Bimodal IT is an industry buzzword for the segmentation of a company’s IT infrastructure into two buckets – Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 infrastructure emphasizes stability and safety. Type 2 infrastructure emphasizes agility, speed, and flexibility. In reality, that means Type 1 infrastructure is legacy infrastructure, and Type 2 infrastructure is cloud infrastructure.

Gartner developed the idea of bimodal IT to conceptualize the situation established companies find themselves in. Many business critical systems run on legacy infrastructure, but businesses would also like to leverage the benefits the cloud can bring. Legacy infrastructure is often thought of as a pejorative by cloud cheerleaders: it’s an unfortunate reality, but the sooner everything is in the cloud, the better — so goes the cloud line. Bimodal IT is a different way of looking at things, but it’s one that attempts to paper over conceptual and practical cracks that could be harmful to businesses if they take it seriously.

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The bimodal concept can be thought of as either descriptive or prescriptive. As a descriptive term, it’s a bit of rhetoric that attempts to obscure the fact that having parallel IT systems can be harmful to productivity and management effectiveness. As a prescriptive term that advocates for maintaining, or even creating, Type 1 and Type 2 systems, it verges on the irresponsible.

New Name for an Old Problem:

Bimodal IT is a new name for something that’s been around for a while :

“Whether you call it legacy versus emergent systems, Brownfield versus Greenfield deployments, or sustaining versus disruptive technologies, the dichotomy between old and new or maintenance and development has been around since the dawn of IT.”

There’s a kernel of good thinking in the Bimodal IT concept. Different applications of information technology require different approaches. Product development may depend on agile processes running on infrastructure that’s quick to deploy, scale, and spin down. Customer databases require an entirely different approach: long-term stability, reliability, and correctness. But bimodal IT contains the faulty assumption that the cloud isn’t entirely capable of supporting both approaches to infrastructure management.

Separation problems

Bimodal IT is dangerous for the same reason maintaining silos has always been dangerous. As Jason Bloomberg has said:

“Fundamentally, Bimodal IT recommends maintaining your organizational silos, which is contrary to the entire notion of business transformation. True, I advise executives to know when to optimize, and know when to disrupt – but not in separate silos!”

Bimodal is a “Band-Aid” Solution

Legacy infrastructure is a fact of life, and businesses should, of course, be capable of managing that infrastructure to benefit the business, while making the most of cloud infrastructure where appropriate. But in many cases, legacy systems are a necessary evil that could run perfectly well in the cloud, taking advantages of all the capabilities the cloud provides to lower cost and optimize infrastructure efficiency. Bimodal IT sanctifies a division that should instead be a temporary solution to exigent circumstances.

My point is not that all infrastructure should be cloud infrastructure, but that realities caused by historical necessities shouldn’t be allowed to dictate future business processes, IT policies, and infrastructure deployments.

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