Lenovo is expanding software partnerships as it tries to break into a server market dominated by HP, IBM and Dell.

Its first such partnership expansion, announced earlier today, is with VMware on virtualisation products. Lenovo will bundle ThinkServer products with VMware's vSphere with Operations Management.

The servers with VSOM are targeted at customers of small and medium-sized businesses who want higher performance and server utilisation rates, said Sean Gilbert, senior alliances manager at Lenovo.

Lenovo has been pursuing the server market for a few years now with single-socket and dual-socket rack and tower offerings. However, Lenovo offers only basic hardware while competitors and market leaders like HP, Dell and IBM sell servers that combine homegrown hardware, networking, storage and software products.

Lenovo is also gaining software competency and forging partnerships with other software makers to add value to its server products. The company already offers other VMware products and has partnered with Microsoft to bundle virtualisation products in servers. Lenovo is also certified to sell servers bundled with Citrix virtualisation products, though there is no official partnership with the company yet.

In the x86 server world where Lenovo is focused, virtualisation is a core technology that is driving up the market right now, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"It is a good way for them to go. It somewhat contradicts what the majority of tier one server vendors are doing, which are building out their software stack," King said.

Lenovo wants to continue establishing partnerships with software makers, Gilbert said, adding that the company wants to be an open player and does not want to keep customers tied to proprietary products.

"There's no immediate plan to be a software company," Gilbert said.

Packaging VMware's operations management product with servers ensures more efficient virtualisation deployment, Gilbert said. VSOM includes higher level management functions, including root cause analytics in which problems with virtual machines can be easily corrected. VSOM also includes a management dashboard for IT administrators to see the entire virtualisation environment.

VSOM is one example of a good partnership that can cut costs for customers and Lenovo, Pund-IT's King said.

"Why be the fifth or sixth vendor with a systems management portfolio to invest in and maintain," King said.

Lenovo is pushing VSOM to SMBs that want better control for virtualisation but don't want to go into cloud computing, King said.

Lenovo is selling servers with software packages via its Enterprise Product Group, which was formed in November last year. Lenovo has also boosted its enterprise storage offerings by partnering with storage company EMC, and the partnership has been spun off into a separate company called LenovoEMC.