IBM’s Express Train

Executives at IBM are putting their money where their mouth is with financial incentives, low cost training, cross-marketing budgets and even long term staff to software and application partners.

Perhaps more importantly, IBM is developing specific offerings customized to channel and SMB requirements,

rather than just stripping features out of enterprise class products and trying to resell them.

The firm’s growing family of Express branded products is set to pose some tough questions for Microsoft and other platform competitors by meeting VAR and ISV requirements for their SMB customers. The key word for IBM is momentum.

The company used its Partnerworld conference last week to announce the latest addition to the family – DB2 Universal Database Express – which illustrated many of the compelling elements of the Express strategy.

First comes price. Although final decisions have not yet been made, the price for DB2 Express will be less than $1,000 per processor, perhaps even as low as $500. Potential margin opportunities for ISVs OEMing the database are compelling. IBM is waiting until the product is generally available in June (and Microsoft has announced pricing for the next version of SQL Server) before finalizing these details but IBM is not going to be beaten by Oracle or Microsoft on price.

IBM’s Express messaging also rests on the firm’s autonomic initiative. The corporation is investing tens of millions of dollars in bringing self-managing functions to DB2. This work will be especially useful in the channel because most SMBs can’t afford DBAs. DB2 Express, for example, has a new simplified installation mechanism, which will make it easier for partners to embed the database in their own apps.

It was this kind of simplicity that drove IBM’s most successful foray into the SMB space to date – the AS/400: What made the AS/400 such an effective underlying platform for ISVs selling business applications into the channel during the early 90s? For one thing, these systems never broke. End users could forget about infrastructure, secure in the knowledge their apps wouldn’t fail. The name may have changed since then – from AS/400 to iSeries – but the platform’s values are the same.

The other thing about the iSeries business model is the clear distinction between applications and underlying architecture. IBM provided the systems and middleware, while the ISV developed business logic to run on the platform. iSeries represents a platform for partnership. This kind of platform approach is now being broadly adopted across IBM, which has fostered ever closer relations with the likes of JD Edwards, Financial Fusion and Siebel. It is no coincidence that Buell Duncan, who used to run iSeries, is now general manager of IBM’s corporate-wide developer and ISV partnering program.

Perhaps ironically, iSeries itself, not just the business mo

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