Supermicro: coming out from under the radar

Storage Magazine speaks to Supermicro CEO Charles Liang about how the company has perfected its 'one-stop' total solutions approach

For a company that has been around for over 25 years, Supermicro is something of a best-kept secret outside of the IT industry where it has been quietly - and very successfully - expanding its portfolio and its customer base throughout that time. When Storage magazine editor David Tyler spoke with CEO and founder Charles Liang (via online video chat, of course), his enthusiasm for the company he has built was evident from our opening conversation.

What, asked Liang, did Supermicro have in common with Tesla? The management at Tesla did something unique, and he explained: as most automobile manufacturers shifted everything offshore, Tesla stayed in Silicon Valley, where they've continued to grow and thrive. Liang went on: "The Supermicro story is more similar than you might think: most companies selling servers, storage, IoT and even 5G hardware have moved to offshore operations over the last 30 years or so - but we've been in Silicon Valley for 27 years. The US today has hardly any server, cloud, or 5G design and manufacturing, and more importantly, no one here is seeing any real growth in those markets - except, that is, for Supermicro."

Around ten years ago, Supermicro saw increasing manufacturing and engineering costs but also saw expanding market opportunities overseas, especially in Asia. Supermicro decided then to extend its operations to Taiwan, and it has aggressively grown market share, and now has a large and solid foundation in Taipei.

Liang explains: "This expansion allowed us to really scale our offerings. That's how we are now able to provide the industry with not only world-beating design and solutions but also high-volume products. We have extended and increased our capacity to serve the broader IT industry regionally, and we want to share our message more widely, not just in the US but increasingly across Europe. Historically, our successful growth has been on that foundation: the technology and the products, and now we feel we have solutions that are ready to serve the industry globally."

We asked Charles Liang if there had been a particular go-to-market strategy that has allowed Supermicro to thrive in such a competitive - and often cost-driven - market, and his answer was surprisingly straightforward: "I have always wanted Supermicro to offer a one-stop-shop opportunity for our customers. It shouldn't matter if we're talking about storage, cloud, IoT, or smart edge devices - Supermicro can provide a total solution suited to our customers' requirements combining US-based engineering, superior global manufacturing, and fast time-to-market operations."

The Supermicro story today is certainly not just about hardware - with management software offerings and global on-site service, the company in 2020 is a true one-stop-shop for IT, telco, and AI clients around the world. Liang summarised it neatly: "Supermicro has a uniquely broad product line, based on a building-block solution approach. It means we can offer a comprehensive portfolio of optimised solutions to customers such as cloud service providers, for instance. Also, we work with all sorts of major players globally, in scale, in total solutions, including 5G telcos."

Charles Liang came from a background as an engineer, and engineering excellence has, therefore, always been a critical focus - as well as a key long-term advantage - for Supermicro. That engineering vision has also coloured Liang's passion for reducing e-waste and improving the environmental credentials of the industry.

"We operate in a very sophisticated and complicated market, of course," he explains, "And again this is part of why we have taken our time in developing our market offerings not just in terms of product quality but also service, and the capacity for production and support. As a business, we have always focused on energy and resource savings as part of our efforts to ensure we are offering the most optimised hardware possible for our customers.

Obviously, we are first and foremost an engineering company, a design, and manufacturing business - but we have always aimed to provide the 'greenest' solutions in the world in terms of energy savings and resource savings. We are absolutely dedicated to that vision."

Supermicro was one of the earliest companies to focus on 'green computing', long before it became a buzzword a few years ago: high-efficiency power supplies, high-efficiency designs able to work at high temperatures, cooling systems and far more. Many of their customers are achieving a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness: the most popular method of calculating energy efficiency for data centres) rating of 1.1 or 1.05 in their data centres - the accepted industry 'ideal' PUE is 1.0 - reflecting how seriously the company takes the need for environmental efficiencies in the tech sector.

Emphasising the resource-saving aspects of their offerings helps Supermicro customers to reduce their IT waste over the lifetime of their investments, and Liang is keen to explain the company's approach: "Our subsystems are built from components that have longevity designed in. It is not unusual for many items to have a lifetime of ten or even twelve years, whether that is the chassis, the power supply, the cooling fan, the cooling system, or the I/O subsystem. Customers buying from us can upgrade the parts they need: - CPU, memory, storage - as frequently as they want while keeping most of the critical subsystems in place for up to twelve years. This can save them a lot of money over those twelve years in hardware, depreciation, and upgrade costs."

We ended our conversation with a discussion of the way that the Supermicro brand has been something of a best-kept secret in the past - even though the company has been selling to most of the major players in the global market for a very long time.

We wondered if Charles Liang had made a conscious decision to take a more proactive stance in getting his message out to the market: "It is true that we intentionally chose to 'stay under the radar' somewhat in the past as we quietly grew the business over time, and developed and perfected our total solutions approach," he admitted. "We didn't want to make a big splash too early - but I am confident that Supermicro is ready now to promote our unique one-stop shopping approach to the whole IT market. Every aspect of the business is set up to succeed - hardware, software, and service, and Supermicro is supremely well-prepared after 27 years to take the next steps and broaden our appeal even further."

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