13 Jul Lenovo Moves The Datacenter Ball Forward At NYC Transform Event

Lenovo held their Transform event in NYC

This past week I attended the Lenovo Transform event in New York City. During the opening keynote, I literally had a front row to some big Lenovo enterprise announcements. The overarching narrative of the day was that Lenovo wants to move from being a PC company to being a player in the datacenter. Here’s my recap of the keynote, and my take on some of the bigger announcements coming out of the event. Overall, I believe Lenovo moved the proverbial ball down the court with their announcements and the event and recognize there’s a lot of execution to go.

A word from YY

Rod Lappin, SVP of marketing and sales of the enterprise group kicked the event off with some general shout-outs and acknowledgements to Lenovo’s customers, partners, employees, and analysts for making it to the event—inclement weather in New York extended travel times for many, including my own (arrived at 3am the night before the event). I appreciated the shout out along with Matt Eastwood of IDC. Lappin did a good job acknowledging and thanking his ecosystem, something some vendors forget to do.

Lenovo’s Rod Lappin kicks off Transform in NYC

Lappin then introduced Lenovo’s Chairman & CEO, Yuanqing Yang (affectionately known as YY) to the stage. Yang went through the analyst-expected context setting about digital transformation but did it in a different way by referencing past industrial revolutions, and the current one—the advent of IoT, cloud, and big data. He posed a question: “Can we build a new world, without diseases, war, and poverty?” and went on to say that Lenovo believes that with the technology emerging from the current transformation, such a world might be possible.

Lenovo’s Chairman & CEO, Yuanqing Yang talks digital transformation

I especially liked how Yang related all this to the importance of the client device like phones, tablets and PCs. Some vendors creatively forget about those devices because they don’t make them. Combined, Lenovo makes more PCs, tablets and phones than any vendor. Yang concluded his segment by inviting the audience to join with Lenovo to help usher in what it’s calling the “4thindustrial revolution”. Overall, a nice job kicking off the day. 

Introducing ThinkAgile and ThinkSystem 

The next big segment was led by Kirk Skaugen, EVP and President of Lenovo’s Data Center Group and former Intel senior executive. Skaugen introduced the big story of the day—the launch of the largest end-to-end datacenter portfolio in Lenovo’s history. Skaugen described the launch as taking “the best of the x86 heritage,” which Lenovo acquired from IBM back in 2014, and combining it with Lenovo’s trademark cost and operational-efficiency. Skaugen also announced the addition of two new x86 brands—Lenovo ThinkAgile and ThinkSystem (more on those shortly)—and celebrated the fact that Lenovo would be shipping its 20 millionth x86 server next month. He lauded Lenovo’s position as the fastest growing supercomputing company on earth, and threw down the gauntlet with the company’s goal to become #1 in supercomputing in the next couple of years. I really appreciate Skaugen’s BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) in HPC as it puts everyone on notice, internal to Lenovo and outside to partners. Those proclamations have great marketing oomph, too, as it makes the company more interesting to follow.

Lenovo’s Kirk Skaugen discusses Lenovo’s positive server customer sat rankings

Skaugen also shared Lenovo’s server very high quality and satisfaction ratings and I do believe this will positively impact their future share state. I’m actually quite amazed at the customer sat ratings but equally amazed Lenovo hasn’t been able to take advantage of that so far. ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile will help, I believe, to improve Lenovo’s share.

Skaugen cited Lenovo’s lack of legacy as one of the factors that is allowing it to get the jump on the software-defined era—Lenovo doesn’t really have prior business areas to protect like software, networking and storage systems, so it can focus investment and innovation on emerging tech.

I like this position for Lenovo, but it’ll be vital that Lenovo differentially delivers on this.

After touting Lenovo’s accomplishments, Skaugen moved on to actual new technology—in addition to the two new x86 server brands, Lenovo is announcing 14 new servers, 7 new storage systems, and expanded set of networking portfolios.

Lenovo had a lot of ground to cover during the keynote, and didn’t focus too much time on the specifics on the new tech offerings—however, I do want to go ahead and dive a little deeper on the two new server brands. ThinkSystem is Lenovo’s new data center product portfolio, and the first serious reconfiguration of Lenovo’s product line since it got into the server business in 2014. Designed to plug right into existing infrastructure, it includes high performance servers, storage, and cloud-enabled switches, and boasts faster time-to service, high-density optimization, and water-cooling for high performance computing. The other new brand, ThinkAgile, is a bundle of “white-glove” turnkey software and pre-tested solutions that will come with Lenovo’s system offerings, focused specifically on software-defined data centers, and integrated converged systems.

I view Lenovo as the “Switzerland” of HCI as they are partnering 100% right now. While they have indicated they want their own, future IP, today whether it’s VMWare, Microsoft Azure Stack, Nutanix, Red Hat, etc., Lenovo won’t be competing with you as partner. If Lenovo flawlessly executes, they could be the “sleeper HCI hit” in 2018. The white-glove features are wanted and needed by enterprises, are very profitable and historically have been in the world of Lenovo’s larger competitors.

In upcoming papers, I will be diving deeper into ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile.

Showcasing partnership with Intel 

Skaugen then introduced Rupal Shah, Corporate VP & GM of Intel’s Global Data Center Sales, citing Intel as an important partner in the development of the new data center portfolio (all the new solutions are based on Intel’s next-gen Xeon scalable processors). Shah emphasized Intel’s belief in Lenovo’s ability to succeed, and actually lead in the datacenter. Shah may be in charge of sales, but that’s a huge vote of confidence and I’m sure that statement required a lot of Intel sign-offs. She described Lenovo as an “active partner” in Intel’s ecosystem, and mentioned the two company’s shared belief in a hybrid world. Shah said that the Xeon scalable processors were built “from the ground up” in order to enhance compute, network, and storage data flows—perfectly suited for Lenovo’s datacenter needs.

Shah also talked a bit about Intel and Lenovo’s joint innovation centers located around the world, and the work the two companies are doing together in software-defined infrastructure, and artificial intelligence. She wrapped up by saying that together, the two companies are building the fastest HPC solutions for customers, with the potential to solve big problems—working together to bring “true solutions” to the marketplace. It dawned on me the Intel-Lenovo relationship is getting stronger and Intel may be trying to be kingmaker for Lenovo.

More than a great looking supercomputer

The next guest Skaugen brought to the stage was Sergi Girona, Operations Director of the Barcelona Supercomputing center. Girona talked a bit about the MareNostrum 4 system, a massive Intel-based supercomputer recently delivered to the center, that runs on over 3,400 Lenovo server nodes, and is connected with Intel’s Omni-Path architecture. With a workload of 11.15 petaflops/second, it is purportedly 10 times more powerful than its closest competitor. The supercomputer is suited for a number of HPC functions, such as climate change prediction, looking for cures for cancer, and predicting diseases. The supercomputer looks to be another impressive example of what Lenovo and Intel can accomplish together as partners.

The irony about the HPC #1 BHAG levied by Skaugen and Girona’s support Lenovo is that many pundits, including myself, were thinking hard about how IBM’s x86 HPC operations would far under Lenovo. Well, it’s doing well, thank you.

Transforming the company from the inside-out

Lenovo’s many recent changes in DCG

Skaugen returned to the stage to talk about some of the ways that Lenovo is transforming its own datacenter organization to further its goals. He emphasized Lenovo’s creation of a dedicated, end-to-end sales and marketing team for the datacenter, as well as Lenovo’s movement towards a fully dedicated supply chain. He mentioned Lenovo’s new customer-centric segments, and lauded Lenovo’s expanding global channel programs and system integrator relationships. On top of all of these, the datacenter organization has a brand new, visionary leadership team. It also should be noticed that Skaugen and Lenovo has fully embraced diversity which was evident in the words and actions taken. Impressive. Clearly no moss is growing on these rocks—Skaugen has been a “busy bee” making the changes necessary to successfully reposition Lenovo as a datacenter competitor. I think these changes are spot on, and I believe will pay major dividends moving forward. Finally, I must point out that Skaugen talked of the changes without throwing any prior management under the bus and gave credit to the prior team who was driving some of the initiatives he talked about before he arrived.

ThinkPad celebrates a birthday 

Rod Lappin returned to the stage briefly to say a few introductory words about ThinkPad, Lenovo’s flagship commercial notebook device (which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in October this year). Lappin did a brief, humorous demonstration of ThinkPad’s durability, dropping the device on the ground, and pouring coffee and sand on the keyboard. It was quite the visual and Lappin pulled off great. I was told by Lappin the other folks behind the stage weren’t actors, they were Lenovo employees, which made it all the better for me. Real is good.

Lappin then introduced Christian Teismann, Senior VP & GM of Lenovo’s PCSD Commercial Business Segment, to talk more about the popular ThinkPad brand. Teismann led off by lauding the ThinkPad as the industry standard in PCs, running through a history of the device since its inception in 1992. He spoke on the growth of the millennial workforce, the increasing need for device flexibility, and the fact that Lenovo is the only company currently with phone, PC, and infrastructure segments. I think Teismann is right—collaboration is changing, and having modern technology is very important to this new workforce generation. I hope we see more from Lenovo in commercial phones as this is what enterprises want, and end to end client offering.

Lenovo’s Christian Teismann made three announcements

Teismann then announced a few new products from Lenovo’s PC line—first, the ThinkStation P320, which Lenovo is billing as the world’s smallest workstation. Teismann claims that the ThinkStation P320 has the “power of a tower,” all within the size of a bento box. Without offering specifics, he also announced that Lenovo would be expanding its Think portfolio into the Smart Office—I’m thinking this will probably be something more than a PC, though we’ll have to wait and see.

Lastly, Teismann announced that Lenovo would be releasing a special edition anniversary ThinkPad in commemoration of the occasion, featuring some throwback ThinkPad features alongside Lenovo’s modern computing technology. Finally, he showed a “concept car” of the ThinkPad of the future—a futuristic design that folds with no hinge. Who knows how far off this vision is, but it certainly got an enthusiastic reaction from the audience and Twitter went crazy.

Lenovo’s Christian Teismann talks about future computer concepts

Teismann then announced a few new products from Lenovo’s PC line—first, the ThinkStation P320, which Lenovo is billing as the world’s smallest workstation. Teismann claims that the ThinkStation P320 has the “power of a tower,” all within the size of a bento box. Without offering specifics, he also announced that Lenovo would be expanding its Think portfolio into the Smart Office—I’m thinking this will probably be something more than a PC, though we’ll have to wait and see.

Lastly, Teismann announced that Lenovo would be releasing a special edition anniversary ThinkPad in commemoration of the occasion, featuring some throwback ThinkPad features alongside Lenovo’s modern computing technology. Finally, he showed a “concept car” of the ThinkPad of the future—a futuristic design that folds with no hinge. Who knows how far off this vision is, but it certainly got an enthusiastic reaction from the audience and Twitter went crazy.