Lenovo, IBM x86 server strategy gets clarity as acquisition looms

IBM will provide the high-end System X and Flex products to complement Lenovo's low-end ThinkServer products

With Lenovo expected to close its IBM x86 server business acquisition by year end, a glimpse at the combined server product line has emerged.

Once the deal closes, IBM's System X and Flex servers with x86 chips will fill out Lenovo's high-end product line. Meanwhile, Lenovo's ThinkServer products will be targeted at small and medium-size businesses, according to an IBM presentation.

The companies on Monday separately introduced servers with Intel's new Xeon E5-2600 v3 chip, also announced Monday. But it also gave IBM -- which has been largely quiet since the deal was announced -- an opportunity to chime in on how it will add value to Lenovo's server offerings before and after the deal is complete.

IBM and Lenovo will combine to offer the widest range of server offerings in the industry, before and after the transaction is complete, IBM said.

Lenovo's always offered low-end servers, but the addition of IBM's technology will add a new class of high-end servers to its portfolio for applications like analytics and databases. Lenovo will cover the entire gamut of enterprise customers once it finishes the acquisition of IBM's x86 server business, which has already been approved by the Chinese and U.S. governments.

Lenovo announced it would acquire IBM's x86 server business for US$2.3 billion in January. Rivals Hewlett-Packard and Dell have since aggressively pursued IBM's large customer base with the aim to switch some users over. But IBM and Lenovo have tried to diffuse any uncertainty by saying their respective product lines will remain intact and that levels of support will remain the same.

IBM and Lenovo have worked together on sales and support of servers in the past years.

"After the deal closes, IBM will continue to provide maintenance delivery on Lenovo's behalf for an extended period pursuant to the terms of a five-year maintenance service agreement with IBM. Customers who originated contracts with IBM should not see a change in their maintenance support for the duration of the customer's contract," IBM said in a presentation slide that mentions "Lenovo's service commitment."

IBM will retain mainframe and server products with homegrown Power8 processors. Flex integrated servers use both x86 and IBM's Power8 chips, and IBM is expected to retain systems with the Power8 chips.

IBM's new System X M5 lineup with x86 chips include the new System x3650 M5 server, which is 2U in size and can have up to two 18-core Xeon chips, 1.5TB of memory and 86.4TB of storage. A smaller sibling, the System x3550, has fewer disk bays and 24TB of maximum storage capacity.

IBM also introduced servers for its NextScale System, which has a number of servers linked in a larger chassis. In addition, the company will also ship the System x3500 M5, a 5U tower server with 72TB of storage, in the first quarter next year.

Lenovo announced the ThinkServer RD550 and RD650 rack servers, which start at US$1,829 and $1,929 respectively, and the TD350 tower server, which starts at $1,629. The servers will ship on Sept. 8.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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