The Rise of Multimodal IT and What It Means To You | SUSE Communities

The Rise of Multimodal IT and What It Means To You


Multimodal IT is a consequence of organizations around the world transforming their enterprise systems to embrace modern and agile technologies. In order to ensure that traditional IT environments smoothly adapt to this new technology mix, multiple infrastructures for different workloads and applications are necessary. Often, this means integrating cloud-based platforms into your enterprise systems, or merging containerized development with traditional development, or combining legacy applications with microservices.

Multimodal IT = A co-existence of traditional infrastructure, software-defined infrastructure and application oriented architectures.

Multimodal IT Infographic

The dictionary meaning of mul·ti·mod·al – “characterized by several different modes of activity or occurrence”. In order to understand multimodal IT, let’s first define “mode” in context of IT.

Mode simply implies a type of IT infrastructure and associated set of processes. Gartner uses the Bimodal concept to illustrate the existence of two types of IT – Mode 1 and Mode 2.

  • Mode 1 IT typically implies traditional IT infrastructure, waterfall or ITIL processes, and long-cycle times (order of months or years).
  • Mode 2 IT on the other hand implies software-defined infrastructure, agile technology, agile methods such as Scrum, DevOps methods, and short cycle times (order of days or weeks).


Multimodal IT suggests that along with Traditional Infrastructure (Mode 1) and Software-Defined Infrastructure (Mode 2) there are variations and combinations of mode 1 and mode 2. So an IT organization could have a traditional infrastructure using ITIL processes, a software-defined infrastructure using DevOps, or a mix of infrastructures that is undergoing digital transformation, where some aspects are traditional and other aspects are software-defined. Other variations may involve moving agile workloads across a traditional on-premise infrastructure and a public cloud.

Many organizations find themselves undergoing a journey of IT transformation. They have a traditional IT infrastructure with physical servers or virtualized servers, running monolithic or N-tier applications and use waterfall development processes. As they transform, some of the on-premise workloads and servers get moved to the cloud. The legacy apps are containerized directly or get converted to microservices. As a result, the organization finds itself using a mix of traditional infrastructure and software-defined infrastructure, which is essentially a multimodal IT scenario.

Let’s take a look at few Multimodal IT scenarios.

Multimodal scenario 1 – Mixture of IT infrastructure:

Servers reside within traditional infrastructure and applications run on software-defined infrastructure

If you are running databases (SQL, Oracle, SAP, etc.), it is likely that these are running on a traditional infrastructure. However, you may have started to change the front-end applications to be designed using microservices. The base business logic could be in containers. The analytics performed on underlying data could also be in containers. So the containers running the microservices applications are on the software-defined infrastructure while accessing the back-end databases over traditional infrastructure. The IT team, in this case, gets the reliability and security of the traditional infrastructure while leveraging the benefits of containers for customer-facing value-add applications. In essence, the business applications run on software-defined infrastructure and access the back-end databases housed in the traditional infrastructure.

Multimodal Scenario 1


Multimodal scenario 2 – Mobility of application workloads across mixed IT infrastructure:

Move workloads across traditional and software-defined infrastructure

A development team starts with developing container workloads on a traditional on-premise enterprise server that runs a container engine on a physical or virtual server. As the project progresses the scope of the containers grows. The number of containers starts running into the thousands. In order to support the scale and required orchestration of these containers, the workloads may move to Kubernetes and a software-defined infrastructure where the compute, network and storage can be easily provisioned and deployed. The team may move the workloads transparently from on-premise servers to the cloud and vice-versa for testing and production. Consequently, the development team could end up using both traditional servers as well as a software-defined infrastructure to maximize its development efficiency.


Multimodal scenario 3 – Mixture of Processes:

Processes of traditional infrastructure used for technology of software-defined infrastructure

A high-tech IT company starts using containers for designing new applications and transforming parts of current monolithic apps. The data center at this organization is mostly using a traditional infrastructure and long-term support cycles. Therefore the data center administrator requires the container engine to be supported for several years. In general, the container engine and container apps follow a continuous integration/continuous deployment model with update cycles that are on the order of days or weeks or few months. However, in this case, the support cycle for a software-defined technology is expected in line with a traditional infrastructure. In essence, the company applies the upgrade processes of the traditional IT data center to the container engine, which is typically used with agile methods of software-defined infrastructure, creating a mixed set of processes.


Multimodal scenario 4 – Mix of deployment scenarios:

A variety of deployment scenarios co-exist spanning traditional and software-defined infrastructure

An IT team uses a traditional IT infrastructure for security and reliability. The servers provide uninterrupted service for many years with very few major upgrades. The applications here are not required to be moved around. Another team is supporting a customer facing e-commerce application that is continuously updated with features and bug fixes. The workloads are deployed on a cloud to support scalability and flexibility. Also, the team requires extra security for some of its applications and uses a virtualized infrastructure to run containers. Yet another team is responsible for analytics and houses large amounts of data, using an OpenStack cloud to manage the compute, storage and network resources across the IT organization.


The above scenarios illustrate a few common use cases of Multimodal IT. This brings us to the next step.

How do we address the needs of Multimodal IT?

The starting point is to recognize that the organization has Multimodal needs. Different types of IT infrastructures may exist with unique requirements both in terms of technologies and processes involved.

The mixed IT infrastructure as a whole delivers much value to the business. Recognizing the different types of IT can lead to maximizing the value for each of the types (modes) of IT. Silos of IT domains can sometimes prevent you from fully maximizing the benefits of Multimodal IT. The goal is to break the silos using software-defined infrastructures and processes and, consequently, drive maximum benefits out of the overall Multimodal IT environment for the business. The benefits can vary depending upon the business goals, e.g., increase efficiency, optimize costs, improve development, improve maintenance, etc.

The challenges of Multimodal IT

It is relatively easy to show how different tools and setups help with the specific business needs and validate an investment because of the return-on-investment (ROI) for adapting the right technology.

However, the challenge for IT managers becomes how to implement with the available human resources and given skills. New head count might not get approved, training time might interrupt operations or delay the deployment of new tools. It is important to search for a platform and partner supporting multimodal IT without the need for new training or too many additional skills.

Build bridges across Multimodal IT

One of the approaches to derive benefits of a Multimodal IT environment is by building bridges across the different modes of IT in an organization. You can modernize traditional infrastructure and, at the same time, protect your IT investment by avoiding the disruptive approach of rip-and-replace. By bridging traditional and software-defined approaches, you can protect your current investment in the traditional infrastructure and incrementally transform or adapt new technology.

Use a platform that supports multimodal IT

Multimodal IT creates a new set of requirements from the underlying operating system platform. An operating system designed for Multimodal IT is called a Multimodal Operating System (OS). The multimodal OS provides the foundation so that traditional applications keep running, software-defined components are built seamlessly and application-oriented architectures are supported. The multimodal OS bridges the traditional and software-defined infrastructure and helps break the silos.

In the coming days and weeks we will explore, through a series of blogs, the various aspects of Multimodal IT and a Multimodal OS.

Stay tuned @RajMeel7

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