Tim Robinson, a technical consultant with IBM's developer relations unit, says the company has been offering a more limited Internet-based porting service, but several vendors had asked for features such as encryption and access to graphical user interfaces. Robinson says the decision to invest in meeting those requests with a full-blown VPN has a significant payoff. "It improves our ability to reach out to developers," he says. As with its Solutions Partnership Centers, IBM charges a nominal fee--"a couple of thousand dollars," Robinson says--for a fixed number of remote testing sessions. The service supports porting and testing on all major operating systems, including Linux, Windows, Macintosh, and Solaris, and extends GUI access to Linux, AIX, OS/400, and OS/390.
Gartner analyst Tony Adams says this is the first time he's heard of a VPN for developers, and he says it's a smart move by IBM on a couple of fronts. IBM's Solutions Partnership Centers are expensive to equip; thus, Adams says, serving a larger base of developers from fewer centers will reduce the required investment and enable IBM to update its technology more frequently. Also, by availing its development resources to more software vendors, IBM should fuel sales. "More access to more intermediaries drives more market share for IBM boxes and middleware," Adams says. He says that if IBM's competitors don't offer similar services, IBM will automatically increase its presence in cities where it doesn't have Solution Partnership Centers.
As for benefits to software vendors, Adams is skeptical as to whether VPN access will significantly shorten development cycles. But he says remote access should reduce development costs and make the exclusive Solution Partnership Centers available to a wider array of vendors. Most attractive to the developers themselves, Adams says, will be the convenience of being able to tap into IBM's computing power at their leisure. "Developers are, by their nature, solitary personalities," he says. "I'd assume they'd prefer not to travel merely to access a piece of machinery."