One of the hottest topics of conversation in IT circles these days is the move to the third platform. For some organizations, making the leap will require a shift in their IT game plan.

The third platform, according to analysts from research firm IDC, is the name of the new model of computing we are beginning to adopt: using mobile device to access cloud-based applications and data, and integrating big data analytics and social technologies. It’s called the third platform because it’s the third “once-every-25-year” shift to a totally new computing model. The first platform, consisting of mainframes and terminals, gave way to the second platform in the mid-1980s. This second platform, which we are all familiar with, is the client-server model supported by the PC.

While we’ve been going in this direction for some time, analysts predict the transition soon will be shifting into high gear; from 2013 through 2020, this new model of technology will drive apprxomately 90 percent of all the growth in the IT market, according to IDC Chief Analyst Frank Gens. If predictions are correct, desktop PCs will eventually go the way of green-screen terminals as cloud-based, mobile computing becomes the norm.

In some ways, the move toward the third platform has been foreshadowed by another trend that has been building for years – the bring your own device phenomenon. This trend of employees working on their own, unsecure devices is occurring because they want mobility that their organizations may not provide. In the third platform era, it’s a foregone conclusion that many of the mobile devices involved will be employee-owned and outside the control of IT administrators.

Embracing BYOD and the third platform model as a whole changes the role of IT. As mobile devices become the predominant method of connecting to data and applications – which primarily live in the cloud -- it will be IT’s job to enable this connection securely. The third platform essentially shifts importance away from endpoints and puts the focus on the network as the cornerstone of business.

More than ever, this makes network visibility a critical business imperative. Without high-speed, high-performance, secure networks, mobile productivity and data-driven, cloud-based efficiency can’t happen. Complete network visibility makes this possible and allows IT to take a proactive approach toward maintaining the network as a reliable, secure strategic asset.

Security on the Third Platform

As a precursor to the third platform, BYOD has taught us a valuable security lesson. The network perimeter is a thing of the past and waging a ground war by trying to control or limit network access is a losing battle. While setting smart policies, enforcing them and educating employees on their importance may help, they’re virtually guaranteed to be broken eventually.
 
Instead of worrying about endpoints, IT’s focus must shift toward protecting what really matters – the corporate network, as well as business-critical applications and data, wherever they reside. In many cases, this shifts the security burden to the cloud provider or at least requires close cooperation between these providers and their customers to implement appropriate levels of protection.
 
The Growing Importance of Network Visibility

Network monitoring has long been an integral part of IT operations, and its importance has increased in the third platform model. Far from just troubleshooting, it fills a key role in helping business operate efficiently and securely. This is validated by increasing investment in tools and network monitoring switches.

The sheer growth in network traffic with the third platform model demands that organizations invest in faster high-performance networks. Mobile devices must be able to connect with cloud-based applications and data at all times. Big data analytics and social data integration, which are catching on as meaningful components of business, will become commonplace. This leaves no room for networks to slow down or fail completely. Speed grows in importance as well. And, as networks grow in complexity and speed, the task of monitoring itself also must evolve.

The third platform presents a new model for IT, one in which the job lies in optimizing and securing the connection between two points essentially outside of their control. This connection becomes a critical strategic asset. While this may require a radical change in the current IT strategies of many organizations, it is a necessary evolution to face the challenges of today’s business landscape.