Executive interview: Tapping APAC’s storage potential

Lenovo’s head of storage in Asia-Pacific singles out the region’s market opportunities and predicts that the healthcare sector will go full-fledged with flash storage in the next year

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Having managed one of the largest storage clusters in the southern hemisphere for an Australian telco, Nigel Lee has lived on the cutting edge of data storage management.

The storage veteran with over two decades of experience in the IT industry took on the mantle as head of the storage portfolio at Lenovo’s datacentre group in October 2020 and has been busy charting the company’s strategy to grow its storage business.

But selling storage to a CIO is never easy, as it is one of those things that is expected to work until it breaks down.

That’s why storage suppliers, including Lenovo, are increasingly focused on developing sophisticated techniques and technologies to make sure that storage systems and the data they hold are resilient and reliable.

Lee believes Lenovo has what it takes to be a top supplier in the storage and data management space, dismissing some detractors who had questioned his move to the company. “As a technologist on the cutting edge, the best time to maximise an opportunity is when there’s massive change,” he told Computer Weekly. “When I looked across the potential organisations I could go to, Lenovo caught my eye.”

Lee said what tipped the scales in Lenovo favour was the company’s brand awareness and diverse portfolio spanning consumer mobile technology and point-of-sale devices to core enterprise technology and cloud capabilities, supported by a strong partner ecosystem in Asia-Pacific.

Lenovo is also doing well, with its group revenues growing 22% year-on-year during the third quarter of its latest financial year 2020. “It’s the highest performance that we've had in our history, with growth in every line of business, including storage,” said Lee.

Tapping potential

A former NetApp executive, Lee now wants to tap the potential of the region’s growing market for data management and storage solutions at a time when businesses are supercharging their digital transformation efforts.

“This ongoing desire to modernise is going to continue to push through for the remainder of at least the next 12 to 18 months,” Lee said. “Companies are struggling to manage that transformation and they also need new and different ways to consolidate and manage all the data.”

Part of the challenge is managing data that now sits not just in private cloud datacentres, but also on multiple public cloud services.

Lee said Lenovo has built a data management portfolio that is hybrid cloud capable, enabling enterprises to tier their storage needs into the public cloud and move workloads between on-premise infrastructure to public cloud services.

Last December, the company unveiled the ThinkSystem DM5100F non-volatile memory express (NVMe) storage system that includes support for Amazon S3 object storage and a platform that lets enterprises manage and analyse all data, add cold-data tiering from hard drives to the cloud, or replicate data to the cloud.

“We are one of the few suppliers that can do full stack NVMe support from storage through the switch to the server,” Lee said, noting that this helps to accelerate the performance of enterprise workloads such as SQL databases by over 40%.

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Lee also singled out opportunities in the healthcare sector, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, where hospitals tend to operate a plethora of different systems.

“These hospitals are looking to standardise and share information, and with that, they’ll need ways of being able to connect and they're all heading towards hybrid cloud,” he said.

Other market opportunities include semiconductor manufacturing powerhouses in Taiwan and South Korea that want the performance capabilities of NVMe, such as faster clock speeds and a larger cache.

These industries are also likely to benefit from flash-based storage, which Lee said is already at a price point that makes it economical enough for most organisations to use for tier one and tier two workloads.

Lee predicted that the organisations in the healthcare industry, in particular, will go full-fledged with flash storage next year as they look to modernise their legacy storage systems.

The growing momentum of 5G, the internet-of-things and edge computing in the Asia-Pacific region is also expected to be a boon for storage suppliers, with more and faster data traversing the airwaves in applications such as robotics and augmented reality.

“We believe that in another five years, 40% of computing is going to be done at the edge so there are going to be more and more technologies and systems that push that capability out to the edge, and at some point, have all that data aggregated in a central location,” said Lee.

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