IBM 'Superlab' Staff Still Bracing For Transfer To Lenovo


Contractors and employees at IBM's "Superlab," a Research Triangle Park, N.C., facility that handles development of firmware and other utilities for IBM servers, are still preparing to be transferred to Lenovo next month, despite reports that IBM's talks to sell parts of its x86 business to the Chinese vendor have broken down.

Sources told CRN that Superlab employees have not received any indication from IBM that plans have changed since reports that its talks with Lenovo had stalled surfaced on Wednesday.

Many Superlab developers and engineers were told by IBM management in mid-April they'd be transitioning to become Lenovo employees on June 1, several sources with knowledge of the matter told CRN.

[Related: Channel Beat: Lenovo-IBM Server Talks Stall (Video)]

Between 150 and 200 employees work in Superlab, and most of them are contractors. It's not clear how many contractors will be moving to Lenovo.

An IBM spokesperson declined comment, citing the company's policy of not commenting on rumors or speculation. Lenovo couldn't be reached for comment.

IBM's previous track record of laying off contractors with short notice is contributing to a pervasive uneasiness in the Superlab employee ranks, one source with knowledge of the situation told CRN.

"There is almost a riot of worry in the Superlab," the source said. "People don't know what they're going to be doing, and I'd say 80 percent of them think they're done for."

In IBM's first-quarter earnings call last month, CFO Mark Loughridge referred to coming "divestitures" and "workforce re-balancing" in the current quarter. In a video after the call, CEO Ginni Rometty urged IBM employees to "step up" and move more quickly to new computing models.

Superlab is where IBM does most of its quality assurance testing and development for its x86 servers, including testing of BIOS, flash, drivers and firmware. There are Superlab teams that work on IBM's PureSystem and Flex System servers, but they've been told they'll be moving to other buildings soon, sources told CRN.

While it seems strange that IBM management would inform employees it is selling a part of its business before a definitive agreement has been reached, sources told CRN this has happened before.

In 2004, IBM managers and team leads were informed that IBM was in talks to sell its PC business to Lenovo two months before the $1.75 billion deal was announced, the one former IBM employee said. The same happened when Adaptec licensed and acquired some of IBM's RAID data-protection technology the same year, said the source, who requested anonymity because he's not authorized to speak about company matters.

IBM channel managers also informed partners of its intention to acquire Texas Memory prior to closing that deal last August, at a time when IBM was also rumored to be looking at other Flash storage players like Violin Memory and Fusion-io, according to another source with knowledge of the matter.

Several sources told CRN it's possible that IBM could repurpose the Superlab building as a data center supporting IBM's cloud business after the teams move on to Lenovo. The facility already has the necessary power and cooling components, as well as a raised floor, sources said.

With IBM looking to lessen its focus on hardware as part of its Roadmap 2015, and concentrate more on cloud, analytics and Smarter Planet solutions, lighting up a U.S. data center that is essentially already built would be a logical move.

"Cloud services are the highest margin of anything IBM does or sells," one source told CRN. "The one thing customers ask when you try to sell them a cloud solution is 'Where is the data center?' They don't want them in India or China."

PUBLISHED MAY 3, 2013