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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 10:29 GMT
A head in the Loudcloud
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward
If you want to blame anyone for the internet blame Marc Andreessen.
Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau may have created the technology, they wove the world wide web, but Andreessen was the man who made it easy to leap from thread to thread.
While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Andreessen created the first prototype of the Mosaic browser that let people navigate around the internet by pointing and clicking on hyperlinks.
After graduating in 1994, Andreessen founded Netscape and developed the Navigator browser which broadened access to the internet even further. And the rest is history.
Well almost. For a while, it was Netscape that was almost history when it was waging the browser wars with Microsoft. Now that dust-up is over, Netscape is part of the AOL/TimeWarner empire and Mr Andreessen has moved on.
He's not done with the internet yet though, and he does not think it is done with us. Despite the crashing stock prices and pronouncements of dot.com doom, he believes the revolution is only just starting.
He believes this because the internet is growing every way it can, be it in terms of bandwidth, people online, companies online and the sophistication of web software.
But, added Andreessen, software on the internet keeps mutating. "First it was the browser, then it was instant messaging, then Napster and next it might be video," he said. This constant renewal could be a source of constant economic and social change.
Currently, many businesses are struggling to cope with the move to life online and many companies have spent a lot of money proving to themselves just how difficult this is. And this is where Mr Andreessen and three colleagues from Netscape are focussing their energies.
In September 1999, he and three friends he knew from Netscape founded Loudcloud, a company that is automating almost everything to do with the tricky task of running a website.
It wasn't the first idea for a new start-up that Mr Andreessen had. In fact, he thinks it was the 15th and was reached after weeks of brainstorming. "For a while we were four founders in search of a start-up idea," he said.
He had no doubt that he would do another start-up despite being 27 years old, worth about $100 million and could have done nothing at all for the rest of his life.
"The ultimate moral defence for capitalism is that it stops people like Bill Gates and me from raising armies and starting religions," he joked.
But he took time to work out just what he wanted to do next. The four founders knew that every idea they had for dot.com would have at least 20 competitors. Well, almost every idea.
They realised that all the dot.coms needed help keeping websites and e-commerce operations running. And no-one seemed to be doing that job very well.
Loudcloud is trying to excel at just this. But is taking a different approach to many others who manage software by throwing bodies at the problem.
By contrast, Loudcloud is trying to automate the whole process. Instead of writing bespoke software for each customer, it has a snap together set of software tools, called Opsware, that handles all the aspects of running that electronic trading network. It promises 100% scheduled uptime for the networks it oversees.
Networks and notworks
Loudcloud wants to be thought of by its clients in the same way they think of the power or telephone company - something that they rely on but don't do themselves.
"What we do is really, really hard and the technology is really complex," he said. "And it is not going to get any more straightforward."
He believes its chances of beating all its competitors hollow is good because it has an 18 month headstart and anyone that wants to do the same job will have to overcome the technical hurdles it has.
"We raised 200 million in funding and anyone that wants to compete would have to raise the same amount and its very difficult right now," said Mr Andreessen. "That's one of the nice side effects of the bubble bursting."
As those electronic trading relationships become ever more important, and as e-commerce develops Loudcloud can only prosper. It is growing up fast. Barely 18 months into its existence, Loudcloud has 600 employees, high profile clients such as Nike and Britannica and is close to a flotation on the stockmarket.
"We're not quite a start-up anymore," said Mr Andreessen of Loudcloud. "We're more like a teenager, we've grown but we're still a little gangly."
It looks like the internet is not the only one that is growing up.
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