Lenovo Data Centre Group: Intelligent Transformation for Business

“We are in a time of great global transformation – economically, socially and environmentally. For businesses to thrive in today’s fast-paced, uncertain and changing world they too have to transform. At Lenovo Data Centre Group, the intelligent transformation has always been part of our story, from powering work that is designed to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges to helping businesses on their journeys of transformation”, asserts Vivek Sharma, Managing Director Lenovo Data Centre Group, India in conversation with Poulami Chakraborty, BW SmartCities. Excerpts below:

Please enlighten us about the vision and structure of Lenovo Data Center Group? 

Our goal is to be the data center partner of choice for all organizations. We want our customers and partners to grow with Lenovo, and that means putting the customer needs and pain points at the heart of everything we do – helping businesses to tackle challenges, improve performance and work flexibly. We draw on the might of high-performance cloud and emerging technologies to deliver innovation, opportunity and growth.  

We are in a time of great global transformation – economically, socially and environmentally. For businesses to thrive in today’s fast-paced, uncertain and changing world they too have to transform. At Lenovo Data Center Group, the intelligent transformation has always been part of our story, from powering work that is designed to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges to helping businesses on their journeys of transformation.   

We extend this belief as a value proposition to our customers and partners, and focus on three key building blocks for enabling Intelligent Transformation: data, computing power and algorithms:

  • Data fuels all possibilities and smart devices play an important role in generating and connecting this data.
  • Computing power is the engine that turns this fuel into power.
  • Advanced algorithms combined with Big Data and industry know-how produce valuable insights that create value for every industry.

We also aim to provide our customers and partners with greater choice and seamless, high-quality performance without the heavy lifting and complexity. As an organization with visibility on every aspect of technology from the pocket to the data center, we are unique in our ability to unify and offer a wide ranging portfolio of cutting edge technologies from cloud, SDI, HCI and connected devices from edge to core, to deliver end-to-end solutions that create value globally.

We have a truly complete suite of solutions that addresses the needs of businesses across a range of industries:

HCI: ThinkAgile Series: ThinkAgile HX & VX: The Lenovo ThinkAgile HX series combines Nutanix software with Lenovo’s highly reliable and scalable servers. The VX series leverages our partnership with VMware, simplifies and modernises IT infrastructure to an environment that provides fine-grained scalability, high-performance, and world-class reliability.

ThinkAgile MX1021: ThinkAgile MX1021 harnesses the power of Microsoft Azure Stack HCI at the edge to reduce latency and analyse data at the source, providing secure data movement directly to the data center or to Azure in the public cloud.

Storage: The ThinkSystem DM series delivers a portfolio of enterprise-grade, multiprotocol storage systems that increases performance and capacity. Our second portfolio, the ThinkSystem DE series, is designed for mid-sized IT environments and supports block storage protocols.

HPC and AI: Lenovo is an industry leader in supercomputing globally.  We extended our number one position in the Top 500 Supercomputing list to 173 systems across 20 markets (as of June 2019) and the largest global provider of TOP500 installations. 17 of 25 top research universities run Lenovo.  We also have been recognized as one of the fastest ramping hyper-converged companies and expanded our software-defined infrastructure portfolio through partnerships with Nutanix, VMware, Microsoft and others.

How has been the business in the Indian market so far since your inception? How has been the market behavior and adoption of data centers in India till the pre-COVID scenario?

After Lenovo acquired the x86 business from IBM in Oct 2014, we underwent a significant transformation. In these six years, the focus of mainstream data centers has been on digital transformation. We have seen hyper-growth in our software-defined infrastructure (SDI) solutions as a result. The attraction to the SDI technologies lay in the fact that they bring the benefits of the public cloud into the customer’s data center without compromising on latency, costs and data control.

Developments like this have placed our business on a journey of growth – we are seeing positive developments in tracking towards our aim to be the data center partner of choice for all organizations in India. We look at the market from multiple perspectives, mainly from large enterprise and global accounts, but we also cater to the huge opportunity in mid-market and SMBs. The channel ecosystem in India continues to play a critical role in Lenovo DCG’s overall growth and our focus for 2020 is to continue this momentum, continuously growing with our partners and customers and applying our technology to help businesses maintain continuity.

COVID-19 has forever changed the way we live and work. Businesses have been forced to transform and shift to virtual, remote working models - now working from home isn’t a privilege, perk or benefit, it's a necessity. Earlier, strategies to adopt digital transformation were a major part of the discussions to achieve future phases of business growth. These discussions have now been accelerated, and data center technologies have been brought to the forefront as companies are under rising pressure to get their teams operating virtually, all while staying safe and secure, augmenting and optimising capacity, and planning for the long-term.

Data centers globally are coming under strain to serve the increased volumes of web traffic from everyone working and consuming entertainment at home. Now more than ever, people are looking to the IT industry to help manage this and ensure continuity of operations.

What roadmap do you envision for data centres in India after we overcome the COVID pandemic? How do we expect the end users to react and what might be the industry’s shape?

As we look ahead to recovery, we need to embrace virtual operations and everything else that comes with life in the new “Smart Normal”. Even the most traditionally conservative sectors are seeing greater demand for IT services and devices, with an uptake in devices ranging from phones and notebooks to edge devices and data center solutions, that are server sourced to run Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI). We have seen growing adoption of AI, IoT and Edge computing in the past. Going forward we expect businesses to balance these technologies and leverage them in the most efficient ways to support business growth.

We are experiencing two kinds of requirements emerging from data centers. One is related to short term capacity requirements, most of which are getting mitigated with robust solutions like VDI which allows for secure scaling of remote working needs. When it comes to remote working, VDI solutions are resonating as it offers a good balance of security and accessibility, without burning through capital expenditure. Cloud and SDI are a huge focus, with everyone moving quickly to the public cloud but then looking at SDI to build long term solutions.

Covid-19 is certainly playing a big role in accelerating digital transformation - and we've essentially seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months. For the long term, data centers are going to play a critical role in automation needs. Be it in robotics, remote medicine, personal medical records accessible anywhere, remote assistants in the hospitality industry, safe supply chains and AI – huge focus is being placed on automation as part of recovery plans and to minimise disruption in the event of another force majeure.

With social distancing and sanitation measures we’ll see an embrace of automation technologies, whether in the form of kiosk ordering in restaurants, checkout-free shopping or robotic sanitation machines. Automation tends to happen in bursts, concentrated especially in tough times - over three recessions in the past 30 years, a whopping 88% of automation of routine jobs and workforce reallocation took place. All of this calls for cloud-ready technologies which customers may not always be comfortable running out of public clouds.

What solutions are you going to scale out to deliver cost-effective, reliable and scalable data center solutions?

We are working closely with many of our customers to help them adapt to the challenges of today’s environment as seamlessly as possible. Software defined infrastructure (SDI) from Lenovo now offers cost effective and reliable solutions for our customers and partners. Since SDI works on the concept of “Scale as you Grow”, customers can start small and scale their infrastructure as and when their workloads increase. SDI’s ease of manageability, lower data center footprint and faster time to production ensures that customers can realise better ROI from their investment. The Total Cost of Ownership also is less when compared to traditional infrastructure. And with Lenovo’s open and flexible approach to SDI, customers can pick and choose the best fit solution which fulfils their technical requirements within their allocated budget.

Customers as on date need solutions that can be deployed quickly, are easy to manage and cost-effective. Lenovo’s SDI solutions exactly address these needs of the customers - these are factory integrated appliances which can be quickly put to production. Lenovo ThinkAgile SDI offerings are turnkey solutions which are simple to manage and support. With reduced operational complexity, customers can focus on delivering IT rather than managing it.

Full range subscription service models are also emerging as a more convenient way to access and use solutions, without the downfalls of ownership or the need for large cash investments. Lenovo ThinkAgile SDI is a scale out “Pay as you Grow” model and with Lenovo’s Financial Services (LFS) Lease Model, customers can select a complete solution from predefined options that include best-in-class Lenovo ThinkAgile software-defined infrastructure and ThinkAdvantage 24x7 support for a predictable monthly subscription fee. As business organizations work to mitigate the impact of the current global crisis, a variety of financial and asset lifecycle options are immediately available to address the most pressing challenges that customers are facing.

And with Lenovo ThinkAgile SDI solutions now available through LFS, we can offer true cloud economics on-premise - meaning you not only scale as you grow, but pay as you grow as well. Lenovo ThinkAgile solutions can now offer the same level of flexibility, agility and subscription based billing to customers with much better price to performance ratio when compared to public cloud providers.

What importance does a long term business continuity perspective hold in the current times?

COVID has reshaped the world as we know it, accelerating the shift to virtual and remote working models for businesses across the globe, adapting to the ‘new normal’. To tackle current IT infrastructure limitations, companies are shifting to quick-fix solutions without considering the longevity of their plans and deployments.

The nature of how you look at business continuity in a data center has also now changed for the short term and most certainly for the long term. And here are some of the variables that have changed:

  • Security – there are more cyberattacks now than ever before. Our own Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) has observed a 50% increase in this type of activity in the last 6 weeks alone. How do you manage this surge of attacks and not compromise on your business continuity?
  • Capacity – we’re seeing CIOs suddenly being asked for 10x bandwidth, compute capacity and storage that they didn’t budget for – and with no increase in resources either.
  • Costs – with an uncertain future ahead, everyone has to prioritise where they spend. Every company needs to ask - can you afford to use public cloud as a primary DR? Can you use a full stack capex on your DR site? How do you balance this spend with that for new initiatives?

This is a fundamental turning point for businesses to race to recovery and future of growth. It is unpredictable how the market will shape up in the future. However, the focus should be on putting the right policies and technology in place to enable teams to seamlessly work from home and prepare systems to handle the increased online activity.

What technology adoption and demand trends do you observe in India & APAC?

Majority of customers at Lenovo DCG are turning to technology to help them work around lockdown and containment measures, and deliver the quickest, most efficient solutions to maintain business continuity and keep their teams and organizations secure.

Short term changes demand increased capacity to enable remote working. But looking at long term, a lot of requirements are about living in the new smart normal. Banks are investing in contactless transactions. Telemedicine is a lot more mainstream now, as is remote education. We see interest from the hospitality industry in features like contactless check-in experience, that when travel resumes, are more likely to be considered safer than traditional check-in experiences.

According to IDC, the biggest impact seen because of COVID-19 is the changing demand for technologies and processes due to mandated WFH policies and supply chain disruptions.

How do you observe the way forward for SMEs to address immediate challenges & make the right investments for long-term continuation?

Indian SMEs are facing multiple challenges in running seamless operations, enabling work from home to their employees, etc. While bigger IT/ITes companies have also been affected by the pandemic, SMEs have seen a greater impact and require a contingency plan to recover and minimise further business damage. Effectively, they should look at the situation from two key perspectives – managing their technology & cashflow.

Managing Technology: To maintain business continuity, SMEs must identify and adopt solutions that enable them to operate virtually, enabling each employee to connect smoothly and securely. However, securing employees in one aspect of this. It is equally important to secure your data, the customers data that you own and the various public service data that many public entities own. Right investment in VDI solutions will enable SMEs to easily manage workload while providing secure and seamless work from home.

Managing Cashflow: Supply chains have been massively disrupted, impacting the payment cycle and creating continuity challenges for SMEs. Our advice to these small & medium enterprises is to invest in OPEX rather than CAPEX, thus opting for consumption-based models that allow flexibility to scale up and down, depending on the market requirements.

With our Software-Defined Infrastructure, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure & TruScale offerings, Lenovo DCG is helping India Inc to find new ways to tackle the challenges of today’s disruptions while planning ahead to help them get their IT set up for future recovery and growth.

With the current situation when most enterprise businesses are accepting the new normal of virtuality, please elaborate on how ‘right’ technology has become a backbone to stay operational in the virtual world?

Dependence on technology in the current times is not a choice but a need. Technology has become an enabler for business continuity and crucial to adapt to the new smart normal – enabling millions of businesses around the globe to continue running as their employees work from home. It is also keeping us entertained and connected to our loved ones.

The right technology differs from sector to sector – it can be categorized with ease of use, manageability, scalability & flexibility. Our priority as technology providers is not just to offer interim solutions to help our customers maintain business continuity today, but also to prepare them for the future by mapping out their long-term needs; ultimately, getting their businesses back on the path to embracing innovation, realizing opportunity and sustaining growth.

The reality we live in now will be our new ‘smart’ normal - one deeply rooted in leveraging technology and there is no doubt that it will become even more ingrained into our daily lives in the future.