NEW YORK: At Lenovo's Transform event last week, the company announced amongst a slew of data centre offerings, a new partnership to create a product specifically aimed at the Chinese market, with new BFF, flash storage provider NetApp.
This immediately got our tinfoil hat tingling so when we had the opportunity to speak to Peter Hortensius, CTO and head of strategy for Lenovo's Data Center biz, we couldn't resist throwing a slight curveball his way.
Let's put it this way. There can be only one reason that we can think of why a unique Chinese product would be needed: backdoors.
His initial response was a polished continuation of the "We're a global company" line that we'd heard the previous day from CEO Yan "call me YY" Yuanqing.
"Our philosophy on this was formed very early. We want to put local people in local jobs. All our executives work in our home countries, apart from me, I'm Canadian in the US. We do that very deliberately, it's not like the meetings are easy, but it gives us the understanding of how to operate in a local way.
"That means that we can respect local norms. For example, if the local norm is that you respect others IP or suffer the consequences, then we respect other people's IP."
So yes, that's good news, we say, but it doesn't answer the elephant in the room. The press corp has attempted to get a clear answer on this all day, and so we decide we're done with tiptoeing.
Does Lenovo put backdoors in if the Chinese government asks?
"If they want backdoors globally? We don't provide them. If they want a backdoor in China, let's just say that every multinational in China does the same thing.
"We comply with local laws. If the local laws say we don't put in backdoors, we don't put in backdoors. And we don't just comply with the laws, we follow the ethics and the spirit of the laws."
And then, with a final flourish, the answer.
"Likewise, if there are countries that want to have access, and there are more countries than just China, you provide what they're asking. "
Actually, this wasn't the end of the sentence, as he rolled it straight into asking for the next question in a move so fluid, you'd think it was being used to cool a gaming PC. But we made our point.
Let's be clear here, It's not to say that Lenovo is doing anything it shouldn't in the rest of the world, quite the opposite, but it's a stark reminder that anything going through a Chinese server is probably not your friend.
Lenovo is keen to make the point that its servers are spread locally and as such, you're not going to get caught up in any politics. But companies including Lenovo are going to have to pay the price of doing business with the biggest population in the world. μ
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