What is Automation? – Part 1

It seems like it should be a simple question, but it isn’t.  Is a script automation? What about a trouble ticket in a service desk application? My email application“automatically” checks email every minute. Is that automation? Well, the answeris yes to all of that, but it doesn’t really help. So, the first thing we needto is limit the discussion a bit.


First off, let’s limit it to the “data center” for now.Secondly, let’s limit it to “useful” and “reusable” automation. I would define useful as something that brings value to the business/organization – reducingcosts, reducing risk, reducing time to market/value, etc. This condition makes sure that we don’t look at automation purely for the sake of automation, it needs to bring a real, tangible benefit that outweighs the costs of putting itin place – which is exactly the same question my wife asks me when I want to buy a new gadget (so much for the milk frother I bought last year…). Reusablemight seem obvious, but this precludes things like single use scripts orhome-grown solutions that would be impossible to use without the creator onhand to make it work.


Now, there is another question that I could have asked earlier, but didn’t. Why should we care? This is a question with great significance in our industry today. And I put that change at the feet of two intersecting trends – Cloud Computing and Agile Development. Cloud Computing is impossible without automation. You just can’t deliver the expectations for rapid delivery without it. Agile Development has shaken the world of software development to its core, and has completely changed the expectations of many business application owners. We are now seeing development teams tied tightly to the business owners, with rapid turnaround times from development to release. These trends also demand end-to-end automation. It is no longer good enough to merely automate a single step and leave the rest to the reader. Customers now want to automate things like Full-Stack provisioning or Change Management from the request all way to the changes on devices.


To help us in this discussion, I want to introduce a layeredview of automation to put some bounds on the discussion. In the long traditionof a serialized article, we are going to start off with the first layer -“EnterpriseJob Scheduling” and “Embedded Automation”. 

automation - layer 1.png

     What is Automation? – Layer 1


We can get started with “EmbeddedAutomation”. So what is that? This area includes all of those tools that havesprung from the desire to tame the chaos of error-prone manual processes and thewonderful world of scripts. The creators of those tools wanted to createrepeatable processes that worked in a one-to-many fashion. In particular, we see here the most advanced tools that have incorporated the domain knowledge needed to install, configure, and maintain the devices and applications in the data center. So, here have the usual suspects like Server and Network automation, but also tools like Database Automation. For example, in the case of the latter, the massive gains in productivity come from in-depth knowledge of what it takes to install a database, upgrade it, patch it, and scale it up and down.


Enterprise Job Scheduling is a one of the most common forms of automation in the data center. Job Scheduling has come a long way since thedays of batch jobs. Not only do we see the same drive for distributed operations and efficiencies here, but the “jobs” have been more and more defined by the needs of the business, not just scheduling backups or reboots.Now we see business process managers (ex. financial managers processing invoices every night), who care little about the mechanisms under the surface, finding immense value in the ability to able to schedule massive workloads that have been finished on time and correctly every time. But, we talk more about that infuture installments.


So, in the next installment, we will add a layer or two. Iwill add one note of caution before I sign off. By starting off with these two areas, I am by no means suggesting that they aren’t valuable. Our core tenant of automation means that we measure the worth of automation by the value itbrings to the business. Any automation platform needs to be built on top ofthese core disciplines to bring real value to the lofty heights of somethinglike cloud or IT orchestration.


See you next time!

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