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Server and storage market performance

Join Principal Analyst Angela Lambert and Research Analyst Jacob Fong for a review of current and projected financial trends among server and storage markets. The team will cover segment financial performance from TBR’s latest IT Infrastructure Benchmark as well as expectations for market growth based on results in our latest IT Infrastructure Market Forecast.

 

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  1. 2022 Predictions: Data Center

 

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Rebounding demand for licensed software and pay-as-you-go models supported vendors’ revenue growth in 3Q21

In 3Q21 average revenue growth for benchmarked vendors increased 12.6% year-to-year, partly due to a favorable year-ago compare considering the economic impacts of COVID-19 in mid-2020. Further, with many vendors operating transactional-heavy business models, rebounding demand for license products supported revenue growth during the quarter, especially for software-centric vendors like Microsoft and VMware. COVID-19 is causing customers to reevaluate their digital transformation plans; this may include migrating completely to a cloud environment, which will erode opportunities for some vendors while others will expand their existing data center investments through solutions like hyperconverged infrastructure.

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OEM earnings roundup: Unpacking a quarter of ‘record growth’

OEMs boasted revenue and profit gains in the first calendar quarter of 2021

“Record growth” was a frequently repeated phrase over the last week as Dell Technologies, Lenovo, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and HP Inc. reported their earnings for the first calendar quarter of 2021. For these major OEMs in the PC and data center hardware space, record gains in revenue and profitability have been hard to come by in recent years due to several factors including slowed PC refresh cycles, stiff competition from cloud offerings, component shortages, and uncertainty about the  pandemic’s impact on businesses and consumers.

For all these reasons, it was a pleasant surprise to witness a series of positive earnings announcements. But as one company after the next reported breaking multiple growth records in revenue and/or profit, it led me to wonder the degree to which business growth was based on increased economic stability rather than major changes in the OEM’s go-to-market approach.

Comparing first quarter revenue figures from the last two years provides a good snapshot of how the hardware market has changed since the world was immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic. For Dell Technologies, HP Inc. and HPE, the earnings reported in the first quarter represent revenue from February to April. Looking back to 2020, this represents the time frame when many countries imposed lockdowns. Lenovo’s earnings time frame is slightly different — reporting on revenue from January through March — but remains a good comparison, particularly as Lenovo may have felt the pandemic impacts earlier than peers as a China-based company, especially given that Lenovo has a manufacturing facility in Wuhan.

All vendors but Dell Technologies saw a first quarter corporate revenue decline of at least $1 billion in 1Q20 compared to 1Q19. In 1Q21 all vendors exceeded their revenue levels from the start of the pandemic, and three of the four grew revenue by $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion compared to 1Q19. This is impressive revenue growth for these vendors operating in mature and, in some cases, declining market segments. But are all business units growing equally? The fact that HPE was the only vendor of the four to not grow revenue in 1Q21 compared to 1Q19 and is also the only vendor in the compare lacking a PC business suggests growth is not consistent across hardware segments.

PCs are the driving force in the revenue rebound

Demand for both consumer and commercial PCs has been strong throughout the pandemic as many people spent an increasing amount of screen time at home for work, school and socialization. Dell Technologies, Lenovo and HP Inc. have not only reported 1Q21 revenue gains of billions of dollars compared to 1Q20, but the OEMs’ revenue is also up significantly compared to 1Q19. In addition to pandemic-related demand for PCs, silicon supply shortages have also helped to stem the race to the bottom for PC prices. With limited chip supply available, Intel and peers have focused on producing higher-end chips for premium devices. OEMs are also less competitive on pricing while demand outweighs supply. Improving selling prices and shifting toward premium PCs benefit not only revenue but also profitability.

Data center is still not immune to the impact of cloud migration

OEMs’ data center business units tell a different story. While the three vendors all reported increased year-to-year revenue in 1Q21, both Dell Technologies’ and HPE’s data center revenues are down compared to 1Q19. This suggests that year-to-year revenue gains represent customers showing less pandemic-related spending hesitancy and resuming delayed data center projects, while declines compared to 1Q19 align to the overall trend of enterprise data center consolidation in favor of public cloud. Although with the smallest data center revenue base, Lenovo was the only vendor in the comparison that increased revenue from 1Q19 to 1Q21, possibly buoyed by its Cloud Service Provider customer segment, which has higher demand for data center infrastructure compared to the enterprise segment. Overall, the revenue trends suggest that a favorable year-to-year compare may be masking impacts of public cloud adoption, which have accelerated through the pandemic.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2021, TBR expects the trend of favorable year-to-year compares to continue for hardware vendors as businesses gain confidence in resuming IT spend. Profitability will likely also remain strong as supply constraints on chips will lead to price premiums and a focus on selling high-end devices. The data center space will likely continue to benefit from pent-up demand, but will be offset to some degree by the ongoing trend of public cloud and SaaS adoption, leaving PCs to drive the largest OEM revenue increases in 2021.

Commoditization economics and emerging workloads disrupt the data center landscape

Commoditization mitigation strategies require business model shifts and an ever-watchful eye on exascale cloud entrants

Volume or value?

Toward the end of 2018 in the data center market, two distinct vendor strategies emerged: Vendors began either increasing sales volume or selling lower-volume but higher-value solutions. TBR believes that in 1H19, now that vendors have determined their camps, they will begin to craft competitive strategies directly targeting specific peers. For example, Dell EMC has publicly stated its intent to increase its market share in both servers and storage, and we believe the vendor will target key competitors to gain this share. Similarly, Lenovo’s large-scale data center investments imply significant competitive goals.

In February Lenovo unveiled TruScale Infrastructure Services. This directly competes with Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) GreenLake and Dell EMC’s Cloud Flex. It also addresses customer demand for private cloud infrastructure that is financed like a public cloud offering. TruScale is available for Lenovo’s entire stack of data center infrastructure solutions. In April Lenovo unveiled a server portfolio refresh, which likely reinforces its TruScale solutions and increases its competitive edge against Dell EMC and HPE.

TBR believes that during the next few months, Dell EMC and HPE will fight back against Lenovo’s marketing tactics to preserve market share. HPE has an advantage in that it is pursuing value-centric data center sales, so it is likely willing to concede less-profitable sales to Lenovo or Dell EMC. Dell EMC’s stated objective to increase market share in servers and storage will increase competition between the company and Lenovo as both aim to scoop up HPE’s lower-margin customers.

ODM participation heats up as commoditization drives provisioning simplicity

Because data center hardware becomes increasingly commoditized as software capabilities become more advanced, we believe data center vendors will increasingly find themselves competing against ODMs, especially for larger deals. Smaller customers will still show a preference for OEMs as they need the additional software and services provided with OEM data center solutions. Lenovo’s manufacturing capabilities give the company an advantage in the hyperscale space, where Lenovo’s past financials illustrated some successes, and enable the vendor to differentiate from its OEM peers.

On the hyperscale front, ODMs are rising to dominance, but OEMs such as Lenovo remain a force to be reckoned with in the space. As cloud becomes an increasingly central piece of IT environments, public cloud providers seek ways to expand their environments as cost-effectively as possible to preserve profits. TBR believes very large enterprises are likely to explore leveraging hyperscale vendors as well for their on-premises environments if it is cost-effective.

Consumption-based pricing models tie to the commoditization march

TBR’s Hyperconverged Platforms Customer Research continues to highlight the correlation between private cloud installments and HCI. Most recent findings indicated that 80% of respondents leveraged their HCI purchase for a private or hybrid cloud environment. Since customers are already turning to HCI for cloud, it is a logical next step for vendors to price HCI like a public cloud solution to deepen the competition.

With their channel partners also engaged, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo are the three main players in the consumption-based pricing space. Their solutions are not limited to just HCI, but HCI is one of the solutions that can be purchased in this manner. The key value proposition of consumption-based pricing for data center vendors is the ability to bundle software and services into hardware consumption-based deals. This is likely to boost the margin on the solutions. Further, it guarantees larger deals, as in many cases, these consumption-based pricing deals lock customers in for a predetermined duration that has early termination penalties.