commodity servers running 64-bit multi-core CPUs running Linux and Microsoft OS, which didn't exist 20 years ago, running application stacks like Java and PHP, which didn't exist 20 years ago, running Web-based applications, which didn't exist 20 years ago, being used by people on browsers over complex networks with wireless, VoIP, firewalls and all these new networking technologies and with complicated storage technologies that never existed.

Historically, what's happened in this industry -- when there is a re-architecture -- there is a complete turnover in the products. That's happened before.

Today's products took over from the mainframe products of the 60s and 70s. Basically, the exact same thing is happening again. We say this, and it sounds ballsy when we say it because IBM and HP are big important companies ... we say this because we made more than $100 million in revenue last year from a standing start four years ago.

The vast majority of the customers we sold to that are more than 10 years old themselves already have licenses to Tivoli, or UniCenter or Patrol and yet they're buying Opsware. That's why.

Q: You also mentioned virtualization in your presentation. IDC recently said the number of physical machines is decreasing thanks to virtualization. Does Opsware see that trend?

Andreessen: That's ridiculous. I totally disagree with them. I use the term "elasticity" from economics. That is, there is a more than one-to-one increase in the things that you'll do.

If the cost of running an application on a server goes from $30,000 to $3,000, people are going to rollout more than 10 times as many applications. It'll be the same thing when multi-core kicks in, when virtualization kicks in.

The physical server price will start the fall; the price of power consumption will start to fall. Applications are getting way more complicated and consisting of more servers per application than before and operate at a much larger scale. I think you're going to see a huge rise in virtual servers and physical servers to handle all of the data.

Next page: Horowitz on the value of Opsware