IBM Corp. is set to expand its "on-demand" menu of offerings Thursday, announcing new products that are designed to help companies make more efficient use of their servers and storage equipment.

The products, to be announced at an IBM analyst conference in Palisades, New York, include storage virtualization products, software for pooling application servers, tools that make it easier to add servers to increase capacity and balance server load, and "pay-as-you-grow" offerings for storage and blade server systems, IBM said in a statement.

With the height of the technology boom over, many businesses are focused on simplifying their IT environments and cutting the cost of running systems they have in place. IBM hopes to sell products that will help achieve that with its on-demand initiative, which is similar to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s N1 and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Utility Datacenter and Adaptive Infrastructure initiatives.

IBM's SAN (Storage Area Network) Volume Controller, SAN Integration Server and SAN File System are the company's first storage virtualization products, said Scott Drummond, IBM's director of storage networking.

Storage virtualization provides a single view of and easy access to all storage resources on a network. It is meant to help companies optimize storage capacity utilization and simplify the use and management of multiple storage systems.

The IBM virtualization products initially will only work with IBM storage hardware. Products from other vendors, including HP, EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems Corp., will be tested and should be supported by the end of the year, Drummond said.

The SAN Volume Controller, for companies who already have a SAN, is due out in July and will be priced from US$75,000. The SAN Integration Server, for those looking to add capacity or build their first SAN, is due in August. Pricing for that product has not been set.

The SAN File System is planned to be available in December. It is a SAN-wide file system that automates management of data in most popular storage systems, according to IBM.

On the application server side, IBM announced software that will allow users to pool application servers and then balance the workload between them dynamically as traffic volumes change. Users can also apply multiple application servers to the highest priority task at any particular time, IBM said.

"You will get a lot more value for your money. It is all about making sure you can use all your resources as efficiently as possible," said Bob Sutor, director WebSphere infrastructure software at IBM.

The software, called IBM Server Technology for WebSphere Application Server, will initially be offered to a limited number of customers who use the Enterprise Edition of IBM's WebSphere Application Server, Sutor said. The price will be about $100,000, which includes the software and services, he said.

"Eventually we expect these pooling capabilities to be part of WebSphere, but they are now sold as a bundle with services," he said.

The application server pooling capabilities are really an extension of clustering capabilities that WebSphere has had all along, said Mike Gilpin, a research fellow with Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"It is now easier to deploy an application into a cluster. Historically you had to know a little about the cluster you were going to deploy it into; it has been made more transparent," he said.

IBM is ahead of the competition when it comes to application server pooling, according to Gilpin.

"To some extent competitors do support this and ultimately all application servers will have similar integration of clustering capabilities with the automated management environment in which they run, but I believe IBM has an advantage over the competition in delivering this to market."

Another new product meant to make an administrator's task easier is IBM's Web Server Provisioning tool. Part of IBM's autonomic computing strategy, the product tells an administrator if more servers need to be added and will automatically configure those new servers for their task, IBM said.

IBM, in Armonk, New York, will also expand its Open Infrastructure Offering (OIO), a plan under which companies can buy hardware but pay only for what they use. IBM's eServer BladeCenter servers and Shark storage products are now available with standby capacity on demand. Users will be able to add and reduce blade servers and storage capacity as they go, only paying for what they use, IBM said