Multimodal OS – Designed for IT Transformation | SUSE Communities

Multimodal OS – Designed for IT Transformation


Multimodal OS lays the foundation for IT transformation in a multimodal IT world, where traditional infrastructure, software-defined infrastructure and application oriented architectures co-exist.

How did we get here? Let’s take a look at how the “first” Enterprise Linux evolved over 25+ years. This will give us a glimpse into the general evolution of an operating system (OS) and how it adapted to the needs of times during its evolution.

Multimodal OS evolution

In 1992, SUSE Linux Server was released. It marked the world’s first comprehensive Enterprise Linux distribution.

In the initial years, the Linux Server was one monolithic bundle of OS components.

This coincided with the needs of the day at that time where most applications were monolithic, the servers were physical, IT infrastructure was housed in datacenters and waterfall development processes were used.

As virtualization took hold with advantages of hardware optimization, the datacenter infrastructure started to get hosted/managed, physical servers moved to virtual instances, applications started adopting N-tier architecture and development & management processes transformed to agile methods.

To support this transformation, the operating system adopted a modular architecture where some of the functionality could be added to the base OS in form of modules. As a result, the maintenance became simpler. The upgrades became easier as complete system did not need to change every time a new feature got added or a functionality was enhanced.

Multimodal OS evolution

As an example, High Availability was made available as an add-on module. This allowed IT admins to use High Availability only when needed, since every system does not need to be highly available. Development tools were available in a module, so that a compiler update doesn’t impact the overall system.

Modules also helped meet business needs. SUSE was able to quickly react to the market demand for a product focused on SAP. Using modules, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications was created. SLES for SAP Applications is a bundle of SLE Server, High Availability, optimized support and workflow.

Fast forward to today’s time. Hosted/Managed infrastructure is moving to cloud. Virtual servers are either getting replaced with containerized options or co-exist with containers. Applications based on microservices architecture are bite-size. Development & operations are getting transformed with DevOps methodologies.

“Packages are everywhere” and Modular+

The functionality is available in packages, akin to modern apps. An IT admin can pick and choose, from a menu of packages, what needs to be installed for a given system at the time of installation itself.

Modern operating systems have many thousands of packages available, so an easier way to handle them was needed. With modules concept, packages are grouped into similar functionality pieces, as per policies or use cases. Now it’s is much easier to navigate through the offerings and select what is needed and fit the needs of customers.

When new functionality is needed the respective module can be added at that time, even selection of specific packages is possible. The IT administrator doesn’t need to plan ahead!

To meet the future needs, the operating system is required to be super modular, where not just a particular functionality is a module but where everything is a module. SUSE calls this the Modular+ Architecture. The idea is to reduce risk by simplifying planning and decision making for IT admins. The completely modular design unifies the various products for smarter development, easier maintenance, and more effective use by customers.

Multimodal OS evolution - pic 3

Multimodal OS is a strategic choice

Beyond “everything is a module” and “packages are everywhere”, there is another dimension.

The IT infrastructure has transformed into “Multimodal IT” – a co-existence of traditional infrastructure, software-defined infrastructure and application oriented architectures. This transformation creates unique requirements for underlying OS platform and lends strategic importance to the choice of operating system that can support multimodal IT. The OS is not just an IT administrator’s choice anymore, it is becoming a CIO’s choice. The stakes are high. Selection of the right OS platform as a foundation can lead to years of uninterrupted open-source based innovation, avoiding costly vendor lock-ins and gaining a sustainable competitive advantage.

Our engineering teams use the same forward-looking thought process to put the stakes in ground for supporting next-gen IT requirements while transforming and supporting the current infrastructure. Put in other words, strive for innovation while protecting current investment.

SUSE calls this next-gen operating system a Multimodal OS that is designed for IT Transformation.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the requirements that drive the Multimodal OS design.

Traditional Infrastructure requires supporting several use cases with a single operating system, which leads to more functionality packaged in one system. Since multiple use cases are supported the updates require support of different policies – monthly, quarterly, yearly or multiple years, depending on the environment and use case. As an example, stability as a requirement could require much fewer updates unless there is a security risk or stability risk.

In summary, here are the top 5 requirements for traditional infrastructure.

  • Multiple use cases
  • Manual and Automatic installation
  • Variety of updates, upgrades, legacy
  • Variable packaging and installation
  • Might become huge in size and management

Software-defined infrastructure may support single use cases driving optimization and efficiency for the specific use case. Microservices and container based development are key use cases. The OS here must be relatively small, self-contained and easy to manage.

OS resides on systems that could be part of a cluster. The systems can scale pretty quickly requiring automatic and centralized controls. The scale also brings in open source solutions such as Kubernetes for container orchestration, OpenStack for managing compute and Ceph for storage.

Given the nature of container based development, the updates are automatic and very frequent – order of days or weeks. So, “Always up-to-date” systems are a norm and a year or more between updates would be unacceptable for these use cases.

In summary, here are the top 5 requirements for software-defined infrastructure.

  • Single use case, Multiple Systems
  • Automatic and Centralized installation
  • Always up-to-date
  • Fit one purpose
  • Small as possible for size and management


The multimodal OS is designed to take care of requirements for both traditional infrastructure and software-defined infrastructure. As a result, enterprises can deploy and support mission-critical workloads on agile systems with zero downtime. Additionally, the multimodal OS bridges the traditional infrastructure and software-defined infrastructure. A multimodal OS is best suited to support multimodal IT, where traditional infrastructure, software-defined infrastructure and application oriented architectures co-exist.

Stay tuned @RajMeel7

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