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Second guessing the third platform of IT

The third platform is a broad term for social, mobile, cloud and other applications, united in the need for a scalable IT back end.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Modern Infrastructure: Big data workloads live on-premises:

You occasionally hear of the third platform as a sort of industry shorthand for social, mobile, cloud and analytics -- applications that weren't significant factors a just a few years ago.

As compared with the first platform (mainframe) and second platform (client/server), third platform isn't so much a technical architecture. It's more a way of referencing the emerging workloads' need for horizontal scalability, statelessness and ubiquitous access.

The term also elicits some eye rolls. For Jonathan Eunice, independent IT advisor at Illuminata, "third platform" is another way of saying, 'We've got to have a cool name for this stuff that we can't otherwise easily describe.'" The problem is, he wrote, "it requires a lot of collapsing of history to make it work."

By his estimation, third platform conveniently forgets minicomputers and "lumps everything from the original standalone PCs to NetWare Unix engineering workstations to local servers and Windows NT all in under one name."

Meanwhile, "everything from 1993 to present day falls under a single Webby rubric," Eunice added, including "the rise of Windows servers, the laptop generation, open source, Linux, grid computing, Web services, service oriented architecture, virtualized datacenters, big iron Unix, the rise of scale-out, cloud, smartphones, tablets, mobile, 3G, and [Internet of Things]".

It's all a bit much for him. "Sorry, but I don't subscribe to 'You can lump everything that happened over a 20 year period into one neat label' thinking."

ALEX BARRETT is editor in chief of TechTarget's Modern Infrastructure.

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This was last published in April 2015

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What do you think about the term "third platform"?
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This statement pretty much sums it up... "[...] "third platform" is another way of saying, 'We've got to have a cool name for this stuff that we can't otherwise easily describe.'" The problem is, he wrote, "it requires a lot of collapsing of history to make it work."

Comparing random social media sites to the mainframe or client/server model seems to be out of place, because social media and analytics are media and applications, they are not the infrastructure themselves. They may rely a lot on it, but when the fluidity of these services are examined (Friendster? MySpace?), they are transient entities. The purpose they serve is not, i.e. social information, but that is application specific. It's not infrastructure in and of itself.
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I think it blurs (obliterates?) the line between the actual platform and the ever changing apps and services that reside on that platform, deviating from what the industry means by “platform.”
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It's "collapsing of history" because someone thought it'd be cooler and crisper to proclaim "mainframe, client/server, X" than to list out the eight other steps that actually transpired. It's like telling world history as "Egypt, Europe, America." Okay...but the Greeks, the Roman Empire, the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, etc. get pretty short shrift. If you didn't have Greece and Rome, you wouldn't have have Europe and America.

If you're going to collapse Everything in IT to just three buckets, they need to be conceptually bigger buckets. Equipment, Network, Services eras might do. You'd have to break eggs to make that omelet, but you could do it.

Today infrastructure is all about services. Equipment and capital infrastructure is, at one level, no longer very important. Sure, somewhere you've got to run equipment and connect networks, but yo don't *have* to do most of that yourself. Amazon, Google, PayPal, Stripe, UPS, FedEx, Facebook...the "market makers" don't want you to buy their gear, they want you to adopt their services platforms. One or two--Apple and Cisco, say--do monetize by selling you *things*. But that's incidental, in the grand scheme. Providers that sway economically important customers and ecosystems onto their services (and one level down, on the APIs, protocols, standards, licenses, and execution environments) win. Those facing erosion of ecosystems and loyalty from their services--BlackBerry, Microsoft, and HP, for example--they fight decreasing customer/partner affinity and increasingly tenuous profit streams.

That cloud services and media platforms may be transient doesn't change the game. That's business as it ever was. Where are Amdahl, Apollo, DEC, Convex, Hitachi, Nixdorf, Pyramid, Sequent, Siemens, Sun, and a few hundred others? Gone to the same graveyards or clearance bins.

Infrastructure is whatever you depend on. It's electrical power, not just turbines and transformers. It's water, delivered when you turn on a tap, not just filtration plants and water mains. It's the ability to transport your goods to market--whether you own the trucks, or UPS does. With a service, it's a lot harder to point to a specific line item on a capital expense accounting and say "There it is!" Regardless, services are now platforms and infrastructure as much as any mainframe ever was.
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It does seem to be trying too hard to wrap up several disparate areas into as single catchy phrase. I’m sure the first and second platform have swept some of the clutter under the rug, so to speak, but they seem to be established on identifiable dichotomies that make sense. The “third platform” really just seems to be an oversimplification that cross too many of these differences.
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The tech industry’s term “disruption” and other jargon like it were recently discussed on NPR. The conclusion was new buzzwords emerge when existing jargon no longer captures the whole picture or is no longer fresh. It seems third platform is suffering from the former. 
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