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An IT automation strategy wilts under cloud's shadow

Organizations have been striving to keep abreast of IT automation trends, but with the ongoing cloud takeover, operations must consider new skill requirements instead.

Automation of internal processes has led many IT groups to streamline process steps, decrease costs and improve overall business functions. Because of this, a comprehensive IT automation strategy is an easy decision to make for any company looking to not only keep up, but stay ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, the drive to end-to-end IT infrastructure automation hit a speed bump called the cloud. While the cloud won't directly replace automation, it does affect what tools and investments an organization makes in its on-site data center. No one will dispute the benefits of an IT automation strategy, but what remains to automate if you move business services to a SaaS or another cloud deployment model?

IT automation trends

It's critical to invest in data center resources, such as IT infrastructure automation, monitoring or other items, before cloud adoption, but with a cloud strategy, some of those things simply disappear or change into something else. IT infrastructure automation started as simple scripting and gave way to more complex languages and, eventually, workflows and orchestration. The challenge isn't that the language changed. Organizations removed and relocated apps and infrastructure resources to someone else's environment.

No cloud environment could exist without some form of automation; self-service is a pillar of the cloud. The difference between cloud automation and what's in the data center is how much of it admins manage. When admins manage IT infrastructure automation on-site, they have complete control, but cloud customers are restricted to what is presented to them. While cloud-based automation and workflows boast some convenient features, it's doubtful the admin portal will contain everything you had in earlier iterations of the IT environment, and that will take some adjustment.

The change won't happen overnight

While cloud adoption -- in particular SaaS and platform as a service (PaaS) -- changes IT operations in many ways, don't throw out everything that your team currently uses. Configuration management tools, for example, work with on-premises servers and cloud instances, and the major cloud service providers also offer configuration management as a service.

A smart IT automation strategy is still critical to the modern business. Review the many options presented to you as a customer of cloud services. It would be unwise for any cloud vendor to offer complete control of an environment wherein admins could make changes to shared, multi-tenant infrastructure. The move from an IT automation all-star to an automation customer won't be pretty. No one likes to give up control or flexibility, but it is necessary as part of the move to cloud services.

Cloud app deployment
Cloud and on-premises app deployments coexist in enterprise IT.

IT automation skills

No one likes to give up control or flexibility, but it is necessary to move to cloud services.

The new questions are: How much skill set overlap do admins have from on-site IT infrastructure automation to cloud services? Will the organization end up with an IT infrastructure automation skill surplus as cloud providers take over many tasks? Depending on the skills in an IT organization's staff, the company might end up paying a lot of money for expertise that the organization no longer needs. Reallocate, or even retrain, the admins that want to learn new skills, such as cloud management; some might not want to. This struggle is not unique when it comes to IT personnel and internal services being replaced by the cloud-based offerings.

Not all automation jobs will disappear. Cloud vendors need IT automation experts now more than ever. But for companies moving to the cloud, internal demand for granular automation knowledge will fade. Infrastructure automation specialists will see a substantial decrease or changeover.

Time to invest in automation resources

Set an IT automation strategy based on a realistic time frame for your organization's move to the cloud and what kind of cloud service the majority of workloads will go to: infrastructure as a service, PaaS or SaaS. Additionally, determine if an automation setup purchased or improved today could pay for itself before the move to the cloud. If the cloud migration doesn't go smoothly, delays could make on-premises automation more attractive. These are tough discussions that rarely yield clear answers.

Not every IT automation strategy has to cost a lot or take significant time to implement. Automating the low-hanging fruit seems ideal for cost savings, without blowing a lot of budget on on-premises support while the cloud looms on the horizon.

Be sure to address staffing and prepare IT admins for the reality that roles and duties will change with the cloud. Everyone in IT must get accustomed to the new reality of the cloud and changing roles.

This was last published in January 2018

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