While buyers are increasingly turning to x86-based servers, IBM is moving to shore up sales of its iSeries boxes.

The company announced last week that it will try to multiply by 10 times the number of independent software vendors developing applications for the mid-market line, which runs

on the Power5 processors and the i5/OS, AIX and Linux operating systems.

It has promised to spend up to US$50,000 in consulting and co-marketing services for every ISV under what it calls the iSeries Initiative for Innovation program.

IBM estimates there are 60 companies in this country writing applications for the line.

It’s an expansion of a limited program started to boost sales of the server which started two years ago, said Barry Pow, iSeries product manager at IBM Canada. There was success, so the company decided to formalize and expand it.

“”We realized if we’re going to see growth in the iSeries platform we needed not just to rely on our existing customer and platform set, we needed to get into new areas,”” he said.

Canada is one of the best markets for iSeries in the world, according to IDC Canada. Last year it accounted for 5.4 per cent of all server sales in this country, one of the highest levels in countries where it is sold. By comparison iSeries accounted for only 3.1 per cent of server sales in the U.S. in 2004.

However, even here sales are slipping: In 2003 the line accounted for 7.6 per cent of all server sales.

That’s why IBM’s move to lure ISVs and toolmakers to iSeries was praised by IDC Canada hardware analyst Alan Freedman.

“”Without taking that tack they’re dead in the water,”” he said.

Also enthused was David Harty, director of sale and marketing at Silverblaze Solutions of Markham, Ont., a CRM developer which until recently focused on iSeries customers.

“”It’s nice to see them re-investing in the business partner community,”” he said.

He was particularly pleased partners will be eligible to receive up to a 70 per cent discount for co-advertising with IBM in industry media to help ISVs reach customers.

“”That’s something I haven’t seen enough of,”” he said. “”I think IBM has to shake things up from a co-marketing standpoint. A lot of the programs are somewhat pedestrian.””

To convince ISVs are serious about the platform, IBM has created a charter to outline what it calls its “”enduring and future commitments”” to iSeries.

These include

– an applications innovation program, offering free application development assistance either online or from an IBM Innovation Centre;

– an tools innovation program, to help ISVs understand and use tools from some 60 vendors for developing iSeries apps

– co-marketing opportunities;

– and expanded access to PartnerWorld Industry Networks, which offers ISVs advice on technical, marketing and sales issues.

Pow suggested the company has ambitious goals from the initiative.

“”Just as we saw double digit percentage [increase] of our sales in 2004 being tied to new applications and new customers coming to iSeries, we have that same objective in 2005,”” he said.

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