IT Automation Explained
IT Automation is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and overused terms in IT. The term automation takes on many different meanings based on the context and the situation. The term is often used when talking about business process automation, operations automation, service provider automation, monitoring automation, tools automation, etc. In more recent times, thanks to the introduction of cloud computing, Amazon, and the elastic infrastructure, the need for automation has increased, providing more and more automation variations. However, there are still many misconceptions about IT automation and the vast differences among the various automation types.
In general, IT automation refers to a non-manual way of completing a task, it applies to IT as well, instead of using mechanisms and robots; we use scripts, programs, jobs, and various other means of achieving the automation goal. IT Automation can and should be applied to as many opportunities in IT possible e.g. creating new infrastructure, modifying existing infrastructure, operating IT infrastructure, reporting, gathering metrics, releasing code, deploying code, etc. Every one of these situations and activities benefits from IT automation we have implemented based on standardised and bespoke templates, vendor specific methods using REST and HTTP responses, monitoring applications, and artificial intelligence.
Additionally, automation in traditional IT operations can be applied to the following elements:
- Standard operating procedures
- Troubleshooting and recovery process
- Productivity improvements
- Pre-set automation works very well and has the most impact under static IT infrastructure situations.
Additional IT Automation Opportunities
The definition and scope of IT infrastructure have undergone a massive sea change in recent years. IaaS, Paas, SaaS services, public cloud options, and converged infrastructure solutions contribute to new and drastic dimensions of IT and automation requirements. Some use cases need a very high degree of automation to not only build the application stack but also keep track of infrastructure during modifications or recovery from failures. These include elastic infrastructure (multi-sourced in most cases), on-demand dynamic provisioning, always-on applications, fail-fast scenarios, frequently changing apps or tools, etc. Additionally, new age practices such as DevOps, NoOps, and Hybrid-Ops demand high degrees of IT automation using tools such as Orchestrator, Elastic Beanstalk, CloudFormation, OpsWorks, Puppet, Chef and Ansible.
To add to the complexity and confusion with Automation, there are new and differing product concepts as well as the positioning of various vendors to implement new and different use cases for IT automation. New requirements such as “IT as a service provider” and “IT as a broker (to the business)” further muddy the waters with discussions on IT automation.
The opportunity now goes beyond the aforementioned “IT automation” options and encompasses a more holistic approach to help IT thrive in today’s more complex environment.
IT cannot wait much longer, to leverage additional IT automation to drive better consistency and standardisation, reduce operating costs, and improve the service levels it provides the business.
At Digital Innovations Global, automation is implemented holistically at two basic fundamental levels:
- Client IT Automation - Automation that only affect a single client fall under this category. These include IT automation in the areas of self-serve, provisioning, integrations, auto-remediation, run-book automation, etc.; there is a considerable amount of re-use of this type of automation to our various clients.
- Service Provider IT Automation - Automation that falls under this category, include those that improve a service provider’s ability to improve productivity, increase efficiency, increase reliability and consistency of operations, increase compliance using best practices, reduce defects, and reduce risks. This automation is unique to a service provider's business practices and processes and is dependent on their technology platforms.
Popular automation questions we are asked include:
- Where have you implemented IT Automation in the past? Answer: IBM for DWP JobCentre +, Atos Origin for ICI for virtual IBM system builds and high-availability, Computercenter for British Telecom virtual IBM system builds, Hewlett Packard for adidas data replication, EBRD for data replication and recovery, T-Mobile, Bank of England for Sun system builds, Fujitsu for DVLA IT and process re-engineering, Digital Innovations Global for application nightly builds and cloud applications, Standard Bank for system builds and data replication and recovery, Vodafone for system builds and high-availability.
- Where does IT automation fit in? Answer: Any IT function that requires a manual intervention.
- How does IT automation help enable IT to be the service provider to their business? Answer: By proactively helping the customer, and providing intelligent and quick support responses.
- Who is responsible for IT automation? Answer: Both the business and the IT function have an equal responsibility, to reduce costs, to conform to customer SLAs and to deliver the IT function.
- What are candidates for IT automation? Answer: System and data backups, disaster recovery, data replication, system builds, application builds, cloud instance scaling, monitoring, high availability systems and applications.
- How is IT automation enabled in the organisation? Answer: By identifying candidates which are manually intensive, and by applying the most suitable automation method.
The answers to these questions can be many, they are critical to the future of IT, as, without additional automation, IT will struggle to maintain service levels, manage costs, and support 'agile infrastructure driven' initiatives.
Digital Innovations Global IT Automation Approach
Digital Innovations Global classifies IT automation into three distinct yet related automation areas:
- Workflow IT Automation: Any automation that helps in moving work items is termed as workflow automation. Typical examples include helpdesk alert-to-ticket automation, auto-escalations, approval processing, etc.,
- Workload IT Automation: This refers to any scheduled job automation. Examples include triggering backup jobs, reporting, cleanup activities, moving files, etc., This also includes automating on-demand workloads such as provisioning of servers, decommissioning of servers, retrieving orphan NAS storage, etc.
- IT Process Automation: The key to successful IT operations and actual IT automation benefits, can be found with process automation, as this step brings automation, including workflow and workload altogether. This approach encompasses all the key aspects of IT including event management, incident management, SLA management, capacity planning, availability, reporting, dashboarding, and service management.
- Runbooks* for troubleshooting, data gathering, reporting, etc.
- Patch management activities and processes
- Self-serve options
- Fulfilment of service catalogues entries
- Standard system builds
- Automation of alert triggered cross-platform runbooks for recovery from various problem situations
Some key examples of processes that should be automated are:
* Runbooks is a routine compilation of procedures and operations that the system administrator or operator carries out.
In the new age of dynamic infrastructure, it is critical that standard IT functions be fully automated. With the advent of new server instances being created on a need basis, monitoring and management tools need to be updated in real time to reflect the actual nature of the infrastructure. It is no longer possible to depend on manual interventions to update the CMDB Configuration Management Database, monitoring, tools and other databases for the new infrastructure. Application dependency maps that work very well with static infrastructure need to be modified in real-time, based on newly provisioned and decommissioned infrastructure.
With an ever changing infrastructure comes new change management processes. Traditional change windows and maintenance periods are things of the past. Downstream processes of incident management, problem management, and reporting, must have sufficient information to determine the root cause of issues. This is not possible without documenting all changes in the infrastructure. It is also essential that we log information to be able to audit the infrastructure at all times. Getting an accurate picture of what infrastructure was active, when an issue occurred is critical for problem-solving. These are the other areas where IT automation can help.
Information on real-time infrastructure changes must be updated in the ITSM (IT Service Management) and ITOM (IT Operations Management Database) databases. Digital Innovations Global provides a comprehensive policy driven framework for the following requirements:
- IT Automated device management – deployment of monitoring templates, updating device knowledge base articles, device owners, escalation methods, etc.
- IT Automated service map generation – ensuring that application and infrastructure dependencies are updated in real-time
- IT Assurance that appropriate service level expectations – are attached to the device or application to ensure correct services
Benefits of IT Automation
IT can better take command of traditional and agile infrastructure, cloud, and more with a comprehensive IT automation approach:
- Complete visibility
- Full control
- Fewer errors
- More speed
- Improved service levels.
IT automation is not an end, but a beginning and a journey. An ongoing IT automation program is essential to provide enhancements to IT, continuous improvement to IT operations, and additional coverage to the IT environment.