Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Yes, You Can Automate IT. No, You Can't Avoid It.

It's been coming for a long time now. Automating your data center is emerging in a big way. You can't avoid it, you can only put it off for a while, but sooner or later, it's going to happen. I am not talking about piddly automation functions like distributing software and patches or moving a virtual machine from one hypervisor to another. I'm talking about event-based automation where the actions you would have initiated manually are done automatically. Many of the objections I hear are that automation is too risky, complex, time consuming and can't handle errors well. Those are reasonable objections, but they are also easily overcome.

If you want to take advantage of server, storage and network virtualization, you are going to have to engage in event-based automation. If you are just dipping your toe into virtualization, then you are already reaping the benefits of advanced hypervisor features and add-ons like fault tolerance, back-up and mobility that were unavailable to first adopters. If the news out of VMworld is any indication, data center automation and orchestration is going to a hot area in the coming years for good reason. The operational savings that can be achieved reaches into the 100's if not 1000's of hours saved per year, not to mention better and faster service to your customers.

A typical example of automation is demand scaling of an application, such as a web application that has periods of high demand off set by periods of low demand. In a static application, apps are typically designed for 75 percent load with performance falling off as use increases. The cost is slower responses during periods of high demand and wasted resources during periods of low demand periods. Neither situation is desirable.

To automate scaling, you have to find out what the bottleneck is, determine how to alleviate the bottleneck and then take action. There could be many reasons why bottlenecks occur, including programming errors, but with automation, you can typically address many of the common issues like increase in demand or a failed server faster than you can manually. The steps to increase capacity in a web application are typically to bring up a new server in that tier, provision it, make server connections and add it to the pool. Reducing capacity follows the steps in reverse after bleeding off connections.

If you manage capacity today, you already know what the steps are to add or remove capacity. You might even do it manually. Automating is taking each step of the process, no matter how minor, and plotting it out on a flow chart or an outline. You start with initial conditions that you can reliably expect, then you go step-by-step through the process. If you can't articulate the initial conditions, then you don't have a handle on your applications or your data center, and you are heading for bigger problems, anyway. You address the unknown initial conditions by standardizing them.  Fact is, you don't have to spend months and months agonizing over these processes. You just have to document what you already do. Now is also a good time to make improvements to the process. Here is one example:

  • 1