Automation tools for complex environments

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Today's IT environments are more complex than ever, comprised, as they are, of physical, virtual and cloud resources, a variety of applications and platforms and complex interdependencies, and the need to balance resources among often-conflicting demands. Automation can help, but because most automation solutions lack breadth, they require extensive manual coordination, introduce inefficiencies, and create automated processing silos, with no means of global visibility or control.

What's needed is a single, enterprisewide automation solution that's powerful enough to manage complex tasks and interdependencies across hybrid infrastructures. For maximum agility, the automation solution must also be capable of making intelligent decisions in real time, based on predefined service level agreements (SLAs).

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This requirement is key because SLA violations can result in costly penalties and damage customer relationships. Given today's IT complexity, SLA compliance is virtually impossible without a proactive, intelligent SLA management solution.

To break down IT silos and ensure SLA compliance, the solution must be capable of automating six key areas of IT functionality: application release, run books, virtualization management, application processes, job scheduling, and managed file transfer. We'll discusses each area in turn, identifying the specific automation capabilities it requires.

Application release automation

Releasing new and updated applications is a complex process, involving intricate dependencies between applications, operating systems and other elements. Deployment also typically involves numerous manual steps, requiring extensive staff time, increasing the risk of errors and making it difficult to stay on schedule and be aware of any problems that arise.

The more frequent your releases, the more complicated deployment becomes. Besides requiring extensive staff time, deployments may generate errors (e.g., missteps in manual processes, corruption, or conflicts between applications), resulting in production outages and SLA violations.

Look for a flexible, cross-platform solution that automates all deployment activities, allowing for different environments, owners and processes. Make sure it can: handle upgrades, changes, patches and first-time deployments; notify you if problems arise; and take automated actions (continue, pause, remediate) based on rules you specify.

Run book automation

Data centers grow and change over time. Without detailed, timely documentation of all systems and processes, IT departments can quickly lose control. Questions such as, "How did these results come about?" and, "What dependencies exist between these processes?" become difficult to answer.

IT run books describe these process and dependencies, specifying how to perform such tasks as database maintenance, backup and recovery, and help desk procedures. These processes are critical to the data center's ability to operate efficiently, support business continuity if a disaster occurs and meet SLAs. However, the need for manual intervention makes them time-consuming and error-prone.

Find a solution that automates and standardizes IT housekeeping processes across your entire infrastructure. This approach will help you: manage tasks more efficiently; process workloads faster and more transparently; ensure that tasks are performed properly and at the right time; enhance performance and availability; and free up administrative personnel.

Virtualization automation

Converting physical servers to virtual machines can reduce IT costs, as well as support such initiatives as green IT, time-based control, event-based management and dynamic provisioning. Additionally, automatic provisioning and de-provisioning of virtual machines as workload fluctuates can significantly reduce operating costs while enhancing SLA compliance.

Look for a virtualization automation solution with the intelligence to predict needs for increased resources, so it can add virtual machines before performance problems occur. To avoid server sprawl, also be sure the solution can de-provision virtual servers when they're no longer needed.

Application process automation

Application process automation is one of the best ways to lower IT costs, since it can significantly reduce manual efforts. But with organizations running hundreds or thousands of applications -- and business processes spanning multiple departments, systems and servers -- implementing end-to-end automation can be difficult.

What's needed is a single automation platform capable of automating all processes, enterprisewide -- in physical, virtual and cloud environments. This approach will also reduce operational costs, improve visibility and control across your entire IT landscape, and help ensure SLA compliance. And because your application landscape is always changing, the solution must be able to dynamically and rapidly integrate new business processes, applications and services into your automation strategy.

Make sure your automation solution supports all your mission-critical applications and services, across physical, virtual and cloud environments. Additionally, make sure it can understand dependencies across your entire IT landscape, so a process won't begin until all dependent processes are successfully completed. For maximum time savings, it should also include process driven templates.

Job scheduling

Job scheduling dates back to mainframe days, when all business activity was driven by batch transactions. Today, enterprises that still run batch jobs often need to intervene manually -- for example, to set up new batch runs, review previous job output, verify the successful completion of dependent jobs, gather additional input data or initiate subsequent jobs.

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In addition, the use of multiple computing platforms and business processes that run 24/7 make it harder to find windows of time to run batch processes. Actually, for maximum flexibility in meeting SLAs, you may not want jobs to run in a fixed batch window at all. Instead, you may want to schedule jobs dynamically, based on the occurrence of particular events -- for example, the arrival of a file; a database event; or when disk space reaches a preset threshold. Standard scheduling tools simply cannot handle this degree of complexity.

To overcome these limitations, many organizations write custom code to submit and manage application processes, initiated by operating system schedulers such as CRON or Windows Task Scheduler. However, these solutions generally have limited functionality and are hard to manage. To streamline IT operations enterprise-wide and eliminate islands of automation, you need a job scheduler that provides true end-to-end processing.

Look for a job scheduling platform that works across all your computing platforms, encompasses calendar- and event-based scheduling, and supports both legacy schedulers and new applications.

Managed file transfer (MFT)

MFT is the most common way of transferring data between applications. MFT solutions facilitate secure file movement, converting character sets while also providing high performance. With end-to-end encryption and guaranteed delivery from origin to destination, MFT offers significant security and control advantages over traditional file transfer technologies, which typically involve numerous manual steps.

Find an MFT solution that: automates the entire process; delivers secure, encoded, and fully auditable file transfers; and ensures data accuracy.

In today's complex IT environments, it's more important than ever to have a single, comprehensive automation solution that:

• Works across all computing environments and applications, eliminating automation silos.

• Scales to support increasing workloads.

• Ensures dependent process completion before starting a job.

• Can predict upcoming performance issues and provision new resources before slowdowns occur.

• Supports both calendar- and event-based scheduling.

• Automates all six key IT areas, to minimize manual effort and enhance SLA compliance.

• Provides visibility and control across all business and IT processes.

Such a solution will help you manage your IT landscape more efficiently, eliminating manual steps that slow execution, decrease productivity and introduce errors. It will also deliver increased agility for handling fluctuating workloads; enhance SLA compliance; minimize operational costs; and help you deliver the promised services on time -- every time.

UC4 is the world's largest independent automation software company. More than 2,000 organizations worldwide trust UC4 to automate their business. Rethink automation at http://www.uc4.com.

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