Lenovo Launches Converged Infrastructure Solution With Nimble Storage

Server vendor Lenovo and flash storage vendor Nimble Storage are partnering on a new converged infrastructure solution that Lenovo hopes will be its first, big step down the road to becoming a data center powerhouse.

Partnering with San Jose, California-based Nimble Storage will give Lenovo a tier-one storage offering, said Stuart McCrae, director of the Lenovo storage product group.

"Lenovo storage is still young and growing," McCrae told CRN. "We started with file and block storage, and added software-defined storage. Now we're offering tier-one, all-flash and hybrid flash storage."

[Related: How We Got Here: Lenovo's Blockbuster IBM Server Deal]

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Lenovo's march into the data center started with its 2012 strategic agreement with EMC to jointly develop VSPEX reference architectures for converged infrastructure. That effort expanded with Lenovo's 2014 acquisition of IBM's x86-based server business. However, the Lenovo-EMC relationship ended even before the purchase of EMC by Lenovo arch-rival Dell.

The new relationship with Nimble Storage is starting out with ThinkAgile, Lenovo's new brand for converged infrastructure. The solution includes Lenovo servers, Nimble storage, and Lenovo network technology it got with the IBM x86 server business acquisition, McCrae said.

The different parts are tied together with Lenovo's XClarity infrastructure management software, he said.

The ThinkAgile offering will be pre-integrated by Lenovo in its own facilities and sold by Lenovo's channel partners, McCrae said. It will not be sold by Nimble Storage channel partners, said Dan Leary, vice president of corporate development for the storage vendor.

While Nimble Storage has converged infrastructure partnerships with other vendors, they are more along the lines of meet-in-the-channel relationships, Leary told CRN. "We don't have any other pre-integrated converged infrastructure relationships," he said.

ThinkAgile is expected to be only the first of a growing relationship between the two vendors, Leary said.

"What's really unique is the longer-term ramifications of our relationship," he said. "This is a collaborative technology partnership that will lead to further developments."

McCrae said that Lenovo is committed to delivering more flash storage solutions, with dedicated Lenovo-branded storage products based on Nimble Storage technology expected to come to market starting in the first half of 2017.

"From an enterprise data center perspective, storage has been our biggest gap," he said. "That's why, for us, this is a huge announcement. It fills that gap, and gives us that end-to-end solution."

A couple of Lenovo channel partners, for now, feel that the vendor still has a lot of work to do to be a serious player in the data center business.

One Lenovo partner, who requested anonymity, said the new ThinkAgile offering is probably better for Nimble Storage than it is for Lenovo.

"Lenovo's channel strategy is still focused on a volume play, and not a value play," the solution provider told CRN. "We sell Lenovo when customers ask for it. But we actually sell what customers demand. When compared to what other vendors have, especially Dell, Lenovo is still seen as a me-too server vendor."

Another Lenovo channel partner, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said the ThinkAgile offering is an interesting play.

"I see Nimble Storage gain traction in the market," the solution provider told CRN. "But I don't know that this combination is the right answer."

Lenovo needs a converged infrastructure play because the tier-one vendors like Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Cisco have one, and it is important for second-tier vendors to get a piece of the action, the solution provider said.

"We sell relatively little Lenovo," the solution provider said. "But I'm not sure the Nimble Storage play will change our direction, or Lenovo's direction."

McCrae said Lenovo sees an opportunity now that it did not have when it had a storage relationship with EMC and Iomega before that.

"The Nimble Storage relationship is targeted at the sweet spot of the storage market," McCrae said. "The opportunity and demand from customers is great. Part of the market is moving to software-defined. But the bulk of the market is focused on flash storage. From a go-to-market perspective, this is a force multiplier for both of us."

The ThinkAgile relationship with Nimble Storage is just part of an overall storage offensive Lenovo is on, said Radhika Krishnan, general manager of modern IT at Lenovo and, until seven months ago, the vice president of marketing, solutions and alliances at Nimble Storage.

ThinkAgile is expected to start shipping on October 28 and compete with Dell EMC's VCE Vblock offering and the FlexPod line from NetApp and Cisco, Krishnan told CRN.

Lenovo also has a strong partnership with Nutanix for hyper-converged infrastructure with the development of a new hyper-converged rack solution similar to the Dell EMC VxRack solution, Krishnan said.

"We are introducing a Lenovo rack solution with Nutanix software and Lenovo networking," she said. "This will be a 42U rack with up to 40 1U or 20 2U Lenovo server nodes in a single cluster with Lenovo top-of-rack networking. We're expected this to be available by year-end."

Lenovo next year will introduce a separate rack-based hyper-converged infrastructure solution based on the OpenStack cloud and Ceph software-defined storage for the China market which is more open to open source, she said.

Lenovo last month used the Microsoft Ignite conference to introduce Lenovo Cloud Configuration for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct which allows customers develop an on-premises variant of Azure that reached out to the Azure cloud, Krishnan said. That offering will also get the ThinkAgile brand name, she said.

Lenovo also offers, and over time will work with VMware on its software-defined data center strategy.