The move into the data centre market might be relatively new for Lenovo, but it’s very familiar to Lorna Hardie, the company’s new data centre group lead in sub-Saharan Africa.

It’s been two years since Lenovo took on the x86 server line-up from IBM, and for much of that time it was run alongside the commercial and consumer product lines within the local operation.

Since December 2016, however, it’s been spun out as a separate business group, comprising all the servers, storage, networking, software, solutions and enterprise services.

“The approach was initially to leverage the success of the Lenovo business from an end-to-end perspective,” Hardie explains. “We have now recognised that we need to get some specialisation on the data centre to get the focus that customers deserve to be able to leverage the technology to operate their businesses.”

This doesn’t mean that the data centre group is isolated – quite the contrary, says Hardie. “We may be a separate group, but there is a huge amount of collaboration, especially in the channel and the mid-market space.

“And there are good reasons why we have to work together. The data centre group wants to get to where the ThinkPad business is today – where quality and customer satisfaction drive increased market share.

“So we will leverage the best practices from the rest of the business.”

The data centre business within Lenovo is significant: globally it accounts for $6-billion of Lenovo’s total $46-billion turnover; and it’s number three in terms of market share and shipments. And, although Lenovo has offered data centre solutions for such a short time, it already holds an 11,2% market share.

Hardie believes the products can do better, though, and she’s keen to address the many opportunities in the local market.

“From a South African standpoint, there is a part of the market that understands that we have inherited IBM’s entire x86 platform and there is huge scope to grow, retain and maintain this customer base.

“But there is also tremendous opportunities among the people who are not aware of our IBM legacy and who we are approaching for the first time with a Lenovo-branded solution.”

The server line-up includes racks, towers, blades, next-scale server and high-end computing, so it covers every market opportunity from mid-market to top-end enterprise, Hardie adds.

“It’s a quality portfolio – we’ve held the best x86 quality spot for nine quarters – and we are focused on maintaining that quality across the whole data centre group.”

But product is just the start of the story – customers need to want to buy them, and be satisfied they made the right decision. “Customer satisfaction is very important,” says Hardie. “So we ensure that the models are there in the back-end to support not just the sale but the post-delivery experience as well.”

This plays right back to Lenovo’s core value proposition, she says, which  is providing solutions that match the customer’s need.

“The data centre is going through a massive shift at the moment, from traditional to new-generation IT,” Hardie explains. “And even that is undergoing a new shift as customers look to hyperconvergence.”

The software-defined data centre (SDDC) is very much a reality today, as the techniques that have helped to optimise the server environment are now migrating to storage and networking as well.

“SDDC truly allows for more efficient and easier to manage data centre environments,” says Hardie. “It also allows customer to rationalise their spend and reduce processing bottlenecks.”

Meanwhile, cloud computing has become mainstream and is always something that has to be considered in the background. “We need to decomplicate it, and make it relevant for our customers.”

Lenovo doesn’t try to do all of this by itself, but partners with best-of-breed vendors to design and built fully integrated solutions based on software-defined data centre principles.

“We have a very open nature in terms of engagement, and are well known as a collaborative organisation,” she says. “Because we don’t have a legacy that we need to protect, we are non-threatening and very easy for software vendors to partner with.

“This means we are very ready for the market shift.”

In fact, Lenovo’s x86 servers already host about 50% of the SAP HANA implementations around the world. “This is a very complex environment but we have a solid history and legacy with SAP,” Hardie says. “We are doing a lot of work with SAP locally, and there is tremendous opportunity in Africa as well.”

Software-defined storage is another massive area of growth in the data centre infrastructure space, and Lenovo is engaging with leading storage vendors to bring these solutions to market.

“The relationships cover multiple factors and could present as an OEM product or a customised appliance solution.”

Because Lenovo is truly open, customers can continue to run their existing management platform, Hardie adds.

“A lot of customers have invested a lot of money and time in their management platform. In a lot of instances, the transition to hyperconvergence could mean they have to change it. But, because we are open, they can continue to use their existing management platform.”

All in all, the Lenovo product and solution offering gives reseller partners tremendous opportunities to offer their end user customers the best possible experience.

“What we do is enable and empower our partners,” Hardie points out. “If we arm our resellers with the right tools and capability it makes their job so much easier.

“And we have a solid reputation for partnering that backs our product and solution portfolio.”

A solid partner programme lets Lenovo present a unified face to all resellers, across the data centre group and the professional computing group.

At the same time, strong OEM relationships with both software and hardware vendors gives partners a complete range of solutions.

“We are committed to being able to support our partners from a solution perspective,” Hardie says. “Given the openness of the Lenovo offering, we then sew the different components together. Partners, OEMs and ourselves can then put together solutions, offered through the channel, that resonate with the customers.”

The primary route to market for Lenovo products is through distribution. Axiz, First Distribution, Mustek and Pinnacle all offer Lenovo data centre products to their reseller partners.

The distributors invest from a stock and skills perspective, ensuring that resellers have access to the right products and resources as they require them.

In South Africa, a handful of tier one partners manage their own stockholding and training, but all the African business is through distribution. Within the African operation, Lenovo has embarked on an initiative to drive technical training and enablement.

Keeping partners up-to-date with technical skills and sales skills is an ongoing process,, and Lenovo has regular engagements with partners in South Africa and outside the borders.

The company is also setting up a demo centre where it will work with OEMs to showcase real-world solutions.

“We will be able to show partners how to land actual solutions and implementations, and they will be able to leverage the resource as a showcase to their customers,” Hardie explains. “We also do a lot of customers engagements with our partners to help them get the most out of their relationship with us.”


Data centre group product portfolio

The Lenovo portfolio spans the whole data centre, offering word class solutions for end-to-end requirements.

The range starts with servers, comprising rack and tower machines offering a versatile platform for the majority or workloads; mission-critical servers for scale-up applications with the largest workloads; blade devices to enable the integration of compute, storage and networking; dense servers that are space-optimised with extreme performance and enernx360 with Storae and GPUgy efficiency; and hyperconverged appliances that integrate storage and compute.

Storage offerings include the S-Series entry-level storage area network (SAN); the V-Series mid-range SAN; the DX8000C and DX9000N SDS; an all-flash array; and E-Series and TS products for direct-attach and archive applications.

Lenovo also has a full networking portfolio, including embedded networking; top-of-rack devices; campus and core solutions; storage switches; and a network operating system.

High-performance computing (HPC) also forms part of the data centre offering, including the NeXTScale nx360 for compute, and add-ons the extend HPC to storage, PCI, GPU and water-cooled solutions.

A range of hyperscale systems adds the ability to add compute and warm storage, application optimisation, and rack-scale architecture.

Lenovo goes beyond offering just hardware, though: the company can help its partners and customers with best-of-breed solutions optimised to work most effectively on the Lenovo platform. These include solutions for cloud, big data, analytics, database and virtual desktop.

All of Lenovo’s product offerings are underscored with the company’s end-to-end services that cover the spectrum from basic to consultative engagements.