Lenovo DCG retools on multiple fronts to drive disruption

Stefan Bockhop, Executive Director of Channels North America for the Lenovo Data Center Group

In April, long-time Canadian channel chief Stefan Bockhop was promoted to a newly created position of Executive Director of Channels North America for the Lenovo Data Center Group [DCG]. The role has both responsibility for Lenovo’s traditional VAR, SI and MSP partners, and for Lenovo’s OEM businesses. This week, Bockhop talked with ChannelBuzz about what he is doing in his new role, what Lenovo is doing to advance channel business on the data centre front, and how it all fits in to the company’s plane to drive the DCG business forward.

While Lenovo used a generalist model for the DCG in the ten quarters since the acquisition of IBM’s System X business led to its creation, results remained short of expectations the company had recognized the time had come to move to a more specialized model. While broad structural changes have taken place to this effect, Bockhop’s position is one of them.

“The recognition was that we needed more specialization in going after this market for the channel,” Bockhop said. “That’s why my position was created, to focus our teams and the team at the distributors around the data centre business. There’s an opportunity to have a different conversation with a different group of back office and front office folks.

“I spent some time making sure that we are structurally set up in the best way to go after the marketplace, which involved bringing some new folks onto the team,” he indicated.

Bockhop indicated as well that the launch of the new tiered DCG partner program this spring, with greater emphasis on recognizing partner efforts, was another reason why his position was created.

“They needed someone to administer this,” he said. “It was a tremendous opportunity for me and I jumped at that chance.”

The first quarter of that new tiered program is now complete.

“The feedback from partners has been overwhelmingly positive,” Bockhop said. “The program provides enough of a differentiation that it matters, but its clean enough that they don’t incur a ton of costs.”

Some enhancements to the program are on the horizon.

“We are going to make some changes around deal registration, for the October time frame, to make it cleaner, faster and quicker,” Bockhop said. “The deal registration as it stands is a good program, but we want to make it even more beneficial.”

A top priority has been improving the go-to-market motion.

“We are trying to make it more attractive for partners moving into the agile infrastructure space to do it with Lenovo,” Bockhop said. “This includes making it more attractive to partners, by providing more support and incents. When doing hyper-converged deployments, they get white glove support from Lenovo, and can earn additional incents on their first set of installations. The hope is that they will continue with muscle memory after that initial engagement.”

Bockhop also highlighted Lenovo’s new launch, not just of its new servers, but of its two new brands,

“We have just launched the widest portfolio launch in our history, with two new brands around Think System and ThinkAgile products,” Bockhop said. The ThinkSystem brand is mainly Lenovo’s servers, which now enjoy the goodness of Intel’s brand new Xeon Scalable processors, but also includes their storage arrays and networking switches. The ThinkAgile brand, originally introduced last fall, was soon buffeted by the loss of the converged infrastructure appliances from a partnership with Nimble Storage when HPE bought Nimble. The reformed ThinkAgile now contains the HX hyper-converged appliances in partnership with Nutanix, and a new addition, Lenovo ThinkAgile SX for Microsoft Azure Stack.

Lenovo’s server launch, held two weeks before the Intel Scalable launch at their Lenovo Transform event in New York City, involved 14 servers across rack and tower, mission critical, dense and blade platforms

“At the start of the server launch, we were awarded 42 number one benchmarks from Intel – that’s out of 58 – and that’s a good place to be,” Bockhop said. “We think the platform is pretty solid.”

Beyond the new Intel Scalable processors and Lenovo’s performance numbers on them, the company is touting the manageability of their servers as a differentiator against competitors who also now have the new processors.

“Manageability is what matters from a customer point of view,” Bockhop said. “That’s what matters for customers – the end result of the business outcome, and being able to link up to the rest of the ecosystem with a great management experience.”

The server launch also saw several hyper-converged announcements made from the ThinkAgile side, including the Lenovo ThinkAgile SX for Nutanix (SXN), enabled with ThinkAgile Network Orchestrator, a turnkey hyperconverged rack-scale offering born of an integration between Lenovo CNOS network switches and Nutanix Prism management.

“The Nutanix product was featured at our booth at the Nutanix .NEXT event two weeks ago, and got a lot of traffic and a lot of interest from customers,” Bockhop said. “They saw it as a way to wrap Nutanix all together in a ThinkAgile offering.”

Bockhop also highlighted the importance of the new ThinkAgile offering around the Azure Stack, as well as the Lenovo Cloud Validated Design for Red Hat OpenStack Platform.

“Customer desire for platform choice has driven us to embrace this open ecosystem,” Bockhop said.

He also stressed that Lenovo’s lack of a legacy business in storage and networking works to their advantage in being able to foment data centre disruption.

“That’s the reason we are able to do all the things we are doing,” Bockhop stated. “We lack some of that legacy in the data centre, so we don’t have that legacy baggage to protect, as our competitors do. That lets us be disruptive in our approach to the datacentre. It also helps people look on us as a trusted datacentre partner because of that lack of legacy to protect.”