Steve Bishop

Automation/Orchestration: Not Just for Rapid Production Provisioning

I know many people are going to look at that headline and say, “Well obviously. Tell me something I don’t know.” (Especially folks already on the DevOps/CI/CD path.)

But it really is surprising how many people tend to think that Automation/Orchestration is only valuable or necessary in environments with high production provisioning or turnover rates. We hear it all the time. “We’re not that dynamic.” “We tend to provision something and it just runs pretty much forever. So those tools really aren’t worth it to us.” and my favorite, “We’re not a service provider.” (In today’s world, EVERYBODY who operates IT infrastructure is a service provider.)

As VeriStor’s Advanced Operations/Automation/Orchestration practice has developed over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about the various applications for these tools. I’ve also come to a much broader appreciation for where they fit (more places than I thought) and the business value they bring (MUCH more than I thought).

We are privileged to have some extremely talented and experienced people on staff here at VeriStor and the Advanced Operations/Automation/Orchestration guys are certainly no exception. They’ve done it. Real world. Big shops. So I defer to them on the nuts and bolts and focus more on the business value brought by these solutions, as well as how they fit into VeriStor’s overall product and services strategy moving forward.

We are leveraging Automation/Orchestration tools and processes to deliver significant efficiency, cost-savings, and time-to-market/time-to-product improvements for our customers in multiple areas including:

• REAL Private Cloud
• DevOps-enablement/Cloud-for-Dev/Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)
• ITIL Integration
• Service-Catalog-based IT Service Delivery
• Closed Loop Remediation: Automated Incident/Ticket Resolution, Documentation & Closure
• Hybrid Cloud Integration
• Employee On-boarding/Off-boarding (hopefully more on-boarding than off-boarding)
• Security & Compliance Policy Enforcement and Remediation

…And so much more.

I’ve commented recently to a number of people about how little automation exists in most enterprise and mid-market IT environments. Still. One was in a recent trade publication magazine interview. The other was to a friend who designs robotic assembly lines for the auto industry. He and his team live exclusively in a world of ever-decreasing cycle times, exact repeatability and extreme supply-chain integration. They are totally automation-centric. He was blown away by how few of today’s corporate IT environments leverage any significant automation, despite spending the last several years (and a lot of dollars) moving to virtualized infrastructure.

Automation is EXACTLY WHY we have being doing almost everything we’ve been doing over the last 10 years in enterprise IT infrastructure. I won’t say that automation is dependent on virtualization, because it’s certainly not, but the goal of establishing software-control of the infrastructure end-to-end is precisely so we can automate it.

Now we are closing the gap even more.   Through technologies like storage virtualization / software-defined storage and software-defined networking / network function virtualization (SDN/NFV), the foundation for the end-to-end software-controllable / software-defined data center is close to being fully realized for more and more enterprise IT organizations.

So, to me it is a really exciting time. To some extent, the gaining adoption of infrastructure Automation/Orchestration tools and processes is a “culmination” of so much of what we have been trying to get to. It enables us to leverage this agile infrastructure we’ve worked so hard to build and finally be able to automate it. It truly allows the BUSINESS to run faster for less.

It’s almost like we’ve spent the last 10 years building and tuning the race car and now we finally get to take it out on the track… and let it perform the way it was made to.

That’s not to say that it won’t all keep changing. Cloud-native, scale-out application architectures, containers, REAL DevOps and lots of other things will continue to mature and gain adoption. But all of that leads to and supports more and more automation. That’s the beautiful thing. (By the way, all of this applies to public cloud deployments too…and is a key enabler to hybrid cloud.)

The need for Automation/Orchestration applies to almost every shop of almost every size. You can move the needle quickly, saving the organization lots of time and money, all while helping the company deliver better products and services faster. The ROI on these projects is off the charts. And you can do it pretty easily. Today.

We refer internally to what we call the ‘Automation Gun.’ It’s like this magic spray paint bazooka that we can point at almost any major pain-in-the-butt process in the IT infrastructure, pull the trigger, and turn what was an ugly, slow, error-prone, undocumented, time/resource/money-sucking hog of a function into something beautiful. (That’s the nice version. “What the heck is that?” “Oh this? It’s an Automation Gun. It SOLVES PROBLEMS.”)

We also like to refer to it that way because many people think Automation/Orchestration needs to be an all-or-nothing thing: a big “automate everything out of the gate” moon-launch project to get it all off the ground. We’re all for establishing a a foundational automation framework and a trained, organized team of stakeholders within your shop so you can ultimately ‘Automate All the Things’. We’ll even help you do that. But sometimes (most of the time, actually), the best start is to just pick a pain point, aim the Automation Gun at it, get it dialed in and move on to the next one, applying what was learned.

With that said, you definitely want to lay the groundwork for an overall Automation/Orchestration strategy and the appropriate supporting framework vs. just buying the first tool that meets the needs of that first initiative…and finding out later that it only really supports that single function well. It’s about moving fast, iterating frequently, and doing your best at the time to not paint yourself in a corner…but without turning it into a planning/analysis-paralysis monster that never gets off the ground. There is a balance, and we can help with that.

So Automation/Orchestration certainly helps accelerate (and standardize) production provisioning. Absolutely. And more dynamic environments benefit more than more static environments. But Automation represents so many more benefits for so many different aspects and areas of the infrastructure. In fact, it’s an absolute requirement for any IT environment that needs to support the business better and give it the power to go faster.

To me, that should be everyone. Not just people who need to provision 8,000 VMs a day.