Lenovo Rakes In Most TOP500 Systems And Two Years Ahead Of Schedule

By Patrick Moorhead - July 6, 2018

It’s that time of year again at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) conference, where records are being broken, and new lists created. This year’s ISC is being held in Frankfurt, Germany, and Lenovo announced that it had officially become the number one provider of supercomputing systems, as ranked by the number of systems placed on the TOP500 list.

Lenovo now makes up 117 of the 500 most powerful supercomputers on the planet—almost 1 in 4. Lenovo’s system designs are helping drive important research all over the world—the Marconi Supercomputer in Italy, Canada’s SciNet, Germany’s Leibniz-Rechenzentrum, India’s Liquid Propulsion System Centre, and many more. Today I wanted to talk a little about how Lenovo got to this point, and what it means for the company. Aside from the bragging rights, this achievement is notable because it showcases just how far Lenovo has come in high-performance computing over the past several years. Let’s take a look back.  Sure, IBM was an HPC player, but after IBM spun the X86 server business to Lenovo, I didn’t talk to anyone who had high hopes for Lenovo to continue doing well in HPC. Not that long ago—June 2017, to be exact—Kirk Skaugen (EVP and President of Lenovo’s Data Center Group) announced at Lenovo’s Transform event that the company’s goal was to take the #1 share in the HPC market. I thought the way Skaugen put the industry on notice here was genius, risky, and I appreciate it even more now we can see it paying off. Kirk’s BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) caught everyone's attention and gave people a reason to more closely follow Lenovo's efforts. While the details of this lofty ambition weren’t made clear at the time, we learned more at SuperComputing 2017, last November (see my coverage here), where it launched a variety of new offerings designed to further the company’s AI/HPC strategy and build out its ecosystem and reputation. Lenovo moved the ball a little further down the court at its Transform event, where it launched its largest end-to-end datacenter portfolio in the company’s history (read my full recap here). Skaugen emphasized at the time that the new portfolio took “the very best of the x86 heritage” and melded it with Lenovo’s own signature cost and operational efficiency. This is a simple and effective way to describe it. At this point, Lenovo was being lauded as the fastest growing supercomputing company on the planet (it shipped its 20 millionth x86 server the following month). Skaugen emphasized the high rate of customer satisfaction with the company's server portfolio and went on to state that Lenovo actually held a competitive advantage in the fact that it was not a legacy datacenter provider. This, he said, was allowing the company to get a jump on the software-defined era which, to me, made a lot of sense. I also consider Lenovo the “Switzerland” of software-defined as it doesn’t have a favorite horse in the race, whether it be OpenStack, VMWare, Azure Stack, Nutanix, or any other software-defined “stack.” Skaugen at the Transform event again reiterated Lenovo’s goal to be #1 in supercomputing over the next several years (by 2020, to be exact). Little did we know it would only take a matter of months. Here we are in June 2018, and by the TOP500 benchmark, Lenovo can claim a #1 title. To me, this is validation that Lenovo can succeed in more than just the PC market and brings extra credibility to its overall play in the datacenter. It also sends a powerful message that when Lenovo sets its sights on a goal, it delivers. Reputation and credibility may not be everything, but it is undeniably important in the datacenter market. Lenovo is undoubtedly now a force to be reckoned with in HPC, and needless to say, we will all be hanging more onto Skaugen’s next market proclamation.  HPC is a flashy market as the innovation it powers is impressive, be it simulations for design, weather, space exploration and genome design, but it’s a tough business, margin-wise. Lenovo’s Data Center Group may have had some fits and starts as it spun off as IBM’s x86 business, but I am liking what I have seen over the last year as Lenovo is gaining more traction in the enterprise datacenter and more definitively sticking its positioning. Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.