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Far from a dying trade, mainframe software development is among the busiest elements of IBM’s ISV community, and Big Blue intends to drive more development and thus more business in the realm with incentives and tools for System Z software partners.

IBM announced System Z for ISVs on May 8, a program of training, technical resources, including access to IBM researchers, go to market assistance and hardware and software access to drive development among ISVs on the System Z platform.

The initiative includes an academic element with IBM leading triumvirate partnerships between IBM, universities and IT developers to guide curricula and student programs that generate future mainframe developers.

Buell Duncan, IBM’s General Manager of Developer Relations in IBM Software Group, called System Z for ISVs the first “cannon blast” of the company’s Innovation that Matters initiative, announced in March, to drive new business models and business solutions through partners and academics.

“We are at a powerful inflection point,” Duncan said of this moment in time, surrounding mainframe technology.

“Clients want capabilities and the mainframe offers them a solution that they can leverage to differentiate themselves and innovate [the way they do business]… In the early 2000s, IT shops were focused on cost and convergence, now its innovation. It’s a solution driven world and ISVs drive solutions.”

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The announcement came adjacent news of a software initiative aimed at boosting the image and capabilities of its System Z mainframe systems for Internet-based and SOA-oriented computing. The initiative includes new tools for helping Java, Visual Basic, COBOL and PL/I developers create “services-ready” applications for the mainframe and new middleware for the System Z.

IBM and its ISV network brought to market 322 System Z solutions in 2005, up from 71 in 2004 and expects to bring to market nearly 1,000 in 2006, Duncan said. The network unveiled 170 in the first quarter of 2006 alone.

IBM is now doing more than 200 engagements a month with ISVs building and selling applications for System Z, up from none in 2004, Duncan said.

According to IBM, more than 1,300 ISVs are already working with IBM on system Z software applications, 750 of whom are members of PWIN. 122 ISVs have their own development environments, up from 40 in 2003.

“The environment in back of this technology is telling us System Z is important,” he said.

“There is a vitality, an energy. Something is happening here. The question is, what do we do to keep driving that momentum?”

IBM is priming its ISVs with technical support including free remote access to “Virtual Loaner” systems that plug ISVs into their own partition on System Z hardware and systems.

Seven-hundred fifty ISVs benefited from the program in 2005. They will also benefit from 300 system architects being trained in System Z and available for consultation online or at one of 32 IBM Innovation Centers worldwide.

ISVs will also benefit from go-to-market programs run through IBM’s vertically-organized PWIN (PartnerWorld Industry Networks), including “Sales Connect,” a program that assigns partners to one of 3,000 IBM sales representatives or resellers already in an account or industry to ease the route to decision makers within companies.

The program also includes lead generation and discounted advertising in trade publications.