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IBM tries the lure of free grid access

Big Blue is hoping to recruit developers by offering free access to high-powered grid computing servers over the Internet.

IBM is hoping to recruit developers by offering free access to high-powered grid computing servers over the Internet.

The company said Thursday that it will give software vendors access to servers hosted by IBM to help them develop new applications and test existing ones. The developers must first join the IBM PartnerWorld program, a free service to independent software makers, said Scott Hebner, a vice president in IBM's developer relations program.

IBM hopes the program will help to boost the number of business applications available to run on its hardware, thus increasing their popularity in order to drive sales, Hebner said. IBM competes with Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard in the server hardware market, and with Microsoft, Sun and other companies in the software market.

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The program will serve as a showcase for IBM's grid technologies and the company's on-demand initiative. Grid computing links pools of computers, storage devices and networks to help companies more efficiently manage workloads and computing systems by tapping resources as they're needed.

IBM said the program targets software makers developing programs for small and medium-size businesses. Developers can log onto Big Blue's Virtual Loaner Program and schedule access to one or more IBM servers for up to 14 days. The process takes less than two hours to complete, and developers can expand capacity as needed, IBM said.

The new program is part of a $500 million investment by IBM to recruit software developers to target small and midsize customers. IBM, along with Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and others, see greater demand for their products among smaller businesses. Large enterprises have recently begun to increase their technology budgets but are more circumspect in their spending decisions than in recent years, analysts say.

IBM, unlike competitors, doesn't sell its own business applications. Instead, it partners with other companies to build them. "We have decided to focus on storage, hardware, and software and the services that surround them," Hebner said.

IBM said the program will use its Virtualization Engine, WebSphere and Tivoli software running on pSeries servers in a grid configuration.

In addition, IBM said 400 developers have joined PartnerWorld Industry Networks, a separate program launched in March that helps developers build industry-specific applications with IBM's help.