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- Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College
Automation is the focus in many data centers, and the term has achieved the sort of buzz that cloud did a few years ago. Everyone is scrambling to adopt IT automation trends. In some cases, IT pros are unsure even what or why to automate, but that doesn't stop them from going full speed ahead.
IT personnel have a huge range of products designed to help them automate data center tasks, but taking that first step can be daunting. While there are plenty of resources available to help you get started, they won't answer the most basic question: Why are you looking to automate?
There are a dozen Automation benefits to explore, ranging from cost savings to speed of delivery. While accurate for some shops, many people see these potential advantages and don't stop to ask whether automation will actually help their IT environment. Your business is unique, and so is your data center. Your specific situation may or may not benefit from automation.
When not to automate
Like cloud computing, automation is one of the most important technologies to come along in years. Automation, however, is only worthwhile if it brings business value to your environment; otherwise it becomes a drain on your resources.
As you start to look at IT automation trends and tools, consider what it is you're doing in your data center. Will automation even help? If you look at your IT functions and processes and find very few repetitive tasks or duties, then automation products may not be worth the cost.
Not everyone needs automation. This is especially true if many of your data center's functions are customized. Since no one knows your data center and its processes as thoroughly as you do, evaluate what an IT automation tool can do and see if it makes business sense for your data center -- and not simply technological sense. Everything you do should have a business value. This value may come in the form of better security, more efficient resource consumption or quicker response times. Simply adopting technology because marque IT organizations are setting IT automation trends doesn't necessarily add business value.
Automation is a powerful tool, but it's still just a tool. It has the power to vastly improve your data center operations, but it's important to establish a good foundation before rolling it out widely. It can be a bit hard for IT folks to start small, but this approach can pay off in big ways.
Introducing IT automation
Among IT admins, automation can be a scary topic for various reasons, including the fear of automating yourself out of a job or of automation running amok. In reality, these fears are often overblown. If you choose to adopt automation, it will certainly change your data center, its processes and, yes, even some job duties. But IT pros don't have to be afraid of automation if they do it right. Starting small and gaining ownership is a huge piece of a much larger puzzle.
Of course, it is possible to push automation from the top down, but it will be more beneficial to start at the bottom and let it grow. Not only does this help minimize the damage if something goes wrong, it allows you to engage the people whose tasks automation might claim, such as patching, software maintenance and deployment, and let them champion these new processes. This helps free up staff for more important tasks and establishes a base of people familiar with the newly arrived IT automation tools.
The challenge with IT automation trends, just like any other idea that has the ability to make substantial changes in your data center, is knowing how and where to get started. While management may want to see large-scale improvements from an expensive automation tool, it can be better to start small. This is good for both the overall health of your business and the IT staff. While patching and maintenance items -- such as account resets, reboots and file system clean-up -- may seem minor, they help introduce staff to the process and set expectations. This will help establish a path to more involved automation projects, where the stakes are higher and which come with significant payoffs.
Each successful automation deployment will continue to expose more staff to the advantages of automation and build on previous success. When this happens, automation will no longer be something to add or install into your data center; it will be the foundation upon which you build.
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