Match Made In Heaven: IBM Aims To Connect ISVs, Hardware VARs

The technology giant closed out 2004 with the launch of the Virtual Innovation Center for Hardware (VICH), a Web-based portal that, among other things, can point ISVs in the direction of suitable hardware collaborators, said Scott Hebner, vice president of strategy and marketing development at IBM, Armonk, N.Y.

Part of what IBM is aiming for is to make it easier for ISVs that want to take advantage of an opportunity in a certain industry vertical or geographic region to couple with an IBM-certified hardware VAR with expertise in that vertical market or proximity to the required region, Hebner said. "We are essentially becoming a dating service," he said.

That said, Hebner agreed the VICH breeds more IBM-centric deployments.

For example, the VICH offers 18 new "How-To Guides for Business Partners," which deliver step-by-step instructions on how to develop, enable and implement an ISV's application along the lines of IBM's technology road map.

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The how-to guides cover the porting of Windows, Linux or Unix applications to Linux on IBM's Power-based systems, the tuning of AIX-based applications for IBM eServer p5 systems and details on how to market IBM iSeries solutions, just to name a few.

A wide range of other IBM technical and collateral resources are also available through the VICH, such as IBM's Virtual Loaner Program, which provides either free or low-cost IBM hardware for application testing environments. Also available is a new Solution Sizing Toolkit, which uses an interactive, Web-based questionnaire to helps ISVs determine optimal system configurations for their applications based on specific workloads, according to IBM.

Any ISV can use the VICH to locate hardware VARs, Hebner said.

"We believe there are thousands of these specialized ISVs out there looking to link with suppliers who can help them advance their software," Hebner said. "We think the [VICH] lowers the bar for ISVs to get involved with us. And it gives ISVs an extended reseller network for their products."

Bill Whalen, head of sales and marketing at RJS Software Systems, an ISV in Minneapolis, has already given the VICH a test drive, and still has a deal pending with a hardware VAR as a result. But Whalen was a bit skeptical at first.

"[The VICH] is kind of like a sales-registration tool. And a lot of partners in the know in the channel were worried about it. Worried [that] IBM's direct-sales guys would see the leads and jump on the customers first. But that hasn't happened. It's more of just a common place to connect with IBM hardware people who can tie you with someone who's in an account and can assist you in closing deals," Whalen said.

The challenge RJS put to the VICH was finding an upstate New York hardware reseller, Whalen said.

"We were looking for a specific reseller, more of an imaging hardware partner because our software package is an imaging product. We got two names, and the opportunity is still outstanding. But the interesting thing is that during the process I also learned who I'm competing against," Whalen said.

At least one ISV, Netcom Systems, Edison, N.J., has even found a way to promote its products using the VICH.

"We use the [VICH] as a way to market our products," said Scott Jones, account executive at Netcom. "We built NIMA [the Netcom Item Manager Application], which sits on IBM WebSphere Business Integration Express Plus for item synchronization. We use [the VICH] to let other IBM partner know about NIMA. Now all the partners know that what we have is part of the IBM puzzle."