The answer lies with the next logical stage in virtualization’s evolutionary path: automate IT operations functions to increase productivity. Regardless of the cloud architecture chosen (public, private, hybrid), automation of processes in the areas of Catalog/Request Management, Approvals, Chargeback, Provisioning (not only OS, but storage, network, database and application), Governance and Compliance yields a significant ROI for today’s IT organization.
Software tools that are used to automate IT processes have matured significantly in recent years. They now cost less to implement and are easier to integrate into existing infrastructure and tools. Superior integration capability means that previous investments in areas like virtualization can be preserved and a best-of-breed approach can be taken without forcing vendor lock-in. Open source software like OpenStack™ has put tremendous downward pricing pressure on traditional enterprise software. This means that the ROI of automating specific parts of IT Operations has changed in favor of the CIO, and what a short time ago might have been a significant financial commitment with high risk is now much less in both cost and risk. Automation is feasible, affordable and carries much lower risk than even one year ago.
This blog entry is based on an abbreviated version of a white paper published recently by Zefflin. To obtain the full copy, click here.
What Processes Should I Automate?
- Request/ Catalog Management - Enable self-service for requesting of complex computing environments resulting in better control over standards that are used in both development and production. Faster response time – not waiting for administrator to analyze requested environments.
- Approvals - Creates an audit trail of all requests and approvals. Brings transparency to the process, so requestors can see where approvals are stuck and how long they can expect them to take.
- Charge-Back/ Show-Back - Enable cost accounting at a department level, which can be an improvement over public cloud providers by requiring less paperwork, like expense reports and manual chargebacks.
- Provisioning (OS/ Network/ Storage/ Database/ Application) - Better control, reduction in human error, more efficient use of storage and server capacity, Faster provisioning of complex computing environments, standardization of OS images are just some of the benefits to automating this process.
- Governance - Better control over computing environments during their lifecycle, resulting in reduced management cost.
- Compliance - Automatically enunciates out-of-compliance situations for key areas including PCI, internal security and ISO, helps to identify previously unknown processes that result in non-compliance (such as application hotfixes), Provides flexibility in dealing with out of compliance situations (like opening a service management incident, routing to person for correction or automatically remediating, then notifying key personell)
- General Policy Automation - This category features use of orchestration solutions to automate numerous repeatable IT operations tasks such as:
What Are Some Common Problems I Can Solve?
- Operating System Provisioning - Once OS templates are built and the deployment processes is automated, the IT infrastructure is better controlled, standards are more easily enforced and compliance is improved - all while increasing productivity of existing staff.
- DevOps and Automation - Like any process, once the workflow of code --> build --> test --> release is well defined, it can be automated. Automation should not only strive to reduce manual effort and improved speed and quality, it should facilitate coordination and communication between development and operations.
- Automated Problem/Incident Remediation - Automation provides a way to record, track and measure incidents of unknown origin that have well known work arounds or corrections, such as a memory leak requiring server restart periodically.
- Virtual Sprawl - What if you could monitor all your vm's in development, test and production and flag them when certain thresholds are reached (last login>60 days, network traffic below a certain level or compute load below a certain level). With that approach, you could proactively, automatically snap-shot vm's that are not being used and tear them down, freeing up valuable development resources.
- Password Reset - Most companies have specific password reset policies on both virtual and physical servers. A typical policy might dictate that all passwords are changed every 90 days. This whole process can be automated with a simple application of an orchestration tool.
Download the white paper to learn more.
Today's Software Tools
For more details about software vendors and tools, download the white paper.
What Are My Peers Doing?
For more detail, download the white paper.
How Do I Integrate Data Center Automation into My Organization and Environment?
The following steps are essential in adopting an automation strategy.
1. Cloud strategy, architecture and roadmap. It is important to understand what you will be working with before considering automation. For example, choosing AWS as your primary platform provider may affect the choice of automation tools (like orchestration or server provisioning) and processes (like application provisioning or compliance).
2. Step back and look at all manual processes. It is important to objectively look at any manual processes. It is equally essential to look at each process from a ROI perspective: how much do I have to invest in automating this process? How much do I have to invest in maintaining it? and how much labor can I save as a result? Caution: pride of ownership and turf protection can influence the outcome of this review – it must be strictly objective. Some processes may have to be adjusted or re-engineered which adds to the cost. Examples of simple processes to automate would be server root password reset or event remediation. More complex processes might include application provisioning and configuration.
3. Develop a short, medium and long term strategy and objectives, with ROI expectations for each stage. This will help prioritize and set expectations. Often it is good to start with short, quick win types of automation projects to prove the success and generate internal momentum for the idea of further investment in automation. This planning should be done with a firm understanding of what is possible, feasible and risk appropriate.
4. Identify software tools. Today there are an incomprehensible number and variety of software tools, from open source to startups and well-established enterprise software companies, that purport to automate data center processes of all kinds. New tools appear on a weekly basis. It is important to filter out the noise, cut through the hype and find out what will work for your organization at a reasonable cost. It is also crucial to determine if you already own some of the software that can be used which will dramatically cut cost. For example, if your company has a EULA with an enterprise software company in place, you may have access to some tools already under the terms of that EULA. A solid orchestration tools is essential, as orchestration is the centerpiece to automation of data center processes. It should be flexible, able to develop custom workflows without extensive training and have a large library of plug-ins or APIs that can be used to integrate with your existing applications such as service desk, change management or DevOps tools.
5. Take a baseline for future comparison. A baseline is essential in order to measure progress and success of future automation efforts. A baseline should encompass metrics for cost and speed of service
For more information about how to adopt Data Center Automation in your organization and environment, download the white paper.