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Lenovo preps PC incubator

The ThinkCenter heir targets build-to-suit customers with its new facility at IBM's Innovation Center in North Carolina.

Lenovo Group, the heir to IBM's legendary PC business, is planning its own development center at Big Blue's digs in North Carolina, Lenovo executives said Tuesday.

The company is developing portions of IBM's existing 25,000-square-foot Innovation Center facility in Research Triangle Park. Lenovo's portion of the center, which is scheduled to open this summer, will serve as an incubator where multinational companies can spend a couple of days to design, build and test new desktop and laptop products to suit their individual needs.

Earlier this month, Lenovo finalized its $1.75 billion acquisition of IBM's PC unit including its "Think" branded technologies such as biometric readers and internal airbags to protect hard drives.

Located within 30 minutes of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University in Durham, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh, the center will be staffed with Lenovo engineers, programmers and product developers as well as sales and marketing professionals. The facility also will house an imaging and training-services area as well as a showcase for previous designs.

"It is not just about the hardware. It is about trying to find differentiators in a specific market," said Andrew Flanagan, program director at Lenovo's Innovation Center.

In addition to the incubator for validation and proof of concepts, Lenovo will host a partner center with companies such as Intel, IBM, LANDesk, Microsoft and Symantec.

"For example, Intel has customers that they are transitioning from one design to another and we are working with them on that," Flanagan said. "Other customers are focused on security or networking." One such collaboration, he said, featured IBM equipment with a WebSphere software stack and Cisco Systems access points that included its security protocols. "We targeted medium- to small-size businesses with that one."

Flanagan said Lenovo also is eyeing the health care, pharmaceutical and banking industries as prospective center users. A bank, for example, might want to use a fingerprint reader to secure its PCs well enough so that they could run on a wireless network, he said.

Lenovo's principal operations remain in Beijing and in Raleigh, N.C., but it hosts its executive headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., in Westchester County.

While the majority of the Innovation Center is a joint project with IBM, Flanagan said the showcase area will be kept separate as part of a transition-services agreement between Lenovo and IBM. The agreement stems from concessions the two companies made to appease U.S. security concerns raised by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. As a result of the agreement, Lenovo has been denied access to some IBM accounts, such as that of the U.S. General Services Administration.

In addition to the Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park, the company also has research-and-development facilities in Beijing, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Chengdu and Shanghai, China; in Tokyo; and in Raleigh.