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IBM pumps up 'on demand' power

Big Blue bolsters its on-demand computing initiative with business partner programs and "express" versions of database, storage management and collaboration software.

IBM on Monday will try to sharpen the picture of its "on demand" vision of computing with products and marketing programs geared toward its business partners.

At its PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans, Big Blue will introduce upgrades to its WebSphere middleware, a key component of its on-demand computing initiative.

IBM on Tuesday will also introduce "express" versions of its DB2 database, a storage-specific version of its Tivoli systems management software, and its Lotus Domino Collaboration software. The repackaged products are part of a stream of partner-oriented incentives designed to boost IBM's presence in companies with 100 to 1,000 employees.

Under the on-demand concept, powerful computer networks and other technological advancements will let companies buy computing power the way they now buy electricity.

As previously reported, IBM will be relying on stripped-down, simplified versions of its server software products to appeal to midsized businesses.

DB2 Express, which will be priced at less than $1,000 per processor, will include a number of self-healing and self-diagnosing features, according to IBM officials. Tivoli Storage Resource Manager Express will be a scaled-down version of IBM's storage management software that will install in 15 minutes. IBM expects by April to build an express version of its corporate portal software for the Linux operating system.

IBM will also provide monetary incentives for its partners to sell to medium-sized businesses, said Mark Ouellette, vice president of sales and marketing for small and medium-sized businesses at IBM's software group. At its PartnerWorld conference, IBM will introduce a value-added partner program that will give its partners up to a 50 percent margin over the price partners to buy IBM software for selling specifically into medium-sized businesses, Ouellette said.

Business partners like value-added resellers and systems integrators, which write applications using IBM server software, are an important sales channel for IBM in it medium-sized business push. "There is not a clear market leader in medium-sized businesses. However, Microsoft clearly is a presence and we see them in the market competing every day," Ouellette said.

Also at the conference, IBM will try to clarify its meaning of its on-demand computing plan, which until now has largely been associated with hosted services.

IBM will home in on the "on-demand operating environment," or the software component of on-demand computing, said Bob Sutor, director of Web services technology at IBM.

"What we're focusing on (now) is the integration aspects of on-demand, which is about being as flexible as possible in responding to customer needs as quickly as possible. That's what it comes down to," Sutor said.

IBM will unveil WebSphere Application Server Enterprise version 5. The upgrade to WebSphere will offer business process workflow capabilities, or the ability to design an application that automates a sequence of business transactions with a visual tool. The workflow capabilities, which IBM calls choreography, will be based on emerging Web services standards. WebSphere Application Server Enterprise costs $25,000 per server processor.

IBM will also introduce a software development tool aimed specifically at integrating applications, part of Big Blue's effort to help companies share data between disparate systems. WebSphere Studio Application Developer Integration Edition version 5, which costs $6,000 per developer seat, is targeted at programmers who want to create new applications by integrating data and processes from existing systems.

The latest Web services-related enhancements to WebSphere are designed to help IBM customers and business partners build more sophisticated applications. Web services standards are based on Extensible Markup Language (XML), which makes it easier to exchange information between disparate systems. While many business applications are notoriously difficult to maintain and customize, Web services-based tools will help companies be more responsive to a business change, Sutor said.

Big Blue on Monday launched a series of programs to draw developers and partners to its Web services software. The programs include software tools, training and documentation to explain the benefits of using Web services.

The company will complement its developer-oriented push with a series of programs aimed at helping businsess partners. The Grid for Business Partners program, for example, is a hosted service that will allow a third-party IBM consultants to test the performance of grid applications, which parcels out processing across several different computers.