Lenovo’s ThinkSystem at 30: System, Software, Security and Sustainability Innovations

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  September 21, 2022

It can be challenging to celebrate longevity in a tech industry obsessed with newness and youth. But decades-long success is difficult to disagree with, especially when a company steadily progresses in market and technical leadership. In the case of Lenovo’s Infrastructure Solutions Group (ISG), the celebration in question is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the company’s ThinkSystem servers.

To mark the date, Lenovo announced Infrastructure Solutions V3 which it described as “the most comprehensive portfolio enhancement” in its history. The new offerings include ThinkSystem, ThinkAgile and ThinkEdge servers and storage systems, enhanced ThinkShield security features, a new XClarity management platform and sustainability-focused solutions, like next-gen Lenovo Neptune warm water-cooling and carbon offset services. Let’s consider Lenovo’s Infrastructure Solutions V3 offerings and what they mean for the company and its customers and partners.

The path of ThinkSystem innovation

How did the ThinkSystem reach its 30th anniversary? In 1992, when the platform was owned by IBM, the company launched the PS/2 servers which leveraged the same Intel silicon and many of the same technologies and features as IBM’s PS/2 PCs. That name was replaced in 1994 with PC Servers and then a few years later by Intel-based xSeries and System x solutions in IBM’s evolving server branding strategy.

Lenovo purchased IBM’s PC business and portfolio in 2005 and, nearly a decade later (2014), bought IBM’s System x server business, organization and intellectual property. As they had during the IBM PC acquisition, some competing vendors attempted to cast aspersions on Lenovo’s server deal. Just as it did in that earlier instance, Lenovo proved doubters wrong by investing in continuing technical and market innovations that helped the company achieve leadership in areas like supercomputing, high performance and hyperscale computing.

Equally importantly, Lenovo’s focus on infrastructure IT helped the company reach its goal of being a fully rounded vendor of integrated business solutions that extend from client devices to data centers to the furthest edges of corporate networks to the cloud.

Lenovo’s Infrastructure Solutions V3

Technical details for the new ThinkSystem, ThinkAgile and ThinkEdge solutions were thin on the ground, in large part because they will leverage next gen silicon and other technologies that haven’t been publicly disclosed. That said, the new Lenovo solutions are designed to appeal to organizations from small SMBs to large hyperscale players. They include:

  • New ThinkSystem servers in high volume rack and tower configurations, offerings for mission critical workloads and high-density environments, and flash storage systems. The new solutions will incorporate new Intel Xeon, AMD EPYC and Arm-based CPUs, as well as AMD Instinct and Nvidia GPUs and Nvidia AI Enterprise software
  • New ThinkAgile hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) offerings that are pre-integrated with Microsoft (ThinkAgile MX and ThinkAgile SX), Nutanix (ThinkAgile HX) and VMware (ThinkAgile VX) solutions. Among these are three new Lenovo Microsoft Azure Solutions: 1) SQL for AI and Machine Learning (ML) Insights, 2) Backup and Recovery, and 3) Azure Virtual Desktop.
  • New ThinkEdge servers featuring Intel Core & Intel Xeon processors, NVIDIA Jetson Xavier NX embedded solutions and Arm processors. The new Lenovo Open Cloud Automation (LOC-a)5 is designed to securely authenticate and activate ThinkEdge AI servers via a phone, accelerating business insights.
  • Lenovo XClarity One, a new open cloud software management platform that offers a single portal for managing Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Management-as-a-Service (MaaS) and Smarter Support functions. XClarity One is designed to simplify how customers manage IT orchestration, deployment, automation, metering and support processes from the edge to the cloud. It will also provide visibility into infrastructure performance, usage metering and support analytics.
  • Enhancements to Lenovo ThinkShield Security, including Modular Root of Trust which bolsters on-chip tamper-detection and monitoring to help customers detect and recover from cyberattacks and digital compromises. In addition, Lenovo System Guard incorporates advanced hardware monitoring to enhance the security of systems during manufacturing, delivery and deployment.
  • The fifth generation of Lenovo Neptune Direct Water-Cooling technology will be available on a broader range of servers. This feature uses loops of warm water to cool systems more efficiently than conventional air , enabling customers to reduce power consumption by up to 40 percent.
  • Sustainability-focused solutions, including Lenovo CO2 Offset Services which allows customers purchasing select ThinkSystem servers to offset emissions by supporting United Nations climate action projects. Lenovo’s new TruScale Sustainability services offer pay-as-you-go utilization that helps prevent over-provisioning and reduce energy consumption. Lenovo’s Asset Recovery Services are designed to simplify end-of-life asset disposal. Finally, Lenovo noted that innovative packaging designs, such as shipping servers pre-installed in racks have saved over 3.5 million pounds of cardboard to date.

No pricing or availability details were provided in the announcement.

Final analysis

Data center product portfolios tend to obscure the complexity of IT market evolution and how vendors respond by developing new commercial offerings. The increasing sophistication and segmentation of HCI is a good example of this. While initial solutions focused on businesses’ increasing interest in and use of software-defined IT that virtualized conventional system elements and functions, contemporary products like Lenovo’s ThinkAgile servers are designed to maximize the performance and value of specific partner applications and solutions, and related business processes.

Similar incremental developments are commonplace in virtually every corner of the business compute market, including on-premises corporate data centers, off-premises clouds and hyperscale infrastructures and combined hybrid and multi cloud environments. Since innovative vendors manage numerous and various kinds of product and process evolutions simultaneously, it can be difficult to perceive the extent of the IT “forest” due to the number and variety of the solution “trees.”

As a result, an event such as Lenovo’s 30th ThinkSystem anniversary can provide valuable insights into how a vendor has progressed and what it has accomplished over time. In the eight years since the System x deal with IBM, Lenovo has grown from a client computing powerhouse into a mature provider of end-to-end business computing solutions, including market-leading HPC and hyperscale systems.

In essence, a portrait of Lenovo a decade or so ago would have depicted an energetic and ambitious individual or small group of colleagues. In contrast, the new Lenovo’s Infrastructure Solutions V3 can be viewed as a family of interconnected members, all of them working toward both singular and deeply integrated goals. Considering the achievements and new offerings summarized in the Infrastructure Solutions V3 announcement, it will be fascinating to see what Lenovo accomplishes during the coming decade.

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