When I talk to businesses about their plans for cloud deployment, a frequent response is that they’d love to reap the benefits of the cloud, but that their company’s IT department isn’t organized in a way that makes it possible.
Traditionally, IT departments have been all about stability and availability — it’s their job to keep things running smoothly come what may. Risk aversion is deeply ingrained. While it’s certainly possible to maintain these IT virtues in the cloud, to leverage the cloud to its fullest advantage requires a more flexible, agile approach that may not mesh well with traditional IT.
Optimizing for legacy physical infrastructure and IT systems is essential to maintaining the core value of the business. Optimizing for the cloud is essential to introduce the agility, scalability, and flexibility that modern businesses need to remain competitive. It’s a managerial Gordian knot: optimizing for both IT approaches within the same department is difficult because the processes and procedures that suit one can be harmful to the other.
Businesses faced with this situation have three options. They can double down on their existing infrastructure and IT approach, ignoring public clouds entirely. They can go all-in on the public cloud and abandon their traditional IT strategy. Or, they can implement both traditional and cloud deployments — a strategy known as Bimodal IT.
Bimodal IT is a term introduced by Gartner that recognizes most companies are not in a position to simply migrate to the cloud. The IT management strategies in place at established companies are not amenable to a devops approach that can leverage the cloud for maximal benefit. Bimodal IT encourages the implementation of separate departments or teams, each with their own responsibilities and approaches to IT delivery. Mode 1 focuses on stability and safety. Mode 2 on agility and speed.
To be clear, Bimodal IT is not the same as a hybrid cloud approach, in which public and private cloud (or non-cloud) systems are combined. Hybrid cloud is a coherent approach to leveraging cloud technology, but differs from the Bimodal model in that Bimodal implements two parallel systems, rather than joined systems.
The benefits of Bimodal IT are clear: businesses make space for and invest resources into agile cloud deployments, but they also allow Mode 1 to do what it does best.
As Schindler Group CEO Michael Nilles says:
“It’s very important when you have an established organization to give room for innovation, and you usually can’t do that within the boundaries of an established organization. So whatever you call it, you have to have it within another unit. You need teams focused on a new innovative piece.”
Of course, Bimodal IT isn’t without its drawbacks, not the least of which is organizational complexity. There’s an inherent risk of duplication of effort and organizational confusion if the responsibilities of the two “Modes” are not clearly delineated.
That said, Bimodal IT is likely to be a useful route into the cloud for companies that have had difficulty conceptualizing and implementing infrastructure deployments and IT management structures capable of optimizing for both legacy and cloud infrastructure.
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