Getting Bimodal IT Right: Challenges and Choices - Part 1
September 26, 2016

Akhil Sahai
Perspica

Sometimes a phrase or concept becomes so popular that its original meaning gets buried beneath people's alternative meanings or outright misappropriations. This is what has happened with "bimodal IT." Consequently, organizations have expectations and assumptions that differ from the original term, leading to confusion, disappointment and even disillusionment in some cases.

Nobody said transitioning to a more dynamic and continuous process would be easy. However, failure, fear and skepticism should not give people license to remain stuck in their legacy systems or rush headlong into change. Let's examine what this term "bimodal IT" actually means, why it makes sense in some cases and how to ease the pain of transition.

Back to the Beginning

Gartner, Inc. came up with the idea of "bimodal IT" two years ago, defining this process within IT infrastructure and operations as "the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on predictability, the other on exploration."

Mode 1 focuses on predictability and has a goal of stability. It is best used where requirements are well understood in advance, and can be identified by a process of analysis. It includes the necessary investment in renovating and opening up the legacy environment.

Mode 2 is exploratory. In this case, the requirements are not well understood in advance. Mode 2 is best suited for areas where an organization cannot make an accurate, detailed, predefined plan because not enough is known about the area. Mode 2 efforts don't presume to predict the future but allow the future to reveal itself in small pieces. Gartner ended its original, short definition with, "Both play an essential role in the digital transformation."

This approach is typically characterized by a waterfall vs. Agile scenario. Waterfall methodology follows linear, sequential development with distinct goals for each phase. By contrast, Agile processes seek to help teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and ongoing feedback. This two-speed method may be the current de facto way of doing things and may remain this way for a while, but slowly and steadily, IT is undergoing massive and fundamental transformation to address customer and enterprise needs for agility.

Agents of Change

A typical development cycle used to take six months to a year. Today, it's not uncommon to see bi-weekly, weekly and in some cases daily releases. What accounts for such a radical change in delivery speed? There are five over-arching trends contributing to IT transformation:

1. Cloud services, including public cloud, have been gaining prominence with Amazon, Azure and Google, providing end-to-end services for application development and deployment. Private cloud environments have become commonplace as well. This leads to dynamic and agile application life cycle management.

2. Continuous delivery and integration (CD/CI) that ensures code is always maintained in a deployable state. While thousands of developers make changes, detailed hardening and testing phases are eliminated leading to faster delivery.

3. Agile methodologycontributes to faster and more customer-driven development of software and may enable CD/CI. However, an organization doesn't have IT transformation solely by adopting Agile methodology.

4. The DevOps movementis related to CD/CI, whereby developers and operations team are becoming more collaborative and working together. Hybrid DevOps models are coming into play in which operational staff are being embedded into development teams in the interim.

5. Scalable and dynamic architectures and technologieslike micro-services architectures that help products and services be developed incrementally, scale better and lend these products well to CD/CI. Investment in containers and virtualization has also helped this trend. These architectures are also dynamic and ever changing with short lived application components that come and go. Containers are quite short-lived, with—on average—one-sixth the lifetime of virtual machines.

The infrastructure that undergirds the organization is strained by this acceleration of development. It poses new challenges to IT Operations teams. It requires teams to manage unparalleled amounts of data while predicting and preventing outages, in real time, and maintaining and delivering agile, reliable applications. This increased complexity makes some organizations fearful about transitioning from Mode 1 to Mode 2 completely, as concerns over new processes and operational complexity loom.

In order to ensure availability, reliability, performance and security of applications in today's digital, virtualized and hybrid-cloud environments, new approaches must be employed to provide operational intelligence to ease the transition from Mode 1 to Mode 2.

Read Getting Bimodal IT Right: Challenges and Choices - Part 2, which covers managing the transition.

Akhil Sahai, Ph.D., is VP Product Management at Perspica.

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