Is it the end of the road for bimodal IT?

The bimodal IT model advocates two complementary approaches to deal with the growing pressures of digitization in organizations – but with enterprises rapidly moving legacy applications to the cloud should they really look to separate the two forms of IT?

The idea behind bimodal IT is very simple – it provides a solution for enterprises looking to capitalize on the innovation provided by the cloud, while making sure they can keep the lights on. But, with enterprises pushing to get as much in the cloud as fast as possible is it already outmoded?

Bimodal IT is designed to take the pressure off IT departments by allowing two work styles to run side by side: “Mode 1” focused on stability, safety and accuracy, while “Mode 2” targeted at speed and agility. This enables enterprises to maintain their functionality, while they look to innovate and move into a cloud-centric world.

Not everyone supports Gartner’s bimodal idea. Analyst firm Forrester believes that bimodal is tainted with a false promise. While it may provide a Band-Aid to CIOs in the short term, Forrester maintains that its shortcomings do not make it a strategy for long term transformational success. Forrester believes bimodal creates a two-class system that adds complexity and destroys culture. Other flaws it cites include a reliance on technology that does not connect with customers and the perpetuation of a myth that back-office systems do not require changing or re-engineering, leaving them dangerously lagging in transformation strategies.

Two-speed transformation

Consultancy McKinsey promotes a similar sounding but different approach. It advocates ‘two-speed IT’ as an alternative to support digitization. It maintains that previously companies would have been happy going through a three- to five-year transformation period, without introducing new features. But in today’s highly competitive marketplace it is impossible for them to “alter architecture and business models sequentially”.

McKinsey explains that a “two-speed IT architecture will help companies develop their customer facing capabilities at high speed, while decoupling legacy systems for which release cycles of new functionality are slow”.

High-speed IT is focused on high-value areas of the business for an initial period, after which this innovative approach is rolled out to other areas of IT in the company. With McKinsey’s approach the idea is that the whole of IT will be transferred as swiftly and efficiently as possible to the high-speed mode. This enables enterprises to work out which legacy applications are moving to the cloud and get them there faster.

First step: adopting cloud

Many enterprises are already running their newer applications to the cloud, particularly customer-facing ones. The next step is to migrate their legacy applications so that they have everything in the cloud. This cloud-centric approach is not just a platform revolution, but a radical new way of working that will impact business across the board.

Within the bimodal IT model, some enterprises are already running both modes in the cloud successfully. For Mode 1 this could include running enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS), managed services and even virtualization for many of their applications. For Mode 2 developers are collaborating within test environments in Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, and trying out different configurations in parallel.

In fact, cloud is providing all enterprises with a real alternative to speeding up their digital transformation. Take SaaS for example, moving applications to the cloud transfers some of the workload of maintaining systems to third parties. This frees up the IT team’s time to innovate and improving business operations.

“Cloud computing is breaking down traditional technology barriers as line of business leaders and their IT organizations rely on cloud to flexibly deliver IT resources at the lower cost and faster speed that businesses require. Organizations across all industries are now free to adapt to market changes quicker and take more risks, as they are no longer bound by legacy IT constraints,” explains Eileen Smith, program director, customer insights and analysis at IDC.

The bimodal cross roads

While some enterprises believe that bimodal has helped them avoid the problems of shadow IT, while they learn how to utilize their new-found agility and cloud technologies – it doesn’t come without major hurdles.

The key stumbling block to bimodal IT is that it can potentially create silos between Mode 1 and Mode 2. This leads to cultural and resource problems, and can eventually frustrate DevOps who are looking to innovate. Secondly, Mode 1 can get left behind in the transformation plans. Therefore it makes sense taking a hybrid approach to IT by running non-cloud alongside cloud and migrating systems and applications as required.

Orange Business Solutions, for example, is working in a multi-cloud arena to provide customers with choice. Core to its strategy is assisting large enterprises to move their legacy applications to the cloud in a timely and ordered manner, making sure their infrastructure and applications are available in the geographic regions in which they need to be hosted. This is the key driver to its recent public cloud service launch, which includes consultancy to help enterprises move and then manage their legacy applications in the cloud.

Moving everything to the cloud

Gartner believes that the extreme of having nothing cloud-based will largely disappear. Some are taking their first steps, putting cloud first, while a few have already opted to wrap everything in the cloud.

Some leading-edge IT capabilities will only be available in the cloud. While some applications will still sit in older technologies, more will be cloud based demanding an integrated infrastructure, according to Yefim V Natis, vice president and Gartner Fellow. “As delivery shifts more to the cloud, most IT organizations will have to reorganize to reflect the business realities of cloud computing: continuous innovation and change, pervasive integration, competing with cloud providers for some initiatives, and crucial prevalence of influence over control in IT's relationship with lines of business,” he explains.

Going digital is crucial to any enterprise’s future – in terms of agility, controlling costs and meeting customer expectations. Creating change in any organization, however, is a big challenge. But every application can’t be modernized for the cloud immediately. It just isn’t practical, unless you have a huge team of engineers at your disposal. Modernizing the most important applications and cascading down the list until everything sits in the cloud has to be the way forward. Silos will be demolished, spelling the death knell for bimodal as we know it.

Read more about the new Orange public cloud service. Find out how to improve end-user cloud performance with optimization. 

Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.