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New Research: IT Automation

IT is caught between requests for new applications, services, and device support and demands from management to keep budgets and staffing levels static. Operational costs consume most of IT's resources, our InformationWeek Analytics 2011 IT Automation Survey shows. Seventy-three percent of our 388 respondents allocate less than 25% of their budgets to new service development--a situation unlikely to change anytime soon, as 82% say their 2012 new-services development budgets will stay level or shrink.

Yet 57% see the volume of requests for new and enhanced services growing in 2012; just 5% expect a decrease.

To skew the equation in favor of greater business-enhancing innovation requires work in four areas: automation, a shift to an IT services portfolio, more rigorous governance using industry best practices with clear service and process definitions, and a reassessment of just what services it makes sense to deliver internally. Automation in particular can help reduce operational costs and improve efficiency while minimizing human error by turning manual, ad hoc administrative tasks into repeatable, systematic processes. Automated processes also leave an electronic audit trail that can be used to diagnose problems and document policy compliance and service quality.

Still, the concept of automation has always created some cognitive dissonance. We like it in concept, but our actions tell another story. In our survey, an overwhelming 86% say automation is critically or very important to the future of IT. Yet far less than half actually use automation to any meaningful degree, with a scant 10% claiming to make extensive use of automation tools.

For example, the definition of "runbook automation" depends on whom you ask. Of those who have automated, 46% did so using homegrown software, not commercial products, casting doubt on how extensive and complete their automation capabilities really are. Yes, we're sure a few have painstakingly built sophisticated applications finely tuned for their environments. But let's face it, most are being overly generous with the term "automation software," classing homegrown scripts or tweaked open source Perl packages in the same category as enterprise IT process automation suites like those from BMC, HP, IBM Tivoli, or Microsoft Opalis. Casting further doubt on the sophistication of automation deployments, just 14% have a single infrastructure management console spanning a heterogeneous array of servers, storage systems, and network equipment.

So why aren't we getting formal here? Mostly because these suites are expensive, and they require significant care and feeding. And automation software vendors haven't convinced most potential customers that comprehensive, single-console systems provide enough value to justify the high price and lengthy deployment effort.

Once a system is in place, there's still the overhead of staff training or retooling to effectively use automation software. Many respondents don't believe their in-house skill set is up to running sophisticated automated suites.

Others blame the tools.

Become an InformationWeek Analytics subscriber and get our full report on IT automation

This report includes action-oriented analysis and 34 charts. What you'll find:

  • Detailed analysis of automation levels across 13 IT areas
  • The nine biggest automation challenges IT teams face
  • Frequency of network issues and server downtime

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chart: How does your company use Data Center automation
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