The biggest challenge every IT organization of any size faces today is finding a way to scale without breaking the budget. Given the fact that the most expensive part of any IT organization is the people needed to run it, the only way IT organizations are going to be able to cost-effectively scale is to embrace IT automation.
In fact, it's the success of large-scale public cloud service providers and companies such as Facebook that are now forcing the issue. According to David Vellante, co-founder of the IT research firm Wikibon, the average IT organization can't afford the same level of engineering talent as a Google or a Facebook. But they can borrow ideas in the form of best-practices that rely more on IT automation to scale their IT operations.
"Enterprise IT organizations are now learning from the hyperscale guys," says Vellante.
For example, rather than dedicating applications to specific servers, IT automation makes it simpler to dynamically allocate IT resources to applications on demand, thereby maximizing utilization rates to the fullest extent possible.
There are, of course, a number of challenges with automation in the datacenter, otherwise every IT organization would have embraced it by now.
The first issue that most IT leaders face when trying to introduce higher levels of automation is fear. Many IT administrators look upon IT automation as the path to their own obsolescence.
In addition, it's not uncommon for administrators to have written their own scripts to automate specific functions. Not only do they tend to take great pride in those scripts, they view them as their own unique intellectual property that differentiates them from other IT administrators.
The problem, of course, is that not only are those scripts undocumented, they don't tend to scale particularly well. The end result is the IT organization is held hostage by a handful of IT administrators that often argue that their custom scripts are better than any commercial IT automation product could ever be.
Another problem is that not all IT automation technologies work perfectly out of the box. Not only do many of them have troubles of their own when it comes to scaling, there's not much in the way of visibility being provided in terms of how they actually work. That makes a lot of IT organizations uncomfortable with being tethered to a proprietary workflow that leaves them unsure about what specific actions are being taken at any given time for any number of possible reasons.
Nevertheless, the benefits of commercial IT automation tools tend to outweigh any of the negatives if for no other reason than they creates a documented series of repeatable processes for managing the datacenter that are indispensable when it comes to keeping IT headcount costs under control.
For that reason, we're seeing vendors such as Dell that have introduced turnkey private cloud computing platforms, such as the PowerEdge VTRX, while at the same time releasing Active Infrastructure reference architectures that simplify the deployment of, for example, high-performance computing (HPC) or SAP HANA in-memory computing environments.
According to Steve Stover, director of product management and strategy at Dell, most of Dell's automation efforts are focused around the IT automation technology the company gained when it acquired Gale Technologies late last year. That technology now manifests itself in an Active System Manager software that is at the heart of Dell's reference architecture. The goal, says Stover, is to reduce the amount of time and effort that IT organizations spend on maintenance activities so they can spend more time and money on investing in new systems and applications.
"Our research shows the average IT organization spends 72 percent of their time maintaining existing systems," says Stover. Obviously, this is an ineffective use of resources.
There is no shortage of options when it comes to IT automation. Besides the technologies offered by system vendors, every provider of virtualization software has extended its IT automation offerings. In addition, there are a whole range of companies that provide suites of IT automation tools that run across multiple platforms.
Whatever the route taken, the one thing that is for certain is that more automation is going to be required to manage IT at scale. It'll be up to each and every organization to determine to what degree they want to embrace IT automation, starting with any cultural resistance issues. But once they start to automate things they'll soon discover that ultimately the difference between managing 10 servers versus 100 servers is rapidly becoming nominal.
In fact, Wikibon's Vellante notes that going forward, increased usage of IT automation is not only going to allow IT organizations to scale operations higher, it's ultimately going to drive a convergence of roles within the IT organization. Rather than having to rely on specialists to manage every silo, the future management of datacenters will be in the hands of IT generalists schooled in servers, storage, and networking technologies. That may take a while to occur, but at this point Vellante says the economics of managing datacenters make it all but inevitable.