Will Lenovo ever think beyond hardware?

Then again, why develop your own software à la HPE GreenLake when you can use someone else's?

Analysis Lenovo fancies its TruScale anything-as-a-service (XaaS) platform as a more flexible competitor to HPE GreenLake or Dell Apex. Unlike its rivals, Lenovo doesn't believe it needs to mimic all aspects of the cloud to be successful.

While subscription services are nothing new for Lenovo, the company only recently consolidated its offerings into a unified XaaS service called TruScale.

On the surface TruScale ticks most of the XaaS boxes — cloud-like consumption model, subscription pricing — and it works just like you'd expect. Sign up for a certain amount of compute capacity and a short time later a rack full of pre-plumbed compute, storage, and network boxes are delivered to your place of choosing, whether that's a private datacenter, colo, or edge location.

Technically, TruScale isn't limited to datacenter products and encompasses Lenovo's entire portfolio including PCs, laptops, and smartphones.

It's the same basic idea that HPE has been peddling with its GreenLake platform for the better part of three years. But where Lenovo's TruScale differs from GreenLake is what happens after you plug it all in.

Why develop your own software when you can use someone else's?

Unlike HPE, Lenovo hasn't invested the same effort into building a custom software ecosystem to accompany its hardware.

Lenovo's strategy has involved "taking the best in the marketplace with our partners like Deloitte, Microsoft, VMware, Nutanix, and others and working together, along with our channel partners, to provide a solution that meets the client's needs," Dale Aultman, VP and GM for Lenovo's infrastructure solutions group services, told The Register. "Clients want choice… and they do not want to be locked up by a single choice."

The approach is one of the biggest differentiators between the OEM giants' XaaS strategies, according to Futurum Principal Analyst Daniel Newman, who called Greenlake's control plane a winning strategy.

"Look at the lock-in that cloud companies have when they build relationships with their developers on a control plane level. AWS, Azure, they've built a control plane that's ease to consume, easy to move workloads, easy to set up," he told The Register.

He contends that HPE recognized that customers weren't just moving to the cloud for consumption-based compute resources and that a control plane that makes it easy to consume was just as important.

But that's not to say that Lenovo is on the wrong track or even needs to invest in a GreenLake-style software ecosystem, Newman noted. "Lenovo has thought about this from the other way in. It's more about how companies want to spend money and consume."

He argues that there are plenty of datacenter operators interested in moving to a subscription model, but have existing software investments they're not ready to give up or migrate. "If you're already a VMware customer and you're running on Tanzu, you're probably fairly locked in" to that ecosystem, Newman added.

It's also not like TruScale is completely devoid of software either. In addition to a low-level software stack used for monitoring, firmware management, maintenance, and metering, the company also allows customers to bundle an array of third-party software as part of the overall subscription.

Lenovo is positioning itself as the XaaS provider of choice for customers looking to "make more of what they have," Newman said, adding that this approach isn't without its risks.

HPE's software ecosystem is what makes it "sticky," he explained. In other words, once a customers enter GreenLake's software ecosystem, they're unlikely to leave. By comparison, relying on third-party software means Lenovo can avoid the cost of developing and maintaining its own control plane, but also makes it far easier for customers to take their workloads elsewhere.

On the flip side, if software appetites change, the ability for customers to deploy the software of their choice means they don't have to wait for a company like HPE to add support for the tech.

Is a software pivot in Lenovo's future?

For now, Lenovo's strategy appears to be paying off. During the company's latest earnings call last month, CFO Wai Wong boasted that TruScale had helped drive 63 percent revenue growth in the company's managed services business unit since it launch last September.

As to whether TruScale will ever think beyond hardware, Aultman declined to share specifics, but didn't explicitly rule out the possibility. "There may be investment in capabilities that we're working on that we won't talk about today," she said.

Newman's take is that Lenovo's TruScale platform will evolve with customer's needs. "If the company sees that there's going to be a demand-destroying event to not be in software, the company will move as much as necessary," he said.

TruScale "may never be seen as the kind of disruptor or innovator," Newman added. "They may be seen more as a usable commodity or usable service that is just meeting customers where they need to be and… that's not always a bad thing." ®

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