By Charles King. Pund-IT, Inc. February 27, 2019
A substantial, beneficial side effect of Moore’s Law and commodity computing is what might be called data center decentralization. As little as a decade ago, the vast majority of business computing efforts and workloads were concentrated in conventional on-premises IT facilities owned and operated by the organizations they served.
The balance shifted with the rise of public cloud platforms but is likely to be impacted even more dramatically by computing at the edges of networks. That trend, in turn, is being driven by robust mobile solutions such as the Internet of Things (IoT) that support emerging technologies, including 5G.
At the MWC (Mobile World Congress) Barcelona this week, Lenovo’s Data Center Group (DCG) introduced its new ThinkSystem SE350, the first of a new family of edge servers. The company also highlighted new partnerships and developments that will support IoT and edge computing as part of Lenovo’s long term IoT growth plan. Let’s consider these announcements in greater detail.
Lenovo’s ThinkSystem SE350
The new ThinkSystem SE350 is slightly larger than a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop, or about half the width and significantly shorter than a traditional 1U rack server. Systems leverage Intel’s Xeon-D processor with up to 16 cores, 256GB of RAM, and 16TB of internal solid-state storage. Purpose-built for edge computing use cases, the rugged SE350 can handle temperatures from 0C° to 55°C (32°F to 131°F) and can tolerate locations with high-dust and vibration.
Those characteristics make the new server an excellent choice for construction site trailers and manufacturing floors. However, its office-friendly acoustics also make it a good fit for traditional workplaces or remote/branch offices (ROBOs). The ThinkSystem SE350 can be attached to walls, stacked on shelves or mounted in conventional racks. That allows customers wide latitude in their deployment and maintenance plans but also addresses the requirements of organizations with serious space constraints.
Like other solutions for edge computing, Lenovo’s offering enables customers to place compute, storage and network capabilities close to where information is generated, thus supporting faster data analysis and decision making. The ThinkSystem SE350 also incorporates technology that invalidates the encryption key so that only authorized users can access data stored on the device (a critical point for remotely-deployed servers) if the server is tampered with. Networking options include wired 10/100Mb/1GbE, 1GbE SFP, 10GBASE-T, and 10GbE SFP+, as well as secure Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity.
No pricing information was announced but Lenovo noted that the ThinkSystem SE350 will come to market later this summer.
At MWC Barcelona, Lenovo DCG also announced several strategic partnerships supporting its edge computing strategy and efforts. These include:
- Live demos and customer examples of Lenovo Video- and Security-based solutions powered by Pivot3. The pair are collaborating to support mission-critical smart city and safe campus solutions for specific industries. In collaboration with SecureTech, Lenovo and Pivot3 delivered a security solution that captured and managed security video data across a sprawling hotel complex owned by a leading Middle East hospitality customer. The solution also reduced the risk of data loss and system failure while lowering acquisition and ownership costs, as well as the need for advanced technical skills.
- Revealing a Lenovo Future-Ready Retail Store Infrastructure solution developed in partnership with Scale Computing. The new offering allows retail customers to deploy enterprise-class mini data centers at the edge of their networks. Customers include Ahold Delhaize, a retail food group that operates supermarkets and e-commerce businesses across 6,700+ stores in 11 countries.
- Project Dimension, a VMware program that aims to simplify the delivery of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions to on-premises locations, including edge of network facilities. As part of its Project Dimension effort, Lenovo DCG is developing a software-defined data-center (SDDC) packaged in a hyper-converged appliance that will extend VMware Cloud as-a-service for enterprise customers.
- A joint research project with Orange focused on hardware composability using Intel Rack Scale Design (RSD) technologies. The goal is to maximize energy, performance and cost efficiencies by pooling & abstracting hardware resources, including FPGA, GPU, and SmartNICs in edge deployment environments.
- Partnerships with select vendors, ISVs and CoSPs, including Intel, China Mobile and Baicells to validate unique use cases for new monetizable services. Lenovo’s Communication Service Provider (CoSP) strategy is aligned with the new emerging areas like Multi-Access Edge computing (MEC) and C-RAN. Lenovo demonstrated its first 5G O-RAN virtualized solution providing increased flexibility to CoSP.
So, what are the key takeaways from Lenovo DCG’s MWC Barcelona announcements? First and foremost, that the company is moving swiftly and aggressively to capture both existing business in edge-of-network scenarios and emerging opportunities in related areas, like IoT. In addition, Lenovo is continuing to leverage the aid of carefully-chosen strategic partners in these endeavors, gaining significant advantages from their expertise and effectively lowering required investments and associated risks.
Some might say that Lenovo is entering the IoT and edge computing markets somewhat late in the game, placing the company well behind other players. While it’s true that some vendors have pushed into these areas more quickly than Lenovo, the effective demand for IoT and related commercial solutions is largely modest.
In fact, Lenovo noted research by Gartner which estimated that today just about 10 percent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside centralized data centers and clouds. However, Gartner expects that figure to reach 75 percent by 2022. If that’s the case, Lenovo’s new edge computing family and offerings like the ThinkSystem SE350 should be well-positioned to answer customers’ growing needs for IoT and other edge-of-network solutions.
Is that too rosy a scenario? Consider how the DCG contributed to Lenovo’s most recent (Q3 FY18/19) earnings announcement. The group reported its fifth consecutive quarter of profit growth with quarterly revenues of $1.6B (a YoY increase of 31%) driven by YoY growth in all geographies, including triple-digit growth in North America, and double-digit growth in Asia-Pacific, EMEA and Latin America.
Looking closer, Lenovo DCG’s hyperscale segment delivered its fourth consecutive quarter of triple digit growth while software-defined infrastructure (SDI) sales grew by nearly 70% YoY. The NetApp joint venture announced last fall at Lenovo Transform 2.0 is operational in China and has received its first customer order. Lenovo remains the leading vendor on the TOP500 supercomputing list and has increased its position—with nearly 30% (140) of listed systems.
Overall, Lenovo DCG and its leadership team are doing things right and, as a result, the company is doing very well, indeed. Given the substance of what Lenovo announced at MWC Barcelona this week, that situation seems entirely likely to continue improving.
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