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Automation tools for complex environments

By Kerry Lebel, senior director of product management, UC4 Software, special to Network World
September 06, 2011 01:38 PM ET

Network World - 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.

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