Of all the transitions hitting the enterprise at the moment, none is probably more far-reaching and consequential than automation. Not only does it pose significant ramifications for the current IT workforce, it stands to remake many of the long-established processes that have come to define the enterprise – everything from software development to turning the lights on and off.
It is important to draw a distinction between automation and artificial intelligence (AI), since it is getting rather difficult to separate the two when discussing data infrastructure and processes. While it is true that these technologies are becoming integrated on a fundamental level, they still perform very different functions; i.e., you can implement AI without automation, and you can implement automation without AI.
To break it down, AI is the ability to capture and analyze vast amounts of data in order to carry out a particular function. That function can be to automatically make adjustments to IT infrastructure or to implement a data process without human intervention, but it can also be used to provide a human engineer or operator with the appropriate contextual information for them to make an informed decision.
Meanwhile, automation has existed within the enterprise for many years for a wide range of functions. The simple task of copying and pasting text or mirroring a database is a form of automation, since it would be tedious and time-consuming to perform either task by hand. Modern automation goes far beyond that because we are now talking about the ability to create entirely new data architectures on top of virtualized infrastructure, a task that was previously too complicated for even the most advanced technology.
This is why many are saying that today’s wave of automation is unlike anything that has gone before, and is in fact classified as a new form of the technology due to the increasing sophistication brought on, in part but not in whole, by system intelligence.
Acumen Research and Consulting, for instance, estimates that this new round of automation will top $3.8 billion by 2026, representing an average annual growth rate of 13.2 percent. The key driver in this transition is the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), which can only function properly if there is broad connectivity across multiple data centers that can be configured and reconfigured in real time to accommodate a wide range of application needs.
On a functional level, Acumen sees the need for automation in three key segments of data infrastructure: device discovery, incident management and asset management, with incident management expected to see the highest level of interest. This is due primarily to the need to provide consistent, reliable service for an increasingly demanding user base, both consumer and professional, as well as the growing potential for security breaches to disrupt the data environments that are quickly becoming integral to our daily lives. Through sensor-driven monitoring and other tools, automated systems will be tasked with identifying and correcting errors in networking, as well as internal system processing and storage.
Indeed, some forward thinkers say that it is inconceivable that the IoT and other emerging data platforms cannot function properly without automation. Said Syed, director of HPE UX Design and Developer Productivity, noted to dbta.com recently that today’s rigid infrastructure and manual configuration processes will give way to dynamic, composable models that are being built on automated provisioning and lifecycle operations for bare-metal infrastructure. This is the only real way to deliver services faster and reduce operational costs, and it can be done with little more than a single line of code embedded within the application itself.
That last point is crucial because it highlights one of the key ways in which this round of automation is different from those of the past: the almost imperceptible way in which it will infiltrate the IT environment. Companies like Puppet, for example, are stressing the need to simplify the transition to modern automation by providing lightweight tools that require little overhead. Within Puppet Enterprise 2019, you’ll find Puppet Bolt, an agentless, multi-platform automation tool that can implement a broad set of orchestration capabilities with nothing more than a list of hosts. The system uses the command-line interface (CLI) to access standard transports like SSH and WinRM to remotely automate virtually any infrastructure it comes in contact with. In this way, enterprises begin the journey toward advanced automation simply by upgrading the existing platforms they use for DevOps and other transitional processes.
And like much of the rest of the infrastructure stack these days, automation is becoming readily available as a service. Zion Market Research estimates that the AaaS market will hit $9.3 billion by 2024, growing at an average pace of 25.3 percent between now and then. Much of this activity will center on non-IT assets, such as metering and maintenance in the utility and energy sectors, but it is also taking hold in the retail industry for inventory, payments and other processes that require more traditional data infrastructure. And enterprises across the board will undoubtedly be looking for simplified ways to integrate automation into existing workflows for a wide range of functions.
With AaaS, organizations gain the same benefits as with any other as-a-Service deployment; namely, low upfront starting costs, broad scalability, and continuous upgrades to the newest versions of software. At the moment, Automation as a Service offerings fall into two classes: knowledge-based automation, powered mainly by AI, and rules-based automation that functions on a set of predefined strictures.
The primary drive for automation, of course, is the same as it always is with advancing technology: the fear of being left behind. Once the ball gets rolling, established companies strive to prevent their market position from eroding while hungry start-ups seize on the opportunities that new technology provides to compete with the big guys.
By making automation both easier to deploy and capable of dramatically improving some of the most costly and time-consuming activities of the modern enterprise, today’s technology vendors are promising nothing less than an entirely new business model for the 21st Century. Now, all they have to do is deliver.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.