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Lenovo today introduced the brand name ThinkAgile for its preintegrated, prevalidated infrastructure offerings and expanded its portfolio with a new converged option based on Nimble Storage arrays.
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The Lenovo ThinkAgile CX Series combines Nimble Storage's all-flash and hybrid storage systems with Lenovo's rackmount and blade servers, as well as its top-of-rack switches. The first Lenovo converged infrastructure product is due to ship on Oct. 28.
Lenovo also is beefing up the HX Series of hyper-converged appliances it introduced earlier this year through a partnership with Nutanix. The newly dubbed ThinkAgile HX products will add Lenovo networking and management capabilities. In the past, the appliances integrated only storage and compute, according to Radhika Krishnan, general manager of converged infrastructure and networking at Lenovo, based in Morrisville, N.C.
Also in the works are Lenovo ThinkAgile appliances targeting customers who use open source OpenStack cloud technology. The initial offering, called ThinkCloud AIO, will be available later this year in the China market. ThinkCloud AIO uses Lenovo compute and networking, as well as open source Ceph storage.
"When customers evaluate the public cloud, they do that because there's a perceived advantage around agility and speed, time to provision or time to value. We're trying to replicate a lot of that with our ThinkAgile appliances," Krishnan said. "Essentially, you can think of it as private cloud in a rack that you can wheel into your data center, and everything is up and running in a very short period of time."
Lenovo-Nimble Storage partnership
The partnership with Nimble Storage represents Lenovo's latest effort to expand beyond the PC and server markets, where it made its name. In addition to Nutanix, Lenovo's storage partners include Nexenta Systems, with a turnkey appliance for unified file and block storage, and Cloudian, with a factory-integrated object storage appliance.
Lenovo also sells S Series and V Series storage arrays based on Seagate's Dot Hill and IBM Storwize, respectively. The OEM and licensing deal for Storwize was part of Lenovo's 2014 transaction to buy IBM's Intel-based System x server business for $2.3 billion.
The new partnership with Nimble will start with converged infrastructure and extend to additional flash-based storage products starting in the first half of next year, according to Stuart McRae, director of storage product planning and product management at Lenovo.
"The Lenovo-Nimble products will be worldwide. That's going to be sold as our flagship all-flash storage and hybrid storage," McRae said. "Today, our portfolio is really focused in the entry SAN, as well as our software-defined file and object storage. This [Nimble] product gives us what I would call our first tier-one all-flash solution that's Lenovo-branded and delivered."
McRae said Lenovo chose Nimble not only for its flash technology, but also for its InfoSight analytics, which can predict and prevent problems across the data center. He said Lenovo plans to integrate its XClarity infrastructure management software with InfoSight.
"[InfoSight] started focused on the storage layer of the stack, but, increasingly, we've been adding capability to look into the hypervisor and into compute," said Dan Leary, vice president of corporate development at Nimble Storage, based in San Jose, Calif.
"One of the reasons we're so excited about this relationship into the ThinkAgile platform is this is a natural opportunity for us to extend the reach of InfoSight across the entire stack."
Leary said Nimble is also anxious to take advantage of Lenovo's global reach into markets where the company still has a "fairly immature presence."
The Lenovo ThinkAgile CX Series will be available through Lenovo's partner channels. McRae said Lenovo will serve as the point of contact for all support, but would collaborate with Nimble when necessary. Pricing was unavailable.
"Both vendors bring specific skills and strengths to the arrangement that are either greater or more focused than the other," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Inc., wrote in an email. "That said, Nimble's expertise in flash-based analytics is still fairly rarified for the general market."
King said the competition for Lenovo ThinkAgile CX includes vendors with better name and market recognition, such as Dell EMC, IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. But he said he expects Lenovo's converged system to be a serious contender.
"They're here to play, and any vendor who disputes that or fails to take Lenovo seriously could be face down in the mud before long," King wrote.
Gina Longoria, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said Lenovo's supply chain strength could provide an opportunity for the company to offer a cost advantage over the competition. But she cautioned, via email, ThinkAgile CX faces an "uphill battle" against the entrenched, incumbent vendors.
Tim Stammers, a senior analyst at 451 Research, said the converged infrastructure market has grown rapidly since EMC and Cisco invented the concept. He said customers enjoy advantages such as rapid installation, repeatability, eased component updates and one-throat-to-choke support.
"Lenovo clearly wants to expand out of servers and more into storage, and the partnership with Nimble is a pretty good idea for both companies," Stammers said. "Nimble's ambition is to achieve the critical mass it needs to survive in a very competitive market for midrange storage, which is a shrinking market.
"Nimble's done very well. It's grown its revenues. It has a product with a very good reputation. It's still struggling to reach profitability, and it's not the first startup with that problem," Stammers said. "Nimble's overseas revenues are not that big, and Lenovo can help Nimble sell overseas."
Nimble's arrays currently use Supermicro hardware. Leary did not say if Nimble would switch to Lenovo hardware. He said only that Nimble's differentiation is based on its operating system and InfoSight software, and the company sees opportunities to enable its software on additional hardware in the future.
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