Andreessen still a Web booster

Everyone knows the Web boom has gone bust. Everyone except Marc Andreessen, creator of Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser. He described his optimistic vision, including widespread adoption within 10 years and an increase in Web-based applications, speaking this week at the Oracle Open World conference here.

Andreessen, who is co-founder and chair of Internet services firm Loudcloud Inc., expects “a wave of applications over the next five to ten years” will make the Internet “very central to how businesses operate.” Andreessen co-founded Loudcloud in 1999 after leaving Netscape Communications Corp., where his Mosaic browser provided the basis for the Netscape browser.

For support, he cites the PC industry. Although the first PCs arrived in the early 80s, not until the mid-90s did large numbers of people buy them. Similarly, with the early years of the Internet came “a lot of hype, a lot of experimentation, but not a lot of application by business,” according to Andreessen. He anticipates “the same adoption of Internet technology by 2010 as occurred with the PC industry 15 years after its inception.”

Businesses’ technology departments face the challenge of “cleaning up” after the Internet “cocktail party,” according to Andreessen. First, they need to cut costs by consolidating systems. At the same time, they have to make the systems more resilient and prepare for new Internet applications that will arrive over the next five to 10 years.

“Most IT organizations are in a reactive mode,” Andreessen said, “but that’s not going to work anymore.” Failing to plan (and act) ahead is non-competitive, too costly, and makes companies too slow to deploy new applications.

Yet Internet applications provide a versatility and robustness that can help business better plan ahead with their technology needs, according to Andreessen. The Internet and private networks proved more robust than the telephone system in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many people turned to the Web for information and communications. Also, Andresseen said browser-based access to applications makes it easier for people to work from home or remotely, another trend that has grown since Sept. 11.

Loudcloud, of course, has a role in this. Andreesseen says that just as storage-area networks can allocate an organization’s storage resources as needed on the fly, businesses would do well to regard other computing resources as “utility-like service.” He described an approach in which servers and storage devices are connected over a switched network and users can allocate more or less storage for an application at will.

It’s a challenge to build an infrastructure that will allocate resources as needed, he said; not surprisingly, Loudcloud’s services are among the options. Companies may create such a service themselves, or they may outsource their operations to a company like Loudcloud, which Andreessen says offers “pre-built infrastructure” to support such ventures. Or Loudcloud will sell a company its Opsware software, which can manage systems and allocate services as needed.

It’s time for tech departments to “take a serious look at what’s possible with outsourcing,” Andreessen said. Such services are much more capable now than they have been in the past, he said. Technology workers should also expect to consolidate and cut costs now as part of the “clean-up process from the last five years of euphoria,” Andreessen added.

At the same time, businesses must be willing to invest in the infrastructure required to support new environments of resources. While admitting that many Internet outsourcing services “have fallen by the wayside” in recent years, Andreessen expects that “in two, three, four years it will be a solid market.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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