BOSTON (CNN/Money) -
I was talking to Marc Andreessen the day of Google's initial public offering. Calling from his cell phone, the co-founder of Netscape and former Time magazine cover boy was coy when asked about the Google IPO and whether he's happy to be out of the pop-culture spotlight.
"I don't know what to say," he said, before railing against the popular notion that Google's IPO was a failure.
"Any time you raise $1.67 billion, it's a success. For all the negative talk around the Dutch auction, the market showed that it works perfectly."
I'd take exception to the idea that markets always price things properly. Andreessen's latest company, Opsware (OPSW: Research, Estimates), is a good example.
Opsware, which makes software to automate data centers, raised about 10 percent of Google's windfall in its 2001 IPO. Frankly, it could use a moment in the spotlight. Like so many software firms, Opsware has seen its stock price hammered of late, dropping 37 percent during the past six months.
Unlike with some of the other companies, however, Opsware's dips haven't followed negative news. Ahead of Wednesday's second-quarter earnings call, I'd say Opsware looks like a good buy.
On top of a trend
Opsware is on top of a trend in the unsexy world of data automation. Many companies these days are moving away from mainframe systems and are filling their server rooms instead with commodity hardware, such as Intel-based servers, running Linux or other less expensive software.
This approach saves companies a great deal in licensing fees and up-front costs, but it increases the costs of labor and management needed to maintain server fleets.
That's where Opsware steps in, with software that automates much of the management hassles and labor overhead associated with multiple servers. The company has already signed up some impressive customers, including EDS, Lehman Bros., and NTT.
"I've checked on customer feedback," says Donovan Gow, an analyst with American Technology Research. "It's some of the most positive I've ever heard in all my years of talking to customers."
Acting like a private company
Gow is not alone in his Opsware bullishness. All six analysts covering the company have "buy" or "strong buy" ratings on the firm. So what gives? Why is this company kicking close to its 52-week low of $4.61?
Not for any good reason that I can see. True, Opsware is not yet profitable, though it is generating positive cash flow. It's been publicly traded for three years, and the red ink during that time is understandably a turnoff for many investors.
But Gow says it's operating like a private company in many ways. "Within the last year and a half, it went from a data-hosting company to a data-automation software company, so we're really only seeing a company that is essentially six quarters old," he says. "Usually a company that young is still private."
That means that investors still don't understand the company or the dynamics behind it. Opsware is being hurt by the software sector's current shellacking. Investors see softened tech spending, but not who is benefiting. And that upsets Andreessen.
"Everyone looks at tech spending like it's a thing," he says. "The real question is, what are companies buying? If they're buying commodity servers instead of brand names, they're spending less but getting more."
While other companies, such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, have shown interest in the data-automation sector through recent acquisitions, none of them has the technology strength that Opsware boasts. I'd say the poster boy of another tech era is onto something big again.
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