A new programme by IBM, announced today, will give independent software vendors (ISVs) greater access to IBM hardware for development and testing of their applications.

The Virtual Innovation Center for Hardware will be part of IBM's $500 million Small and Medium Business Advantage initiative and will use the grid capabilities of IBM's Virtualization Engine, Tivoli and WebSphere software to give ISVs remote access to IBM hardware.

Participating ISVs will be able to test their software remotely on IBM's pSeries Unix servers in a matter of hours, and they will be able to test applications for up to 14 days at a time, the company said.

Developers who use the program will no longer need to go through the arduous process of applying for and receiving IBM's hardware, said Scott Hebner, VP of marketing and strategy for IBM's ISV and developer relations. He hopes that the Virtual Innovation Center will let four times as many ISVs participate.

Right now, IBM provides pSeries hardware to hundreds of ISVs, Hebner said. With the new program, IBM hopes this number will increase to thousands, he said. "We can provide all this capacity to ISVs without investing as much money as we would have had to otherwise," he explained.

Based on a series of standards used by academic institutions to distribute computing tasks over a large number of geographically diverse systems, grid computing is now being heavily promoted by vendors such as IBM, HP and Sun, who all are building some level of grid support into their software.

The Virtual Innovation Center uses grid technology to use IBM's computing resources more efficiently, said Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates. "The main thing it offers is the ability to take amounts of computing that happen to exist on different computers all over the place and divide up a computing problem so it's running in different places seemingly simultaneously," she said.

IBM declined to say how many servers it will be using in the Virtual Innovation Center, but it did say that it planned to expand the center to include other types of IBM servers and software in the future.