Partner tiering, accreditation changes on horizon for Lenovo

Lenovo’s increased emphasis over the last year on elements in the server space that go well beyond 1P and 2P servers is leading to some significant programmatic changes coming in 2017.


Sammy Kinlaw, Lenovo’s North American channel chief

Software defined storage and hyper-converged have become increasingly important elements in Lenovo’s portfolio. They are a key part of the rationale behind some significant changes that Lenovo will be announcing in the new year.

“North American partners need to be aware of two things that I’m planning, around partner tiering and partner accreditation,” said Sammy Kinlaw, Lenovo’s North American channel chief. “In January, we will be making a formal announcement about both tiering and accreditation on the DCG side.

The changes have been prompted by the growth of the System x server channel since its acquisition from IBM. The IBM channel had been fairly small and select, with a relatively small number of major players doing large volumes. With the entry of many Lenovo partners into the System x market, Kinlaw said that programmatic reorganization is needed.

“In the two years since we acquired System x, we have tripled the number of partners,” he said. “We will be making changes to the tiering model based on skillset. We also want to reward partners who are doing some unique things with us, and who have become more specialized, doing things like moving into software-defined. This will remain an open channel, but we want to reward partners with who have developed unique skills in some of these areas, like hyper-converged and HPC.”

Details will be coming in the new year.

These changes are a key part of Lenovo’s evolving of its server strategy, in which they are broadening out beyond 1P and 2P servers.

“Our focus had been on the 1P and 2P server market, where 50 per cent of servers are sold,” Kinlaw said. “That was and is an important piece of the market, and we are maintaining our strong commitment to it. However, we began to refine our effort starting a year ago at the Gartner Conference, and picking up over the last six months. HPC has become a big winner for us. Moreover, between now and 2020, $40 billion in revenue in traditional servers and storage will move to software-defined, and we have to adjust to that. The storage and compute market is changing. We have to be competitive today, but also competitive in the areas where the market is going. We want to be able to offer the hardware that can go along with many other companies’ software. We want to be the safe haven in the world of software-defined.”

This thinking was behind Lenovo’s announcement last month of its new ThinkAgile portfolio. In North America, it has a two-pronged approach, around appliance-centric solutions from Lenovo’s existing partnership with Nutanix, and a new partnership with Nimble Storage. In China, a third set of internally developed OpenStack-based offerings will also be rolled out, which will eventually become available elsewhere at some point.

“We have had Nutanix-based product for 10 months, and our relationship has widened since then,” Kinlaw said. “We are looking to add more Nutanix offerings. Nimble has a unique position in the market around flash array and flash storage, and we expect significant ThinkAgile opportunities there. We also have relationships with SAP, SImplivity, and a new storage offering with Cloudian. We want to be an open environment for software manufacturers who want to partner with a neutral hardware organization.”

While Lenovo’s global PC numbers have dipped recently, Kinlaw said they are still doing well in North America.

“We are pleased with our PC performance here,” he said. “In North America, we took 2.1 points of share. Our desktop business is up. Our premium business is up. We are the largest Chrome provider to the North American channel. Verticals like K-12 and healthcare have expanded dramatically. My average partner spend year-over-year in PCs is up 40 per cent.”

Kinlaw also called attention to a new spiff program they introduced four weeks ago.

“We have a very wide ecosystem of partners in DCG, so we want to make sure we have the right spiffs,” he said. “Partners can receive a debit card, with a maximum of $10,000 per quarter. There are no exclusions. Everyone can participate in this offering, which is an add-on to extend the appeal of Lenovo DCG products.”