IBM is to give its business partners access to sales and technical expertise for its open-source, low-end application server products.

Partners who use IBM's WebSphere Application Server Community Edition (WAS CE)or the vendor's DB2 Express-C database will be able to tap IBM staff for advice on integration, scalability, testing and support issues and won't have to pay for the privilege, said IBM.

Such IBM feedback should help business partners bring their software based on WAS CE or DB2 Express-C more quickly to market, according to Rado Nikolov, director of strategy and emerging business, ISV and developer relations at IBM. The company will also help some partners on marketing initiatives.

Such help can be accessed virtually or in person at IBM's 30-plus Innovation Centers worldwide where IBM provides training, testing and support for its hardware, software and services to partners and customers

The new reach out to partners builds on the WAS CE partner initiative that IBM ran last year and offers wider benefits than the previous programme, Nikolov said. The new initiative also includes DB2 Express-C. In 2006, through the help of the WAS CE program, more than 300 ISVs and systems integrators built applications based on the IBM application server, he added.

Although IBM doesn't release specific figures, Nikolov claimed that WAS CE is being downloaded in as great a quantity as the more established rival application server from Red Hat's JBoss division.

IBM acquired what became WAS CE through the May 2005 purchase of open-source start-up Gluecode. WAS CE is based on the open-source Apache Geronimo project steered by the non-profit Apache Software Foundation.

DB2 Express-C first appeared just over a year ago, rubbing shoulders in an already crowded market with open-source offerings from MySQL and Ingres, as well as free databases from Microsoft and Oracle.

Would IBM consider releasing DB2 Express-C as open-source software? "At this point in time, it's not a consideration," Nikolov said. For the most part, users of the database don't appear to be interested in viewing the source code or having the ability to modify that code, he added.

Both products provide low-end entry points to IBM's paid enterprise offerings, its WebSphere middleware and its DB2 enterprise database, respectively. The vendor is seeing partners and users start off with the free products and then ramp up to its paid software, Nikolov said.

WAS CE continues to include IBM's embedded Cloudscape database. IBM positions Cloudscape as more of a repository than a database, while the larger size DB2 Express-C has much more functionality. However, it's up to users which database they choose to use, Nikolov said.