‘Future-defined’ thinking the way forward for data centres

Tikiri Wanduragala

Monday 17 July 2017

At Lenovo, we believe it’s time to rethink data centre design basics by using platforms that can seamlessly upgrade existing infrastructure and build the next generation of software-defined data centre environments for maximum agility and performance. With our ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile premium offering portfolio, the future starts here.

With Lenovo recently launching ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile, the new brands are aimed at data centre infrastructure upgrades that span both current environments and next-generation software-defined data centre (SDDC) builds.

The development teams have been working on this project for three years with the aim to deliver innovation where the organisations need it most. As a result, ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile are not specific products, but rather frameworks for a range of solutions – and the ‘future-defined data centre’ phrase aptly describes the scope of these new brands.

Moving forward, we will witness existing and future technologies being incorporated into simple-to-use solution ‘building blocks’ to enable data centre infrastructure spanning small enterprises to the largest high performance computing environments.

Defining the future on strong foundations

Data centre design stands to benefit from some significant technological thought leadership. Lenovo had the option to upgrade our existing brand’s portfolio with the latest technologies, and release upgraded server, network and storage components. However, the top minds felt that, as we are at a pivot point in data centre evolution, a new approach was required to produce servers, network, storage and hybrid cloud systems that are relevant to current needs, and will stay relevant as future requirements emerge.

Lenovo recognises that a flexible stance on technological change is key, and that when it comes to innovation, nothing should be ruled out. ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile stand apart by not being saddled with legacy thinking.

For example, if five years ago you designed a server, you would have assumed that all associated storage would be located on a storage-area network (SAN). In doing so, you would have blueprinted a server able to connect to a SAN, and not considered internal storage like direct-attached storage (DAS) resources. However, DAS is becoming more popular with software-defined storage solutions that require servers to support larger numbers of internal drives while also operating within given thermal parameters.

Similarly, five years ago it would have been safe to assume that all the memory in the server was dynamic (data held only when the system was in powered mode). Yet in the near future this will not be the case, because the performance of persistent memory will improve in price performance to the extent that it may be included in the server’s memory slots working in combination with dynamic memory. This adds a whole new dimension to the scope and capabilities of the applications that will soon become available – and the IT infrastructure must be future-ready.

New platform for the next-generation of data centres

As Newton said: “I have seen further because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” This is why ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile have been built using the experience gained from Lenovo’s established server product lines, System x and ThinkServer. From System x we took proven reliability, performance and security, while from ThinkServer we took the concept of open standards, plus optimised manufacturing and supply chain. In effect, Lenovo has refreshed the defining principles, from a life-cycle view, design and manufacturing, all the way through to deployment, operation, service, support and end-of-life product disposal.

At Lenovo, we manufacture a significant proportion of our PC and server products (unlike many other players in this space), which enables quantifiably better economies of scale and builds quality control. We manufacture products regionally – in the Americas, Europe and the Far East – so we can optimise our supply chain down to a country level, and be more responsive to customer requirements.

Quantification is important. An independent study on server reliability validated Lenovo’s life-cycle approach. Lenovo x86 servers achieved the highest reliability ratings among all competing x86 platforms, and users rated Lenovo tech support best (followed by Cisco and IBM).

“IBM and Lenovo hardware and the Linux operating system distributions were either first or second in every reliability category, including virtualisation and security,” the ITIC study reported.

Partnership insights guide operations reqs

Deep partnerships with independent software vendors (ISVs) are another strength that Lenovo drew on over the three years it took to bring ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile to market. Our relationships with SAP and Microsoft are shining examples of this.

Working with leading enterprise vendors like SAP on its own HANA cloud gives Lenovo confidence in building the next generation of clouds that run enterprise-class in-memory databases. Working with Microsoft on its Azure-based hybrid cloud solution also provides us with valuable insights into present-day operational requirements, and on the direction hybrid clouds are heading.

ThinkSystem is the brand covering all the infrastructure building blocks of server, storage and networking products. ThinkAgile takes ThinkSystem ‘building blocks’ and combines them with ISV products to make a fully functional solution built at Lenovo’s facilities. They are then deployed in customer data centres (with Lenovo services) so they can focus on solving their business challenges without the distraction of figuring out how all the different hardware and software pieces connect.

ThinkAgile is more of an appliance approach where you have a specific solution in mind. The first ThinkAgile solution has been built in partnership with Microsoft as a fully integrated hybrid cloud solution.

Innovation is in Lenovo’s DNA

The next strands of DNA incorporated into ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile are our heritage and experience in HPC. Lenovo’s global position as the fastest-growing high-performance computing vendor, and as the vendor with the highest share of HPC systems installed in the EMEA region, provides valuable information on related areas of computing like big data, data analytics and artificial intelligence.

Lenovo ThinkSystem is designed to facilitate innovation and is already doing so. To reinforce this, we chose to launch the ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile brands in EMEA at ISC High Performance in Frankfurt. The prestigious conference is all about knowledge-sharing – an aspiration that we at Lenovo, with our ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile systems, definitely endorse.

For me, the simple proof point here is that on the day it was announced, there was already an operational installation of more than 3400 nodes powered by the Intel® Xeon® Processor Scalable family running at the University of Barcelona – one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

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