What is Data Center automation (DCA)? Many vendors talk about how their product or service enables DCA but if you perform an Internet search on Data Center automation, it’s hard to get an easily understood answer. In today’s blog, let’s look at what Data Center automation is, what benefits it provides an IT organization, and what special considerations you should take when implementing new Data Center automation projects.
What is data center automation?
Data Center automation enables the automated and unattended execution of critical workflows and processes on servers and other data center equipment, including:
- Scheduling routine Data Center processes such as backups, replication, downloads/uploads, application events, and other items that previously required manual effort.
- Monitoring the status of Data Center components and automatically alerting key responders when a problem occurs.
- Maintenance functions such as patching and updating equipment.
- Service provisioning and configuration of standardized infrastructure resources for development, testing, or deployment of new apps, including new physical, virtual, or cloud servers.
- Application service delivery within minutes of a user request, fulfilling approved user requests without manual intervention.
- Delivery of additional application workload on demand, such as additional Web servers, app servers, or load balancing capability or for automatically moving network traffic from a highly trafficked Data Center to a Data Center with spare capacity.
- Compliance which includes auditing and reporting of live configurations; comparing current and past configurations to spotlight differences; and implementing rule-based policies for regulatory standards such as the Defense Information Security Agency (DISA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX).
Benefits of Data Center automation
Data Center automation provides efficiencies in faster service delivery, reducing the IT time needed for mundane tasks, and in freeing up IT staff to concentrate on more strategic projects, rather than providing routine operations and configuration tasks. It provides consistency in that automated functions are performed exactly the same way each time they are performed, reducing IT costs and increasing service quality. Data Center automation also helps ensure compliance with corporate policies and external regulations.
Data Center automation considerations
Given DCA’s benefits, you might be tempted to automate everything within your Data Center. Resist that urge. At BMC, we recommend that IT shops automate intelligently, rather than automating Data Center functions in an ad hoc manner. Ad hoc implementations can be dangerous because they can introduce risk into your Data Center, which can result in expensive mistakes.
Rather than performing ad hoc automation on previously deployed services or whenever there’s a problem, you should treat Data Center automation planning the same way you would any other major project. Take a comprehensive approach to automation that addresses the following principles.
- Perform selective automation – Only automate processes and workflows where substantial business value can be realized. Don’t automate processes just for automation’s sake. Focus on the business value and the tangible business outcomes automation bring to your organization. Most Data Centers have limited resources for effecting automation changes. Look for a compelling ROI in your DCA projects, and make sure you get the best return from the projects you do deploy.
- Automate new processes and workflows and phase out old non-automated processes – Whenever possible, implement automation for new capabilities rather than retrofitting automation into old processes (unless there’s a good ROI realized with the older process change). People are reluctant to embrace change in an existing known process, whereas incorporating automation in new processes becomes part of the learning curve and will encounter less resistance.
- Move from less complicated automation to more complicated automation – An incremental approach to automation works best rather than tackling a large scale automation project where there is more risk of failure or mistakes. Think smaller projects first that can be built upon before moving to more ambitious projects.
- Test then deploy, not the other way around – For applications, test automation changes in your test and QA environments first before deploying them to your live environment. However, it’s more difficult to create a test or QA environment for a Data Center and many shops are forced to go live with DCA changes without testing. If your shop is fortunate enough to have a test or QA environment for your Data Center, test your automation changes there before going live. If not, look for ways to incrementally deploy DCA without exposing the entire Data Center to a massive automation change that could fail (see point #3).
Today’s post provided a quick introduction to Data Center automation. For more information, check out the following related links below or contact us at BMC Software. BMC software specializes in Data Center automation tools and services, and we’ll be glad to provide you with any advice you need for your own DCA projects.
These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.