Getting on the Right Side of Automation

    It’s a fait accompli at this point that the enterprise will become significantly more automated over the next decade, both in terms of IT operations and infrastructure management. And while this will most certainly affect the knowledge workforce, and probably cost jobs, it will also bring about a higher level of data productivity that will ultimately enhance the value of both human and technological resources.

    Automation works best when it is directed at the rote, repetitive tasks that occupy the majority of the knowledge worker’s time. This can include everything from system mapping and resource provisioning to data tracking and analysis. If there is one thing that the current crop of automation solutions excels at, it is taking over these mindless operations to allow humans to concentrate on the more creative aspects of fulfilling the business model.

    Puppet’s new Puppet Tasks portfolio, for example, provides an agentless, open source framework that expands on today’s model-driven automation approach to encompass unique infrastructure and applications requirements. The problem, as Puppet sees it, is that current automation solutions are effective at handling scale-out operations as long as they conform to establish operational and technological models. But this approach breaks down as organizations become more dependent on one-off changes and point-in-time systems management. Puppet Tasks offers CLI-based task runners and other tools to automate commands via SSH and WinRM protocols so they can be executed within the application workflow. At the same time, a new Task Management module allows changes to be implemented across multiple thousands of nodes for rapid scale.

    Other automation platforms are looking to extend the benefits of advanced data technologies, such as Flash storage. Tintri’s new Automation Toolkit 3.1 provides a range of benefits for solid-state storage infrastructure, including a fully documented REST API that improves extraction and other functions within virtual machines, as well as a Python SDK to implement automation on OpenStack and Linux environments. The company claims that implementing automation at these levels rather than on the array or LUN provides for better application storage granularity and greater support for customized workflows, particularly in areas like failover and replication.

    Still other solutions are focusing on bringing order to the cloud. HashiCorp recently made multiple updates across its open-source cloud suite, including the Vault, Terraform, Consul and Noman products, as well as a new policy-as-code framework called Sentinel and a new module registry to provide automation templates for distributed architectures. The company says that with this combination, enterprises can focus on automating workflows rather than technology, even as they extend to multiple cloud providers like AWS, Google, Alibaba or even open-source Kubernetes environments.

    The overall effect of these and other solutions will be to collapse the enterprise IT stack into a leaner and more easily manipulated construct, says Everest Group CEO Peter Bendor-Samuel. When viewed in terms of technology or processes, the current IT stack incorporates multiple layers between servers, operating systems and applications. Through automation, many of these layers and the data negotiation and translation needed to coordinate them, is either removed or masked over, giving the enterprise greater functional leeway when it comes to building and deploying the services that fuel the business model. Inevitably, this leads to an ongoing, results-oriented style of management that radically reshapes enterprise IT as we know it into more of a business-driven entity rather than a steward of technology.

    For the enterprise, this is likely to be a net positive, but only if it can implement automation quickly and effectively. Failure to do so will result in the most negative consequence imaginable: obsolescence.

    And this same dynamic applies to the knowledge worker as well: Either get on the right side of automation by applying creative solutions to truly challenging problems or sit and wait until a machine does the mundane jobs that you currently do.

    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.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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