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Lenovo Declares Ambitious Plan To Dominate Datacenter Market

Lenovo has rebooted its entire datacenter portfolio with what it described as its largest and broadest rollout of new and refreshed hardware with the introduction of 26 new servers, storage and network gear and a new line of engineered appliances and hyper-converged systems. At a one-day event in New York City for hundreds of customers, analysts and press, Lenovo's top brass declared the company intends to extend its footprint in datacenters and become the leading supplier of high-performance and super-computing systems.

The company's event was more than just a large rollout of datacenter, client and workstation products but rather an assertion that Lenovo is gunning to outpace rivals Cisco, Dell EMC and HPE. Such competitive chest thumping of course is common, and Lenovo's assertion is ambitious considering its rivals currently have much broader and modern datacenter portfolios (and, consequently, greater market share).

Nevertheless, Lenovo officials at yesterday's event noted that the company will deliver its 20 millionth server next month. Best known for taking IBM's struggling PC business 12 years ago and achieving market leadership, Lenovo is relatively new to the datacenter after Big Blue again decided to offload its commodity x86 server business in January of 2014 for $2.3 billion, a deal that was completed a year later.

While Lenovo has rolled out various upgrades since and has signaled its plan to extend its datacenter footprint, yesterday's Lenovo Transform event was the kickoff of a strategy that brings together new products and revamped development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing and service capabilities. "We are going to disrupt the status quo and accelerate the pace of innovation -- not just in our legacy server solution but also in the software-defined market," said Kirk Skaugen, president of Lenovo's Data Center Group.

Skaugen, a former senior executive at Intel who was tapped late last year to lead Lenovo's datacenter business, believes Lenovo has some distinct advantages over Cisco, Dell EMC and HPE -- notably that it doesn't have those companies' legacy businesses. "We don't have a huge router business or a huge SAN business to protect," he said. "It's that lack of legacy that's enabling us to invest and get ahead of the curve on this next transition to software-defined. You are going to see us doing that through building our internal IP, through some significant joint ventures [and] also through some mergers and acquisitions through the next several quarters."

Another key advantage is that Lenovo manufactures its own systems, he emphasized. Bold as the statements Lenovo made yesterday might sound, which also includes wanting to be the top player in supercomputing in the next several years, the company has the resources to disrupt the status quo if it can execute. "I've never seen a big, bold statement from Lenovo on the datacenter side," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, during a brief interview right after the keynote presentation. Moorhead, who said he needs to drill deeper into the roadmap, said Lenovo has been building toward this focus for over a year. "They've thrown down the gauntlet and are definitely at the table," he said.

Moving away from IBM's Series x brand, Lenovo launched two new brands: ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile. ThinkSystem is a broad portfolio of new platforms consisting of new servers, storage and network switches that will roll out with this summer's release of Intel's new Xeon Scalable Family Platforms.

The new rack-based ThinkSystem offerings include the SR950 4U system, which is targeted at mission-critical workloads such as transactional systems, ERP and in-memory databases, and is scalable from two to eight processors. The denser SN850 blade server compute node is designed for the company's Flex System chassis. The SD530, the company's high performance computing entry into the 2U4N form factor, is designed for its new D2 chassis. Also added to the ThinkSystems line is its new DS Series entry-level to mid-range storage offering, available in all flash and hybrid SAN configurations.

ThinkAgile is what Lenovo describes as its software-defined infrastructure based line consisting of engineered systems targeting modern hybrid cloud workloads that include hyper-converged systems based on platforms from Microsoft, Nutanix and VMware. Lenovo's planned Azure Stack appliance will fall under the ThinkAgile portfolio and will be called the ThinkAgile SX for Microsoft Azure Stack.

Both the ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile portfolios are based on Lenovo's new systems management platform, XClarity Controller, which the company said offers a modern and intuitive interface that can provide centralized configuration, policy and systems management across both.

Lenovo officials said that while the company plans to accelerate the release of new products and partnerships, the company has made some key operational changes over the past year that will give its datacenter group better focus. Among the changes, Skaugen said the company has moved to a dedicated sales and marketing organization. "In the past, we had people that were shared between PC and datacenter," he said. "Now thousands of sales people around the world are 100 percent dedicated end-to-end to our datacenter clients."

Skaugen added that Lenovo now has a dedicated supply chain, procurement organization and has brought in new leadership that can focus on various technology and industry segments. Lenovo has also revamped its channel organization. A year ago, Lenovo's datacenter group had five different channel programs around the world. "We now have one simplified channel program for dealer registration," he said. "I think our channel is very, very energized to go out to market with Lenovo technology across the board. And we have a whole new set of system integrator relationships [and] a whole new set of partnerships to build solutions together with our system integrator partners."

Moorhead said the moves were long overdue. "While I think Lenovo should have done this two or three years ago, right after they chewed up IBM's xSeries business, these moves should help them become more successful," he said.

Despite some operational miscues in the past, unfortunately for Lenovo, it picked up the IBM xSeries business at the peak of the market, Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, observed in a research note. Lenovo acquired IBM's x86 business in January 2015, when global server sales had grown just 2.3%. But the x86 systems market grew at twice that rate, according to IDC, King recalled, noting that two years later the global server market declined 4.6% to $14.6 billion in the 4th quarter of 2016.

"While Lenovo was working to integrate IBM's System x x86 systems and personnel with its own strategies, products and company culture, it was also navigating a notable decline in hardware sales and revenues," King noted.

Now that Lenovo has rebooted, King said despite its posture that the company doesn't have the legacy of some of its rivals, given its success in the PC business, it would be premature to underestimate the company's ability to extend its footprint in the datacenter over time. "It would be a mistake to assume Lenovo isn't fully ready and able to take its efforts in datacenter solutions and sales to the next level."

Posted on 06/21/2017 at 1:35 PM


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