Today news of IBM’s proposed selling of the “low-end” x86 business to Lenovo was announced, so does this mean the end of Big Blue blade servers?
Rumors have been circulating for 12 – 18 months that IBM was ready to get out of the x86 business, so I can’t say that the announcement today is a big surprise to many people in the marketplace. As you may recall, IBM sold off the PC division to Lenovo in 2005 for $1.25B so Lenovo was the most obvious recipients of the x86 product line. Lenovo is no stranger to the x86 market – they’ve been selling low end servers (with the engineering help from IBM) since 2008 (check out this old report from CRN.) However, they’ve only focused on low-end, tower and rack systems and in fact have never had a blade server offering (or a 4 socket offering.) So you may wonder, will the blade servers and 4 socket servers be part of the deal? The answer is “yes” – Lenovo will get System x, BladeCenter and Flex System blade servers and switches, x86-based Flex integrated systems, NeXtScale and iDataPlex servers and associated software, blade networking and maintenance operations, according to the official IBM press release on IBM.com.
Having gone through an acquisition or two, I can tell you a few things will probably happen – first, it’ll be “business as usual” for the first year or two. This means the next cycle of Intel CPUs (Haswell) due to come out in Q4 of 2014 will generate a new product line of servers from all the server vendors, including IBM. Although I doubt there will be any BladeCenter blade servers with the Intel Haswell, I’m confident that IBM has already designed and developed new Flex System blade servers with Haswell CPUs. That has been in the works for 1+ years therefore there is no sense in stopping it from coming to the market. So, fear not, IBM customers – you’ll have something shiny and new to put in your Flex System.
However, as Lenovo takes over the IBM server business, along with it comes sales, operations, engineering, developers, etc – many of which Lenovo has in place already today. Many of these roles overlap, therefore you can expect some thinning of the ranks. When you look at the existing server design / engineering team at Lenovo, odds are they aren’t looking at or planning for the next generation (after the Intel Haswell) blade server or the next generation 4 socket server so it would be wise for Lenovo to grab as many engineers and planners for the next generation server from IBM as possible. The only problem is, recent news reports from the announcement state that Lenovo is only offering 7600 jobs to IBM employees and they surely won’t be all to the IBM server engineers.
The other concern I have, beyond the future of the higher end x86 servers from this acquisition, is the quality. If you purchased a ThinkPad prior to the Lenovo acquisition of the ThinkPad brand and then after Lenovo started making the laptops, you’ll understand where my concern is. Opening a pre-Lenovo ThinkPad and comparing it to a post-Lenovo ThinkPad shows that Lenovo didn’t use the same level of quality that IBM did (in my opinion.) Apparently many others felt the same way, based on a Google search from 2008. Will System x servers be impacted in the same way – only time will tell.
Kevin Houston is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BladesMadeSimple.com. He has over 15 years of experience in the x86 server marketplace. Since 1997 Kevin has worked at several resellers in the Atlanta area, and has a vast array of competitive x86 server knowledge and certifications as well as an in-depth understanding of VMware and Citrix virtualization. Kevin works for Dell as a Server Sales Engineer covering the Global Enterprise market.
Disclaimer: The views presented in this blog are personal views and may or may not reflect any of the contributors’ employer’s positions. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any employer.