The rise of the multimodal IT stack

The reality of the multimodal stack is already here. How can we harness its mélange of resources, ingredients, and flavors to transform our businesses?
27 June 2018

As the Linux operating system continues to be more widely understood, discussed and popularized, we (arguably) need to more fully understand its place in the computing universe and assess what impact it is having on the ability for us to successfully integrate and interoperate enterprise IT stacks.

Initially developed as a project that he described as ‘just a hobby, won’t be big and professional’ by Linux founder Linus Torvalds, the free and open source operating system turned 25-years old in 2016.

Main Linux distros

Widely deployed on servers, in cloud datacenters and in embedded devices, Linux has always struggled to find the same user desktop foothold enjoyed by Microsoft Windows. Among the main ‘distributions’ (or distros, as they are known) of Linux are Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS and SUSE.

Standing for Software-und System-Entwicklung in its original German form, developments at SUSE in line with the firm’s latest release of SUSE Linux Enterprise 15 evidence some subtle shifts happening across the wider transept of all operating systems.

As a side note here, it’s worth noting that ‘enterprise’ versions of Linux are also essentially free, but the vendors behind these releases will sell maintenance and support services for customers using them in mission-critical environments.

According to the release notes that come with the latest version of SUSE Linux, the developers who built this enterprise-grade operating system have engineered it to exist as a ‘multimodal’ operating system.

But what is this term referring to and what does it mean in practice?

“As organizations transform their enterprise systems, multiple infrastructures for different workloads and applications are needed,” said Thomas Di Giacomo, SUSE CTO.

“This often means integrating cloud-based platforms into enterprise systems, merging containerized development with traditional development, or combining legacy applications with microservices.”

What is multimodal IT?

So multimodal IT is a consequence of so-called digital transformation, that is – it’s a mix of operating systems, running a mix of software platforms on multiple infrastructures, driving a mix of different application types running a variety of data workloads all being accessed by an assortment of different device form factors for wildly differing use cases.

SUSE says that making multimodal work often means integrating cloud-based platforms into enterprise systems, or merging containerized development with traditional development, or combining legacy applications with microservices.

The company insists that SUSE Linux Enterprise 15 is a modern, modular operating system that helps simplify multimodal IT, makes traditional IT infrastructure more efficient and provides an engaging platform for developers.

As a result, customers can easily deploy and transition business-critical workloads across on-premise and public cloud environments.

“Operating systems remain a foundational building block for modern infrastructure. Linux has become a preferred platform for the cloud and for modern cloud-native application development. It has also gained stature as a preferred development platform for most software vendors,” said Stephen Belanger, senior research analyst for computing platforms at IDC.

Where do we want go today?

There are some comparatively easy to identify takeaways from this discussion for firms who are looking to identify and achieve multimodal-ness (don’t worry, it’s not a real word, yet) in the development of their own IT stacks.

It is important to look for IT infrastructure elements that share a ‘common code base’ in order to facilitate interoperability. It’s also important to look for modular software that is inherently composable, like Lego building blocks.

Ultimately, it’s also essential to look for platforms that provide tools to manage and bring together all these building blocks.

Our enterprise software applications are becoming (mostly) easier to use as they are increasingly built to emulate the ‘intuitiveness’ exhibited by consumer level apps that typically require no training or user manual.

The flip side of this is that our enterprise software applications are becoming (mostly) much more complex at the back end, so that management element for the DevOps team to use becomes very important indeed.

The reality of the multimodal stack is already here, how well we harness its mélange of resources, ingredients and flavors is up to us. Pass the recipe book, please.