When I talk with customers, many tell me that their data center teams spend around 80 percent of their time “keeping the lights on,” performing routine management and support tasks.
There are a number of problems with this situation. First, an employee who spends 80 percent of working hours on rote tasks will be able to dedicate only one day per week to innovative projects that add value to the business. In addition, human workers are often slower and less accurate than tech tools at executing repetitive jobs. Perhaps most important, IT workers generally didn’t get into the field to provision servers and manage hardware configurations. The most talented engineers are often the most passionate, and if organizations don’t give them the freedom to experiment with exciting new projects, they’ll likely go somewhere else. They say that if you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I disagree with that. I believe if you have a job you love, you’ll never work harder in your life.
The solution to these problems? Automation.
The mere mention of the word strikes fear into the hearts of some IT workers, who worry that they’ll be replaced by scripts and robots. But in fact, automation in the data center simply frees up engineers to spend more of their time doing work that both challenges them and creates value for their organizations.
Here are three ways that enterprises can embrace data center automation:
Infrastructure and Application Automation
I lump these two together because they both help organizations enable IT self-service — the cloudlike experience where individual IT and business units can obtain access to IT resources without cumbersome approval and provisioning processes. These are already the most widely used types of automation tools inside enterprise data centers, but they’re worth discussing here because of the massive value they can add. Organizations that lack infrastructure and application automation tools (and, by extension, lack IT self-service capabilities) spend way too much time approving new IT resources, spinning up those resources and passing projects between various teams.
Without IT self-service, a simple infrastructure request can take as long as three to four weeks to fulfill — as opposed to a couple of hours in an automated environment. This doesn’t just waste time that IT staffers could be spending on something more strategic; it also slows down the business.
Most organizations can benefit from configuration management tools, but these solutions are especially valuable for larger companies. As an IT environment grows, it becomes more unwieldy, and otherwise simple tasks can quickly overwhelm workers when multiplied by 100 or 1,000. For instance, an IT shop may need to change a port for a web server — an easy enough job, but one that becomes much more time-consuming for a cluster of 10 web servers, let alone hundreds or thousands. With configuration management tools, IT professionals can push out new configurations across large infrastructure arrays. Instead of spending all day on repeatable tasks, they can automate those tasks and use the resulting free time to work on more challenging projects.
DevOps — a software development model that shortens the lifecycle of systems development while frequently delivering new features and updates — has garnered significant buzz in recent years, but many organizations continue to use more traditional “waterfall” development models. By embracing DevOps, organizations can deliver patches and functionality more quickly, can catch problems as they arise and can generally create a more agile workflow that allows developers to quickly respond to business needs. Automation tools, such as programs that automate the release and deployment of new code into a production environment, are necessary for introducing a DevOps culture.
Some anxiety around automation is understandable. But, as IT professionals likely know better than anyone, it’s usually a mistake to resist technology tools that help workers to be more productive. By embracing data center automation now, organizations can both improve their existing operations and set themselves up to hit the ground running with whatever comes next.