Partners Cheer Lenovo's DataCore Deal, Ponder Its Long-Term Storage Strategy

Lenovo, stung by the loss of two data center storage technology partners thanks to acquisitions by rival Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), is reinforcing its software-defined storage strategy as a way to advance its data center business.

However, Lenovo channel partners, while remaining big fans of Lenovo's extensive server business, are not sure the vendor has a viable data center storage strategy.

Lenovo, with one of its headquarters locations in Research Park, N.C., this week unveiled a new OEM agreement with Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based DataCore Software to integrate DataCore's SANsymphony software-defined storage with Lenovo servers.

[Related: Lenovo's Storage Strategy: Plotting A Path To Data Center Relevance]

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The new product comes after two of Lenovo's close storage technology partners were acquired by HPE.

The first was hyper-converged infrastructure technology developer SimpliVity, which HPE acquired in February. Lenovo and SimpliVity in 2015 started joint development and marketing of hyper-converged infrastructure solutions based on Lenovo servers and SimpliVity software and had already been shipping them to channel partners.

The second was all-flash and hybrid-flash storage vendor Nimble Storage, which HPE said last week it plans to acquire. Lenovo and Nimble Storage in October unveiled plans for Lenovo to build converged infrastructure solutions based on Lenovo servers and Nimble Storage's all-flash arrays, and eventually incorporate Nimble Storage arrays in the Lenovo product line.

Lenovo channel partners praised Lenovo for its servers, and for partnering with DataCore, but feel the company still has work to do to be ready for the data center, especially after losing the SimpliVity and Nimble Storage relationships.

Lenovo needs to pay attention to the storage business before HPE buys everyone, said Chris Pyle, president of Champion Solutions Group, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based solution provider and channel partner to both Lenovo and DataCore.

The DataCore SANsymphony software is a good offering for Lenovo, Pyle told CRN. "They need it to beat the drum about business heterogeneous storage," he said. "But it's hard to see what Lenovo will do long-term for the data center. The company needs storage."

Pyle said Champion sells a lot of Lenovo servers into data centers and multi-site retail customers. "There are still a lot of SANs in place out there, and a lot of iSCSI," he said. Many customers do not need a new storage solution to buy new servers. But in the long term, as we see customers pull the trigger on things like hyper-converged infrastructure, Lenovo will need storage to grow."

Michael Goldstein, president and CEO of LAN Infotech, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based solution provider and Lenovo channel partner, said it is tough for a company to grow its data center business.

"Some clients want a pure HPE end-to-end solution or a Dell end-to-end solutions," Goldstein told CRN. "So there's not a lot of options there. But some clients swear by NetApp or pre-Dell EMC storage on Lenovo servers."

The DataCore relationship will help open Lenovo's doors to customers without a large SAN budget, Goldstein said.

"But I'm not sure what the long-term strategy is," he said. "Maybe the best strategy for Lenovo could be a midmarket strategy. Competition in the high-end is fierce. Maybe Lenovo has more of an SMB strategy and is not necessarily peeking in the high-end tier. It fits with Lenovo's current storage strategy. Software-defined storage gives them diversity."

Another Lenovo channel partner, who requested anonymity, told CRN that Lenovo has another issue when it comes to storage.

"Lenovo doesn't believe in account registration," the partner told CRN. "Companies like HPE provide protection. Storage sales require a lot of sales calls, and there's a lot of competition. Do you want to leverage yourself with a partner that doesn't offer deal registration?"

That is especially important given Lenovo's software-defined storage strategy, the partner said. "Storage on a commodity server platform without owning the technology, how can you protect partner sales," the partner said.

Lenovo was unable to respond to a CRN query about its deal registration program.

Having a software-defined storage strategy is a good first step for Lenovo, and the DataCore technology is a good fit, Pyle said.

"Lenovo needs a software-defined storage strategy," he said. "But it also needs a strong storage strategy to compete. I'm not knocking Lenovo's strategy. I'm saying they need to pay attention to storage, but not put all their eggs in the DataCore basket."

Lenovo has a software-defined storage strategy that fits a wide range of customer requirements, said Radhika Krishnan, executive director and general manager of software-defined data center and networking in Lenovo’s Data Center Group.

"We believe that software-defined storage is a very real disruption happening in the marketplace," Krishnan told CRN. "It offers many benefits over traditional SANs. Storage vendors want to protect their 50- to 70-point margins. They want to protect their margins and maintenance contracts."

Lenovo's biggest strength is its x86-based server platform, Krishnan said. "Software-defined storage lets us do what we do really well: Run advanced software on our servers," she said.

Lenovo's new DX8200D storage appliance, which integrates Lenovo’s System x3650 M5 server with DataCore's SANsymphony software, offers many advantages over traditional SAN offerings, Krishnan said.

"DataCore, in particular, has a very interesting offering," she said. "It can virtualize third-party disk storage that sits behind it. It can replace existing SAN arrays while offering significantly better storage management than traditional storage."

That is a potentially huge benefit to customers who have heavily invested in existing storage infrastructures, Krishnan said.

"The typical customer opportunities are not greenfield opportunities," she said. "They have existing storage and SANs. DataCore can virtualize existing storage behind it to make data migration and automation much easier."

Lenovo believes the move towards software-defined storage is happening, as is the move to software-defined networking, Krishnan said.

That is also happening with large existing storage vendors as well, Krishnan admitted. However, those storage vendors are facing many issues, including multi-product storage lines with overlapping technologies as well as their incentive to keep selling traditional storage, she said.

"Given their investment in SANs, they have a lot of legacy baggage," she said. "It's hard for them to invest in software-defined storage without cannibalizing their existing business."

However, the DataCore SANsymphony relationship with Lenovo is not an exclusive one. George Teixeira, DataCore president and CEO, told CRN via email that, while Lenovo is the only major OEM offering a turnkey appliance which comes integrated with SANsymphony, it is possible that situation could change.

"Yes, Lenovo is the only major OEM currently offering a turnkey appliance fully integrating SANsymphony Software-Defined Storage. It takes a lot of effort and time to correctly test, train and integrate technologies and support, so while it is not an exclusive agreement, practical realities provide Lenovo with a significant time and go to market advantage," Teixeira wrote.