By Shahin Pirooz, CTO, RiverMeadow Software

As IT professionals, a lot has changed in our world over the last 20 years. With each significant shift, some of us have jumped in with both feet while others have tepidly tested the water with a single toe, and some were dragged along kicking and screaming.

We’ve gone from being the only ones who knew how to build and manage servers to becoming consumers of clouds. We went from being sys admins that did everything once and then forgot it to embracing DevOps to automate our world.  We’re no longer perceived as the choke point for implementing new technologies; instead, we’ve become the enablers—the most important part of the product development value chain.

Here we are. Yet this is only the beginning.

The reality is that over the past couple of decades, IT has emerged from its chrysalis, but we haven’t yet spread our wings. Once again, I project that enterprise IT is on the cusp of a transformative change.

To understand the indicators, let’s take a step back.

For perspective, ten years ago, when a server approached it's end of life, the procedure was straightforward (even if it caused heartburn and tears): order hardware, build, configure, setup the OS and apps, migrate data onto the new box, test, cut over, then finally retire the old box to the bone yard.

Then we got a bit smarter. We started automating bits and pieces of the process to ease the pain. At the same time, an online book store was building this cloud thing, something called IaaS that would allow enterprises to provision, build, test and de-provision a server in less time than it took IT to procure one for them. Ouch.

So we decided to learn virtualization. This allowed us to build our own “clouds” and make things happen faster by having readily available compute resources. Thus began the great battle of public (bookstore guys) vs. private (hypervisor guys). Acronyms ensued. Additionally, all this led to a tightly held belief that it mattered what hypervisor our stuff ran on, because some were better or more secure than others.

However, now that we’ve embraced consuming cloud services over provisioning IT in-house, it really doesn’t matter what hypervisor our stuff runs on anymore—as long as it is stable, secure and cost-effective. Today, public clouds (IaaS providers) are a commonplace, even preferred alternative to provisioning our own infrastructure.

It’s time to position for the next IT shift.

It’s my assertion that we are poised for another tectonic shift in the enterprise IT market. In the next five years, I believe the operating system will go the way of the hypervisor. Here today, gone tomorrow. Ten years ago, we cared what hypervisor our stuff ran on, today we don’t. Today, we care what OS our applications run on, tomorrow, I don’t expect it will be relevant.

The business no longer cares about the specifics of how the applications that run the businesses work. Rather, the business thinks in the abstractions that make up the application stack. For example, think of the systems that make up your financials. It used to be that one of the big three ERP firms would come to mind. You’d select a firm, implement its architecture design, build the servers, configure the OS, install the apps, customize the user experience, load data, embark on user acceptance testing and so on. Fast-forward 3 to 5 years, and you’d have a functional ERP solution to move over to.

Now, instead consider combining the best of DevOps with application orchestration. Doing so would enable the simple consumption of services that once required subject matter expertise, at a hefty cost and time commitment to the business.

As application orchestration becomes more mature and pervasive, we will no longer think of the OS, but rather in the abstraction of the application stack. Instead of talking about a three-tier architecture made up of servers, network devices, operating systems, applications and storage, we will simply call out the ERP AppStack (or the CRM AppStack or any other AppStack representing a business process).

In the near future, we’ll no longer care what OS is running under our applications—only that our applications are running. And, when we think about cloud mobility, we’ll no longer think in the context of individual servers, but rather in the form of an abstraction called the AppStack.

In order to continue to support business agility and growth, IT professionals must prepare for this shift. I know I am. As I staff up my teams, I seek sys admins with scripting and automation experience. Development skills are critical, and DevOps is an absolute must.