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Lenovo VP Frey: Get Ready For System X Channel Charge

Lenovo North American channel leader says big changes are ahead for partners as it digests IBM's System x product portfolio and partner program.

Lenovo said it's ready to unleash its enterprise attack strategy Wednesday when it officially takes control of IBM's legacy x86 server business.

That's when Lenovo said it will announce additional channel leaders and begin to actively try to poach new partners from its competition as it rolls out a new "one Lenovo, one channel" partner charge.

Chris Frey, Lenovo's vice president of North American commercial channels, said Lenovo's strategy to gain relevance in the server market is to get the Lenovo channel in the enterprise game at lightning speed.

[Related: Lenovo: Watch Out HP, Dell; 'We Are Ready To Attack' ]

"We are going to be moving fast and use speed as a value proposition working with our channel partners," Frey said.

Lenovo said Monday it would officially complete a $2.1 billion deal that gives the China-based PC maker IBM's commodity x86 server business. The deal also ends months of waiting for thousands of Lenovo and IBM x86 partners who are eager to learn what's next.

Lenovo partners such as Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Minneapolis-based system builder Equus Computer Systems, wonder how Lenovo will juggle its PC business and new billion-dollar server business.

The server market, Swank said, is particularly difficult because "people don't switch their server brands very often. It's a tough nut to crack." However, IBM has a long history of engineering and customer service so Swank thinks it will help Lenovo skip those initial market hurdles and become competitive in the marketplace.

The question for Swank and others is how exactly Lenovo plans to aggressively expand in the marketplace.

Lenovo's strategy, Frey said, is to blitz the server market.

"Lenovo has 11,000 partners that resell PCs on a regular basis. All of those partners will get authorized to start selling System x on day one," he said. "We have 3,000 partners that sell our Think Servers today. So this obviously helps their portfolio, making it more rich and diverse."

And the company's looking to add more partners, according to Frey.

"We are always looking to recruit new partners that want to resell products on our behalf. We are going to pursue new partners in a very aggressive fashion," he said.

Frey said, between its Think Server partners selling higher in the data center stack and IBM partners selling System x into the SMB space, there is natural synergy between two that will crack open both ends of the server market driving new incremental business.

"We have a business that goes from the tower, the rack, blade, all the way up to PureFlex Systems," Frey said. "We are going to go after all of those markets, not just the data center."

To do that, Frey said, partners can expect Lenovo to integrate business units, product lines and partner coverage areas fast.

"We will have one Lenovo with one distribution model for both PC and System x servers, which we think it's important for partners," Frey said.

"Our belief is, when a manufacturer approaches multiple brands with multiple PNL owners, with multiple coverage models, and multiple sets of programs, that does not create an open market for partners," Frey said. "We believe if we have partners that want to sell PCs, they can sell PCs. If we have partners that want to sell servers, they can sell servers. If they want to sell both, they can sell both."

Partners, he said, will sell Lenovo, not because they are being forced into it because of margin management -- a tactic used to push partners to sell a vendor's entire line card to earn incremental incentives.

Lenovo has set April 2015 as a target date for completing its integration of Lenovo and IBM's partner programs, according to Frey.

PUBLISHED SEPT. 29, 2014

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