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Innovation -- IBM style

Intended as a partner support mechanism, IBM's Innovation Centers have helped Big Blue strengthen its relationship with the ISV community.

WALTHAM, Mass. -- After taking a lot of heat for its relationship with the development community, IBM revamped its independent software vendor (ISV) strategy in late February. Part of that strategy includes IBM Innovation Centers for Business Partners, facilities for partners to take advantage of Big Blue technical support and hardware to port, test, integrate and optimize applications with IBM products.

Counting the five new centers Big Blue has opened in the past six months, IBM now has 25 Innovation Centers around the world, with plans to open 13 more -- five in Germany, seven in China and one in Italy -- within the next year.

The thought process behind selecting a center location is quite simple. IBM looks for areas with significant concentrations of developers and sets up shop. At the largest centers, which include the Waltham office, as many 30 Big Blue staffers work on site assisting up to eight ISV projects at once, as well as numerous others working remotely through a VPN connection.

"The idea is to be where they are, speak their language, be in their neighborhood and be able to work with them," said Todd Chase, program director of IBM Innovation Centers. "To create a nice little room, away from the hubbub of their office where they can come in -- heads down -- [and] get the work done … when they walk out they feel like they've enabled their application."

One of IBM's strongest ISV connections in the New England region came late last year, when Big Blue sought out Lymeware Corp., a middleware software company in the telecom realm, for a partnership. The Old Lyme, Conn.-based company's main product, built in 1999 as a back-end software suite for internal communications, was written for Solaris operating systems running on Unix boxes, because that's what its customers were using.

But according to Lymeware chief technical officer, Michael Kobar, customers began to ask for a Red Hat product, which dragged the company into a Linux frame of mind. IBM approached Lymeware in November about porting its products on the zSeries, pSeries and iSeries, which all support Linux.

With nothing to lose out of pocket but time, Lymeware went along for the ride, and within four months the company went from supporting two platforms to seven.

"In basically three months, with two resources, we ported from Intel to iSeries, zSeries and to the pSeries for the Chiphopper piece," Kobar said. "It's something we never could have done with IBM's help. There was no way we could have built the center we would have needed just to test across these platforms, and the amount of help we had was amazing."

Much of IBM's strategy for bringing in new ISVs centers around Linux. The development community has aggressively pursued open source software as an enterprise solution, and Big Blue has thrown its weight behind Linux harder than perhaps any of the other major vendors. According to Dan Bricklin, a trustee with the Massachusetts Software Council, IBM's support of open source software and its move to offer current and potential partners the use of its services through its Innovation Centers shows that Big Blue is starting to get it.

For more information:

IBM takes first step down new ISV partnership path

Meet the new boss

"The whole idea with open source and open systems is that there's an ecosystem going on. We're starting to do business in a whole different way. There's a lot of collaboration and this is a great example of that. IBM is providing something for free, just like others provide software that is free, that is benefiting both sides. It's good for everybody. It shows that that kind of collaboration really works, and that IBM is heavily into that," Bricklin said.

Big Blue isn't running a charity. IBM knows that if it can help its ISVs turn a profit, it will as well. But in a changing IT landscape in which innovation -- powered largely by open source software - is surging ahead stronger than ever, IBM thinks it has found a goldmine.

"There are other centers that our competitors offer, but we've looked around and we think we're the only ones that are dedicated to business partner support like this," Chase said.

The porting and development rooms are open and hopping 24/7, with developers working around the clock at IBM's Innovation Center in Waltham, Mass. And people are bound to get burned out from time to time.

So for all the sophisticated technology Big Blue offers to its ISVs and their staffers working to integrate their software on IBM's various platforms on site at its Waltham center, perhaps none of the equipment is as exciting as the pair of non-descript PC's idling quietly in the lobby.

Those boxes have the video games -- including NASCAR 2003, complete with a Windows steering wheel (apparently Big Blue has yet to build such a tool) -- and a strategic location. It's the best place to wait for the late-night pizza guy.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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