IBM may be motivated to sell parts of its server business for similar reasons. The profits it makes from commodity servers are much lower than those it can get from other areas, such as its middleware, Unix servers and consulting services. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has also said he has no interest in selling commodity hardware.
But exiting the commodity x86 server market is not such an obvious good move for IBM as exiting the PC market, Olds said. Low-cost x86 servers remain a core part of the infrastructure used in hot markets such as big data analysis and cloud deployments.
Revenue from x86 servers climbed 6 percent in the fourth quarter last year to $9.7 billion, according to figures from IDC. That was the highest quarterly revenue ever recorded for x86 servers, which accounted for two-thirds of all server spending.
While IBM wouldn't comment on any talks with Lenovo, CFO Mark Loughridge did say on IBM's earnings call Thursday that parts of its business are "in transition or have been underperforming." He singled out Power systems, storage products and System x, which is IBM's brand for its x86 systems.
"Here we are going to take substantial actions," he said, without elaborating. He added later that the company has actions planned to improve its long-term performance, including "acquiring and divesting businesses."