Malgorzata Zabieglinska-Lupa, Business Solution Manager Comarch ICT
Rafa Rudecki, Business Solution Manager
How should CIOs prepare their business to retain a competitive edge in the future? A key element to this challenge will be an organization’s ability to take advantage of the huge potential represented by IT automation. Automation is the solution for IT leaders seeking to manage growth and bring down costs at the same time. Gartner predicts that, by 2017, 75 per cent of enterprises will have more than four diverse automation technologies within their IT management portfolios. The main goal in IT automation is to make all activities related to cloud computing, IT processes and services as fast and efficient as possible. Automation should also help your company focus on work that adds additional value and provides more agility in your business.
The Evolution of IT Automation
Automation started from physical services in an on-premises data center, and evolved through virtualization and cloud services, to containers, server automation and DevOps. In the 1980s the automotive industry was transformed by automation, in the same way that the IT industry is being transformed now. The next revolution in IT is automation. We are all living and working in increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing “business systems”. The technology is constantly evolving, developers are building and releasing ever more new software, and more and more objects and disparate devices are connecting to Internet and each other. In order to maintain a competitive edge, businesses need to implement an automation strategy, because automation allows IT teams to do more with less. So, how can I migrate from on-premises to the cloud, or from a physical to a virtual infrastructure in my own data center? Automation has completely changed the game, and the data center has evolved dramatically over the last few years. Most manual activities are being automated in the current cloud environments. Automation also applies to containers, server virtualization environments, and software-defined networking (SDN) – the technology that you can use to reduce the effort required to provision, configure, update, and maintain services, and to detect and resolve all problems quickly. Automation simplifies daily IT operations. The requirements for automation are broken down into different layers, such as the server, software, cloud, virtual and data center layers. For example, at the server layer, administrators can virtualize the hardware and create completely automated environments for new blades and servers. All this can be done by using highly automated configuration cloud tools that can help you effectively manage the server farms that are becoming ever denser in modern data centers. Cloud automation tools also extend to the software layer, where a complex system can be configured once and rolled out as needed. The infrastructure as code approach to an increasingly complex data center requires a set of advanced techniques and technologies, including cloud automation tools.
Why Do Companies Think about Automation ?
Why IT automation? Thousands of companies have already successfully automated various IT areas. To achieve greater benefits, you need to look beyond implementation of the automation process. The automation of various IT areas (cloud computing, processes, etc.) can bring many benefits in the form of greater efficiency, reduced or eradicated human error, improved reliability, increased predictability, knowledge digitization, cost reduction, etc. To realize the great business potential of IT process automation, it is extremely important to start with clear, well-defined goals, such as improving price points or a particular process. The objective of any automation project must be clear. Three of the most commonly reported key reasons why companies think about automation are efficiency, cost reduction and risk mitigation. During implementation of automation, focus on areas that can bring swift returns or added value and demonstrate the potential business benefits. Even minor success will build confidence in automation and break down business barriers. So, how we can achieve this?
Figure 1: “What are the Top Three Reasons Driving your Organization to Automate?” Sources: Gartner, December 2015
Virtualization is the perfect area in which we can implement automation to achieve greater benefits easily. Virtualization simplifies, and even automates, processes for providing users with the resources they need. It is easy for administrators to provide users with the server they need in minutes, by using templates or cloning virtual machine images. Moreover, the costs entailed are minimal. This is a completely different reality. In the physical world, buying a new server or disk array is a big expense, and requires several weeks of waiting for delivery and implementation. This doesn’t, however, mean that creating a new virtual machine can’t be time consuming – a problem that can occur if you virtualize only the server infrastructure, and later create a new virtual machine for which you need a network administrator intervention, for example to create an appropriate network or configure new firewall.
Together with virtualization goes consolidation, and much better use of available hardware resources. A smaller number of servers lowers demand on the rest of the hardware, which translates into a data center that requires less physical space. For some clients, consolidation of resources can lead to unprofitable continuation of investment in their own data center. Then it makes sense to consider using collocation services or renting computing power from an external service provider. In the virtual environment, tasks related to the administration of operating systems and databases are significantly simplified and automated, which translates into significant savings in maintaining the IT environment. Many companies are concerned about the need to dispose of old hardware resources, but it is good practice to use them, for example, for development testing. For software development companies, virtualization enables significant time and resource savings because test environments can be built quickly, separate from production environments.
Virtualization offers many advanced features that enhance application availability and improve business continuity. One of the most important is the ability to migrate instances on demand between servers or arrays, including between those that are geographically dispersed, without interrupting their work. These technologies translate into greater application continuity. The implementation of virtualization in a data center also enables the quick and relatively simple implementation of automation processes, such as automatic switching between data centers in the event of a failure, which helps to secure disaster recovery systems and to completely cut off the problem at source. Understanding which automation tools best suit which IT processes and services is critical to the development of a successful automation strategy, and is a necessity in order to minimize technology overlap. Remember, data is critical for your business. So, automating the delivery of personalized IT services and creating powerful cloud automation services to replicate, secure and quantify this information is also critical for you if you want to stay competitive.
The reality is that automation doesn’t appear as if by magic. It is all about those same services, processes and tasks that every employee goes through each day. You can’t avoid it automation; you may delay it, but sooner or later you will have to face it. At the end of the day, with all your resources, tasks and services, automation will prove to be the one and only correct solution. Where are you on your automation journey? The hardest step to take is the first. If you try to avoid or address the key, common challenges of automation, success will almost be in the palm of your hand. Remember, there are many commercial orchestration packages from the likes of Citrix, Gale Technologies, HP, IBM and Novell, as well as open source packages such as Puppet and Chef, that at least provide the framework to implement your rules and help you initiate automation in your business.
 “How to Avoid the Five Most Common IT Automation Pitfalls” Gartner, 7 December 2015