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What Lenovo's 'PC Plus Era' Really Means For The Company And Its Channel

Lenovo said new service offerings, server products, and mobile devices are leading it and its channel partners into the 'PC Plus Era.'

Ever since it acquired IBM’s PC unit in 2004, Lenovo and its iconic ThinkPad brand have been a staple in the personal computing space. But at its Accelerate Partner Summit 2012 event this week, Lenovo made it clear to partners that the PC market isn’t the only one in which it will continue to play.

The company is in the midst of transitioning to a new period in its eight-year run -- a period fittingly dubbed its "PC Plus Era" -- where partners will start to see an emphasis put on Lenovo servers, services, and mobile devices just as much as the PC.

Servers, in particular, are where Lenovo’s sights are set. This week the PC giant unveiled two new ThinkServer products, the RD530 and RD630, aimed at the low-end enterprise market. The launch marked the beginning of what the company called a "long journey" in the server space.

[Related: Lenovo Announces SMB Partner Advantage Program, Cash Rewards For Resellers ]

Lenovo, who already has a ThinkServer line of SMB towers that it primarily sells in China, said the decision to extend its reach into the higher-end server market was prompted by partner request. Partners felt that servers were the missing puzzle piece to be able to offer a full, end-to-end Lenovo solution to their clients.

"As we move into 2012 … the product of the year is the server, and the route of the year is our value-added reseller community," said Sammy Kinlaw, director of channel sales at Lenovo, in an interview with CRN.

He said Lenovo’s emphasis on brand and channel program consistency will enable resellers in the traditional PC or client space to transition with ease into the server space.

"We have a lot of ThinkPad sellers, and those ThinkPad sellers should be selling the ThinkServer," Kinlaw said. "We have the trust of the partner, the quality and the reliability,’ he said, adding that with the Lenovo experience that its partners have had, ’there’s no reason that these experiences can’t translate to workstations and servers."

Lenovo believes its nearly 24,000 North American channel partners already have the skill sets needed to make this transition into the storage market a success. But, Kinlaw didn’t dismiss the idea of adding new channel partners this year who can help round out its new server offerings, most of which are slated to launch late this summer.

"I think we got the right partners," Kinlaw told CRN. "But does our competition have resellers that we would like to have? Of course."

The server market, in particular, will be an especially lucrative one for resellers. Lenovo told its partner community this week that they face an opportunity to double their margins as its new server offerings start to penetrate the market.

NEXT: Services, Smartphones Also Define 'PC Plus Era'

Apart from servers, Lenovo services are poised to pave the way for its "PC Plus Era" this year. The company said this week that it will be refocusing its efforts on services -- an area that it hasn’t been "overtly" focused on before. In particular, it's looking to refine its PC maintenance and protection, imaging asset tagging, and asset recovery offerings.

That said, Lenovo vowed not to offer any services that may compete directly with those already offered today through its partners. The idea is that partners will be able to supplement their current service offerings, including app and networking management, desktop outsourcing, and software deployments, with those pushed out by Lenovo.

"We want to be very complementary to everyone in this room when it comes to services," David Schmook, senior vice president and general manager of Lenovo’s North American unit, told partners during the general session.

As Lenovo moves forward with its "four-screen strategy" -- or the development of a cross-device ecosystem for its smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, and PCs -- it said new opportunities for offering cloud-based services will also become more prominent.

Smartphones and tablets make up the third component of Lenovo’s "PC Plus Era." The company announced recently it would invest nearly $800 million in an R&D and production facility in China to drive the development of new mobile devices. Kinlaw said the majority of these new products will first be deployed exclusively in China, a market where Lenovo is already the third largest smartphone maker. But he also said the spillover of these devices into North America is inevitable.

"China is the focus place for those products to begin. Are those things going to evolve and be sold in the U.S. and North America and the rest of the world? Absolutely," he told CRN.

These mobile devices, as part of Lenovo’s larger "four-screen strategy," will present channel partners with an opportunity to offer further services to clients, as they aim to create broader Lenovo-based ecosystems.

"As tablets become viable in the enterprise space, they [end users] are going to need to be trained on tablets, somebody is going to need to sell them tablets, somebody is going to need to build the applications that run on the tablet," Kinlaw explained. "So there are lots of services partners can tag onto for the 'four-screen.'"

NEXT: Lenovo Pays Homage To Its Roots

Even with all the talk of new server, service, and mobile device offerings, Lenovo used its Accelerate Partner Summit this year to drive home the importance of its PC-centric roots.

"The heart of those products is still PCs," Kinlaw said of the new Lenovo offerings in the pipeline for 2012. "It kind of goes along with our advertising campaign -- it’s the things that make them 'do.'"

Perhaps ironically, one of the biggest show-stealers in Lenovo’s product showcase this week was a PC. Even more surprising, it wasn’t its upcoming "Yoga" convertible tablet or even the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon enterprise Ultrabook. It was a desktop.

The new "Tiny" ThinkCentre M92p desktop, which Lenovo unveiled earlier this month, was one of the most buzzed about on-site products in Vegas this week. The "Tiny" redefines the desktop PC by touting a form factor that's the width of a golf ball while still packing the processing punch of Intel’s third-generation Ivy Bridge processors.

It was, by far, one of the most popular products in the showcase, said Bill Dominici, North America product manager for Lenovo monitors and all-in-one desktops.

"It’s been great because, historically, it’s been 'Okay, that’s kind of cool,'" Dominici said, describing the usual lukewarm reaction partners and customers have to desktops. "But then, when introducing something like this, that turns everyone’s perspective of desktops."

Gary Mitchell, a Lenovo partner and solution provider from the British Columbia-based Main Computers, said that the new "Tiny" will be a big win for many of his SMB clients that work with limited office space.’

"It’s just a remarkable size. There’s nothing else on the market I’ve seen like this, and it will change people’s expectations," Mitchell said, referencing a smaller client that works within the confines of a six-foot office. "This will change what we can do."

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