The Armonk, N.Y., company on Dec. 7 announced that it would expand the program, which gives ISVs and developers access to IBM technology such as its System I and System P servers. The program also allows application development for open-source platforms such as AIX, Linux and Power5.
Through a secure Web portal, IBMs business partners can access the hardware in its Dallas data center, with which they can conduct application testing, debugging, replication of customer problems, or evaluations of IBMs hardware, operating systems and middleware, said Scott Tease, worldwide product manager for IBMs BladeCenter.
"There are so many people designing applications for, on top [of] and around BladeCenter servers that its hard to keep up with the request for hardware," Tease said. "This program allows us to give access to these people without sending the physical hardware. Through this program, developers and partners can have access to both the systems and the full suite of software."
Tease said IBM would begin giving partners access to other x86 servers by the end of 2006.
When the expanded program launches, developers will have access to IBMs BladeCenter LS20 dual-socket blades, which are powered by Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors, and the HS20 dual-socket blades, which use Intels Xeon processors. Later, IBM can add its JS20 series of blades, which use the companys own PowerPC processors, Tease said.
In recent surveys by IDC and Gartner, the research firms found that the overall server market had grown in the third quarter of 2006 and much of that growth was fueled by blade servers. In the same report, IDC reported that IBM had topped Hewlett-Packard in terms of blade revenue and held nearly 43 percent of the market.
Taking into account these numbers and the overall acceptance of blades within IT departments, Tease said the next logical step of the loaner program had to involve the BladeCenter platform.
IBM has also made no secret of its plans to go after HP and Dell in the blade server space, announcing on Sept. 20 new incentives for customers.
In addition to its loaner program, IBM since 2004 has developed its Innovation Center for Hardware, which helps developers and ISVs.
IBM claims to have about 100,000 business partners, which includes about 60,000 ISVs. In addition, about 80 partners are members of Blade.org, which invites vendors to build solutions on BladeCenter hardware. In 2006, IBM received requests from about 500 partners for access to its equipment through the loaner program.
Tease said the newly expanded loaner program will be a boon not just to IBMs partners, but also to the companys more traditional channel program, especially among resellers.
"If they are having [trouble with] customers programs and cant get the same configurations, they can turn to the virtual loaner pool and run a replication and troubleshoot from there," Tease said.