Bimodal IT, VMworld, and the future of VMware
In Gartner’s 2014 research for CIOs, we’ve increasingly been talking about “bimodal IT”. Bimodal IT is the idea that organizations need two speeds of IT — call them traditional IT and agile IT (Gartner just calls them mode-1 and mode-2). Traditional IT is focused on “doing IT right”, with a strong emphasis on efficiency and safety, approval-based governance and price-for-performance. Agile IT is focused on “doing IT fast”, supporting prototyping and iterative development, rapid delivery, continuous and process-based governance, and value to the business (being business-centric and close to the customer).
We’ve found that organizations are most successful when they have two modes of IT — with different people, processes, and tools supporting each. You can make traditional IT more agile — but you cannot simply add a little agility to it to get full-on agile IT. Rather, that requires fundamental transformation. At some point in time, the agile IT mode becomes strategic and begins to modernize and transform the rest of IT, but it’s actually good to allow the agile-mode team to discover transformative new approaches without being burdened by the existing legacy.
Furthermore, agile IT doesn’t just require new technologies and new skills — it requires a different set of skills from IT professionals. The IT-centric individual who is a cautious guardian and enjoys meticulously following well-defined processes is unlikely going to turn into a business-centric individual who is a risk-taking innovator and enjoys improvising in an uncertain environment.
That brings us to VMware (and many of the other traditional IT vendors who are trying to figure out what to do in an increasingly cloud-y world). Today’s keynote messages at VMworld have been heavily focused on cost reduction and offering more agility while maintaining safety (security, availability, reliability) and control. This is clearly a message that is targeted at traditional IT, and it’s really a story of incremental agility, using the software-defined data center to do IT better. There’s a heavy overtone of reassurance that the VMware faithful can continue to do business as usual, partaking of some cool new technologies in conjunction with the VMware infrastructure that they know and love — and control.
But a huge majority of the new agile-mode IT is cloud-native. It’s got different champions with different skills (especially development skills), and a different approach to development and operations that results in different processes and tooling. “Agility” doesn’t just mean “faster provisioning” (although to judge from the VMware keynote and customer speakers, IT Operations continue to believe this is the case). VMware needs to find ways to be relevant to the agile-IT mode, rather than just helping tradtional-IT VMware admins try to improve operations efficiency in a desperate grasp to retain control. (Unfortunately for VMware, the developer-relevant portions of the company were spun off into Pivotal.)
Bimodal IT also implies that hybrid IT is really simply the peaceful coexistence of non-cloud and cloud application components — not the idea that it’s one set of management tools that sit on top of all environments. VMware admins are obviously attracted to the ability to extend their existing tools and processes to the cloud (whether service provider IaaS or an internal private cloud), but that’s not necessarily the right thing to do. You might run traditional IT both in non-cloud and cloud modes and want hybrid tooling for both — but you should not do that for traditional-IT and agile-IT modes (regardless of whether it’s non-cloud or cloud), but instead use best-of-breed tooling for each mode.
If you’re considering the future of any IT vendor today, you have to ask yourself: What is their strategy to address each mode of IT? The mere recognition of the importance of applications and the business is insufficient.
(Gartner clients only: See Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda and Bimodal IT: How to Be Digitally Agile Without Making a Mess for a lot more information about bimodal IT. See our 2013 and 2014 Professional Effective Planning Guides, Coming to Terms With the Nexus of Forces and Reshaping IT for the Digital Business for a guide to what IT professionals should do to advance their careers and organizations given these trends.)