Like many IT industry sales executives, Wilfredo Sotolongo has a deep and practical understanding of computing and related technologies. After earning B.S. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) and M.S. (Georgia Institute of Technology) degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering, Sotolongo began his professional career at IBM as a robotics product developer in 1985, then joined the company’s field sales organization to bolster IBM’s customer-facing technical expertise.
During the following three decades, Sotolongo held numerous IBM sales leadership roles, advancing to become VP Global Sales for the company’s System x and Pure Systems solutions. In that position, he was part of the executive team that oversaw the sale of the System x organization to Lenovo in 2014 and occupied key sales leadership roles in Lenovo’s Data Center Group (now Infrastructure Solutions Group or ISG). In March 2019, Sotolongo became ISG’s Chief Customer Officer, where he leads ISG’s global sales and marketing teams.
The evolution of Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group
In the following Q&A interview, Wilfredo Sotolongo focuses on the evolution of Lenovo ISG, what sets the company apart from other data-center solutions vendors and the vital roles that strategic Alliance Partners play in Lenovo ISG’s solutions and services.
Q: You held numerous positions at IBM, including working with the team overseeing the divestiture of System x to Lenovo in 2014. Since then, you’ve been a senior executive in Lenovo ISG. How is working at Lenovo different from working at IBM? Are there any cultural similarities or differences?
Sotolongo: The people I worked with at IBM were some of the best in the industry. We were proud of the products we developed, products with unsurpassed quality and performance. We also maintained a “customer-first” mentality. Many of those people joined me as we transitioned to Lenovo and brought the IBM DNA to Lenovo DCG. But I also quickly learned that Lenovo also had several capabilities and best practices that made us even better.
Q: Such as?
Sotolongo: Lenovo’s culture of growth and entrepreneurship unleashed us to aggressively attack the marketplace with newfound passion and energies. Our culture of rapid execution, adapting to the needs of the market, and with an intense focus on customer satisfaction allowed us to maximize the best of both cultures.
Q: Does that forward-focused strategy have any downside?
Sotolongo: Of course, it can be challenging to always choose wisely in terms of what you keep and what you leave behind, but we think we found the right formula as One Lenovo, offering our customers complete Edge to Cloud solutions.
How the markets have changed
Q: Have the markets for data center solutions changed since Lenovo acquired IBM’s System x and Pure Systems business?
Sotolongo: Absolutely. In the last seven years, business computing has shifted with the movement toward software-defined infrastructure, multi-tiered cloud architectures, and the need for both dense high-performance compute and more robust edge processing.
Q: What has Lenovo ISG done to adapt to those changes?
Sotolongo: Succinctly, we have expanded our reach so we can develop, manufacture, distribute and support advanced solutions for the most sophisticated IT buyers in the industry.
Q: Can you offer some concrete examples of the company’s efforts?
Sotolongo: Lenovo has not only kept up with market changes but is taking a leading position in emerging areas, like working closely with Cloud Service Providers. Capitalizing on our outstanding supply chain capabilities, we have invested in our own board design and manufacturing factories, allowing us to provide fully customizable solutions, from server motherboards to entire data center solutions. We have also entered new areas of the market by launching our broadest storage portfolio ever and our first-ever edge servers.
Q: Those are impressive moves on the hardware side. Is Lenovo developing new service solutions, as well?
Sotolongo: We have entered the “as-a-service” market by developing Truscale, allowing customers to only pay for the actual infrastructure and services that they use each month in an OpEx billing model.
What he does as Chief Customer Officer
Q: Can you discuss your current role as Lenovo ISG’s chief customer officer?
Sotolongo: I am honored to lead our ISG Sales and Marketing teams around the world. Together, we serve our customers and partners as they transform their organizations and help solve humanity’s greatest challenges. Our marketing and sales teams represent Lenovo to the market every day. We know that customers and partners vote with their dollars. You can see by our recent quarterly results that we are gaining share because of our focus and hard work.
Q: Lenovo’s work with strategic partners has enabled the company to effectively explore new markets, and quickly ramp up product/service offerings. How does the partnering decision process work?
Sotolongo: Unlike vendors that have chosen to develop or acquire specific solutions, Lenovo intentionally works with Alliance Partners that have best-of-breed technologies and offerings that are fit for purpose. We are very selective as to who we partner with because we refuse to risk the quality of the Lenovo brand with substandard solutions.
Q: How does the process work after Lenovo decides to move forward with a partnership?
Sotolongo: We ensure we have a tight linkage in all stages of our partnership — from product development through manufacturing, deployment and ongoing support. Finally, Lenovo only establishes strategic alliances that have potential for success, both immediately and over the long term.
How partnership efforts are unique
Q: Do you believe Lenovo’s partnership efforts are unique or different from other vendors’ efforts?
Sotolongo: Yes. Lenovo is unique in that we are committed to deep and meaningful collaborations that enhance the value of our partners and ourselves. We do not start a relationship unless we believe that it will be in place for a long time. Once we start, we invest heavily to enable all our functions in the partner’s solutions. And when trouble develops, which it always does, we look at the relationship from the perspective of the customer, ensuring that whatever we do will add value to the customer and correspondingly to us and our partners.
Q: I find Lenovo’s longstanding relationship with SAP particularly interesting. Can you talk about how the relationship began and how it has changed over the years?
Sotolongo: Our relationship with SAP started over 15 years ago during our IBM days. Through the divestiture and integration into Lenovo, we maintained a strong focus on SAP workloads and their customers. From the development of extended memory solutions that enabled SAP HANA to first run on large X86-based servers to the development of scale-out based SAP architectures, we have always invented technologies that allow our customers to run workloads otherwise destined to run on large, proprietary architectures.
Q: It sounds as if the partnership is enabling both companies to pursue individual yet similar goals.
Sotolongo: Just as Lenovo has adapted to changing markets, so has SAP. The most recent example of our collaboration was the recent launch of the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, Customer Edition. That solution allows a client to keep their SAP workloads on-premises but to also experience the financial and flexibility benefits inherent in the cloud. We are also continuing to work closely together to develop new solutions. There is great synergy between the Lenovo and SAP executive teams. I personally speak with the senior executives at SAP multiple times a month.
Lenovo and SAP solutions
Q: With the assistance of Lenovo ThinkSystem servers, SAP’s HANA solutions helped lead the way for in-memory database offerings. How have Lenovo/SAP solutions evolved?
Sotolongo: The two most powerful trends in our industry are the advent of cloud computing and our customers’ desires to digitize their entire businesses to make them more agile. SAP and Lenovo have been heavily investing to enable those trends. With ever larger SAP instances, Lenovo can support single SAP HANA databases over 12TB. Only a handful of global clients need database sizes larger than this. With the need for greater agility, SAP and Lenovo have implemented flexible workload delivery models through hyperscaler partners, through SAP itself, and via on-premises deployments. Together, we are giving our customers more options than ever before. Finally, with customers shifting towards as-a-service models, SAP and Lenovo are working to enable our common technology solutions to be delivered via consumption models, as recently announced by SAP RISE.
Q: Lenovo/SAP solutions were originally designed for on-premises data centers, which are now fundamental to both companies’ hybrid cloud solutions and strategies. Can you discuss how Lenovo and SAP are helping their common customers get the best out of hybrid cloud?
Sotolongo: Lenovo and SAP’s priority has always been the customer – taking the most reliable systems in the industry and enabling them with the power of SAP software. We came together with SAP to address the transformation customers are seeking with hybrid cloud. At Lenovo we are focusing on software and other tools that not only service our hardware but also help our customers manage their on-premises cloud infrastructures while integrating with tools used to manage off-premises clouds. This tight integration between on-premises and off-premises cloud infrastructures enables a seamless experience for our customers. We worked with SAP to deliver solutions that not only use great hardware and great software, but give our joint customers the tools to automate, manage and scale effortlessly in order to complete their hybrid cloud journey with us.
Q: I find Lenovo’s TruScale data center offerings especially compelling. Can you discuss how those solutions can benefit SAP customers?
Sotolongo: TruScale from Lenovo allows our customers to consume our ISG solutions rather than worry about building, operating and owning them. TruScale shifts the focus away from the technical decisions that always need to be balanced with expected business outcomes. TruScale also helps customers stay current with technology and allow for faster growth with the latest software that Lenovo and SAP offer. Lenovo and SAP partner to manage and refresh the entire stack of hardware and software solutions to ensure each TruScale customer enjoys the highest performance possible while only paying for the exact amount of compute resources they consume.
Rapid SAP hybrid cloud
Q: Another TruScale-enabled solution is the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud customer edition. How are businesses utilizing it?
Sotolongo: Lenovo’s SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud customer edition solution allows the rapid implementation of a robust SAP hybrid cloud. This new offering arrived at market last month and supplies a quickly-deployed, turnkey, on-premises solution that solves many of the concerns around data locality, regulatory compliance and data security. The SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud is a purpose-built Lenovo solution that allows the focus to remain on the data and our customers’ needs. Those include what they have received in the past from on-premises technologies (local data residency, security, flexibility, control) along with additional features (rapid deployment, flexible scaling, and reduced skills requirements among others), all while allowing ease of use and quicker time-to-business outcomes.
Q: Are there any other aspects of the Lenovo/SAP partnership that are important for people to understand?
Sotolongo: We have a 360-degree partnership with SAP that represents a view that includes Lenovo as a customer, a partner and a supplier. To the first point, Lenovo is a large SAP customer and uses SAP applications to drive critical business processes including ERP, supply chain, financials and more. We are also an S/4 HANA customer and are working on the migration plan now. So far as partnering goes, our relationship with SAP spans joint work in new areas related to AI and machine learning, IOT and smart manufacturing. We also collaborate on development of new products and solutions. For example, our new SE350 edge server is SAP IOT certified. From a supplier viewpoint, SAP is a large Lenovo customer and uses Lenovo servers to run its most critical customer workloads in a variety of SAP clouds, including HEC. As discussed recently, Lenovo is also a supplier for HANA Enterprise Cloud customer edition.
Q: Is the work that Lenovo ISG is accomplishing with SAP impacting other strategic partnerships? If so, how?
Sotolongo: Absolutely. The SAP partnership enables Lenovo to further leverage our relationships with other Alliance Partners, including Intel, VMware, Microsoft, NetApp, Red Hat, SUSE and Veeam, as well as key system integrators. For example:
- Intel also has a strong focus on SAP. We collaborate to accelerate processors, PMem and other new technology adoption.
- Most SAP customers virtualize their applications with VMware vSphere and many are strategically adopting VCF as they expand their hybrid cloud capabilities. Also, HANA Enterprise Cloud customer edition is based on the VMware VCF stack. We also collaborate in areas such as life cycle management and hyperconverged systems. Lenovo has the only 8 socket SAP HANA HCI certified vSAN server in the industry.
- Most SAP customers are running SAP applications on Windows server and some are still using SQL server as the database, so we provide certified solutions for those SAP customers.
- Our partnership with NetApp is unique in that we can help SAP customers expand their hybrid cloud data management capabilities. Our storage systems with OnTap enable customers running SAP applications to effectively manage their SAP data, ensure their data is available, and provide hybrid cloud management of their data.
- We collaborate with Red Hat to deliver Linux-based SAP applications and have been working with them to enable OpenShift container-based applications.
- The relationship with SUSE and SAP is historically strong and we collaborate jointly to ensure SAP Linux applications are certified on our systems.
- Data backup and disaster recovery are critical pain points for customers and our partnership with Veeam helps address those pain points. Lenovo can provide a full server and storage solution with Veeam backup and DR capabilities.
How the SAP partnership works for enterprise customers
Q: How does the partnership with SAP impact Lenovo ISG’s work with enterprise customers?
Sotolongo: Lenovo also is a supplier to 7 of the top 10 Cloud Service Provider vendors as well as many Tier 2 CSPs, many of which host SAP applications. This is strategic as SAP shifts its focus to cloud knowing that any customer running SAP applications is likely to run them on Lenovo systems. Many of them are using the VMware stack.
Q: What’s next for Lenovo ISG?
Sotolongo: As we enter our new fiscal year and celebrate the launch of a portfolio of new solutions, including SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud customer edition, Lenovo ISG is positioned to continue to grow faster than the market in nearly all categories.
Q: Wilfredo, it has been a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for sharing your insights about Lenovo ISG, its new infrastructure solutions and Lenovo’s strategic relationships with SAP and other Alliance Partners.
Wilfredo Sotolongo: You’re welcome, Charles. It’s been great talking with you, too.