Lenovo took on the x86 data centre products from IBM just over four years ago. The company may only have been in this market space for four years, but it draws on an impressive 25-year history.

And it has every intention of continuing the legacy, growing and adapting to meet the changing needs of its customers, says Bevan Lock, technical sales lead at Lenovo SA.

“Over that period of time, we have achieved an installed base of 20-million servers shipped – and it’s not slowing down; we are shipping three servers per minute even as we speak.

“Our vision is to be the most trusted data centre partner – empowering customers’ intelligent transformation and solving humanity’s greatest challenges,” he says.

Lenovo does this by focusing and partnering in three key areas: customers, the channel and software vendors. The watchword for all these partners is trust, Lock adds.

“We are at a point in time where the market is changing,” he says. “ Lenovo is committed to co-operating with our partners, focusing on the underlying infrastructure and doing work to address some of the big challenges in society.”

This change is also helping to drive the data centre business and the success Lenovo is experiencing in the market, he adds.

Lenovo is rising the changing market challenges with a simplified suite of products that fit into two brands: ThinkAgile and ThinkSystem.

Lock describes ThinkSystems as the traditional building blocks; the servers, storage and networking.

“For some of our customers, where they have the skill and want to build their data centres themselves, ThinkSystem is the ideal solution.”

ThinkAgile goes a step further, offering customers pre-configured and pre-integrated solutions in partnership with the software vendors.

“So we have an Azure Stack solution, a Nutanix solution, a Veeam solution and more,” Lock explains. “We work with the software vendor and deliver a solution to the customer, wrapped in Lenovo services.”

Lenovo delivers solutions in partnership with its channel, now numbering 11 000 worldwide. “This is a big focus for us, along with improving the level of skills in the market.”

Supply chain is another important focus area, and Lenovo believes that its own manufacturing capability has helped to propel it into a top spot at a high-tech supply chain.

In the increasingly complex data centre space, Lenovo believes a new approach to services is needed – and that’s just want it has done. “Services used to focus on break/fix,” Lock says. “We now look beyond just tin to the complete solution. So we are the point of support across the whole solution, we do the triaging, and the support right up to operating system layer.

“As you build solutions, the complexity increases, so we will offer our customers support across the whole stack.”

Premier services for the data centre group is available in South Africa, and will soon extend into Africa as well.

Engineered solutions, the final leg of the Lenovo product offering, sit somewhere between ThinkSystems and ThinkAgile. Lock explains that they are not appliance solutions, and not completely built from scratch. “Rather, we provide the reference architecture to help customers build their own.”

Customer experience is king in the age of digitalisation, and Lenovo is proud of its track record.

The company is ranked number one in performance with 129 world records, Lock says. “We lead benchmarks in high-performance computing, data analytics, virtualisation, java applications, compute, energy efficiency, transaction processing and SAP.”

On the other side of the coin , there is a big focus on reliability and Lenovo has been the top-ranked vendor for server reliability, for five years running. Indeed Lenovo servers achieved the highest levels of five nines – or 99,999% reliability among all mainstream server hardware platforms. This equates to unplanned downtime of less the four hours.

All of this has resulting in significant growth for the Lenovo DCG business. It has enjoyed 39% quarter on quarter growth and 49% year on year growth.

The figures don’t do justice to the massive growth rates the company has seen in the market areas where it is making the biggest investments, Lock says.

The business is growing significantly – 39% quarter on quarter; 49% YoY

In the hyperscale arena, Lenovo has seen 100% growth for the last three quarters; software-defined infrastructure has grown 100% for the last six quarters, and flash arrays have notched up 100% growth year on year.

In supercomputing, Lenovo has reached the position of  number one globally.

“We are very proud of what we have done,” Lock says. “The business has changed drastically; there is a lot of stuff happening out in the market, but we have done a great job of building the brand.”

Lenovo DCG has a dedicated team of sales, technical sales and channel resources that has been built up over the last four years.

“We will see even more focus on the business going forward,” Lock says.


The right stuff …

The world is undergoing an intelligent transformation, and Lenovo plans to lead the market by sticking with its strong partnering mindset.

That’s the world from Lenovo DCG sales manager Alan Browning, who says the company aims to move complexity out of the data centres so customers can truly reap the benefits.

“The digital universe is doubling in size every two years,” he says. “The Internet of Things (IoT) will double from 10-billion to 20-billion devices by 2020. A massive 80% of digitally stored data is unstructured. And jobs requiring artificial intelligence (AI) skills will increase 400% by 2020.

“It has all become incredibly complex, which is why we aim to reduce the complexity.

“Lenovo is making a number of big bets in technology, and will continue leverage our relationships and broaden our ecosystem to bring solutions to market.


Investment areas

When it comes to supercomputers, Lenovo is a surprise number one vendor.

“We set ourselves a goal of being the top provider of supercomputers by 2020,” Lock explains. “By June of this year, we had hit our target; leapfrogging our competitors to the point where we have 42 more systems on the list than our closest rivals. And in September we grew that lead again.”

This is important because the technology that goes into creating supercomputers finds its way into the next cycle of computers in the commercial space.

“Supercomputers are very similar to what you would deploy with artificial intelligence (AI) workloads,” Lock explains.

“AI is another area of focus for Lenovo, and we have set up AI solution centres across the globe.

“Our approach is to closely engage with customers, understand their needs, then take that learning back to our partners to develop proof of concept – translate what we put on the whiteboard into workable solutions. We then work with our partners to deploy those into customer environments.”

The Lenovo Intelligent Compute Orchestator (Lico) brings all these elements together, helping to find ways for customers to deploy solutions.

Other technologies that have devolved from the supercomputer space have gone into running data centre operations more efficiently. The Neptune project looks closely at all operational areas, with a particular focus on cooling and helping customers address this issue.

Among the solutions brought to bear are cooling at  rack level, warm water cooling, and heat pipes in the heat sinks, all of which result in more energy-efficient computing.

“We have a lofty quote about addressing humanity’s challenges,” Lock adds. “But this is something that Lenovo takes very seriously, and we are working with a number of organisations these issues.”

For instance, the vendor is working with NC State on using AI to increase the global food supply. Vestas is another partner, which is attempting to solve climate change with big data analytics. Other projects including medical research into the Zika virus and leukemia, plus raw science in the form of high energy colliders.

For most enterprises, the more immediate issue is cloud computing. “At Lenovo, we don’t think of cloud as a place, but as something you can do either on-premise or off-premise,” Lock says.

“Lenovo is seeing a lot of success in the cloud world: six of the top 10 hyperscalers in the world run Lenovo – so most of the top cloud providers in the world use Lenovo technology.

“We believe that is the reason we have been successful is that we offer a one-stop shop for these hyperscalers,” he adds. “And we have just opened a manufacturing plant where we can do the motherboard design and manufacture, so we are in this end to end.”

The company has an exclusive relationship with Cloudistics. “Under the ThinkAgile brand, we can bring a private cloud infrastructure to market,” Lock explains. “We do all the management and the Cloudistics portal is there to help with deployment.”

Software-defined infrastructure is the next big thing for enterprise computing, and Lenovo has been quick off the mark in these investments.

Apart from the Cloudistics relationship, it is also working with Nutanix, VMware and Microsoft in the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) space.

“We have Think Agile HCI offerings with those three vendors, all pre-integrated and wrapped with services,” Lock explains.

The model seems to be working: Lenovo is Nutanix’s fastest growing OEM partner; it has been successful with Microsoft on the Azure stack; and it is writing up massive growth with VMware on vSAN where it is one of just two OEM partners in the private cloud space.

Lenovo is also working with other software vendors: Veeam, Pivot, Scale, Maxta, Nexenta, DataCore and Cloudian.

“We are looking to specialise in these partnerships,” Lock says.

One of Lenovo’s biggest growth areas is storage and data management, where is has achieved 100% growth – double the market growth – in flash arrays for the last four quartres.

“We have also notched up 30% quarter on quarter growth for overall storage,” Lock says.

A strategic OEM relationship with NetApp allows Lenovo to use NetApp’s software stack build solutions, and which gives it access to 90% of the addressable market.

“We signed out first NetApp sale in South Africa just recently,” Lock says. “As we so more work with NetApp,  you will see more integrated solutions coming to market.”

Lock adds that the big secret to the success Lenovo has enjoyed lie in three words: simple, agile and transformative.

“The technology is simple: customers don’t need to have deep infrastructure skills. It’s agile, so it’s easy to deploy workloads into the environment. And it’s transformative, allowing customers to do more, more easily.”