IT automation: Then and now

* The promise of automation

Everything old is new again, or so the saying goes.

When it comes to IT management, the promise of automation has been appearing in product plans nearly as far back as the futuristic family The Jetsons popped up on primetime TV. From running batch jobs on mainframes to pinging network devices and servers for availability, automation technologies offer network managers respite from the burden of mindless repetitive tasks. And for the most part, automation has been successful within the scope it has been offered to date.

For instance, there is nary a management product that does not perform an auto-discovery of elements to be managed in any given environment. This automated feature involves software, usually installed on a central server, calling out across the distributed environment for all relevant devices, systems and servers to respond to be managed.

But the automation of yesteryear cannot compare to today's lofty visions of automated IT and data center operations. Management veterans such as BMC, CA, HP and IBM are pounding the automation drum in their broad product plans that tie management software to best practice frameworks such as ITIL.

Recently I sat down with HP's Ann Livermore, executive vice president of the company's Technology Solutions Group, and in light of her broad background and experience in all of HP's businesses, she focused our discussion squarely on IT automation and data center management.

According to Livermore, HP has been building out its management software empire in the past few years (think Novadigm, Consera, Peregine Systems and Mercury Interactive acquisitions) to be in a position today to provide automation across data centers adopting technologies such as service-oriented architecture and virtualization. Representing less than 2% of its revenue, software brings in about $2 billion for HP, and the Mercury buy catapulted the company to the sixth largest software company worldwide.

This renewed focus on software at HP and the growing demand for automation among enterprise IT shops isn't a coincidence, Livermore says.

"We are focused as well on how you build out what we described as a self-managing data center," she says. "Taking this idea of the software automating IT, we think there is a whole new approach at how you go about building out data centers and really having a data center that takes a whole lot less labor to manage."

As HP sorts through all its software buys to perfect products and offer the utopia of data center automation, companies such as Opsware are tackling automation from the ground up. The vendor recently introduced two separate initiatives that seem to be working toward the same goal: data center automation.

First, Opsware announced its "Zero Latency Data Center" vision, which incorporates the company's data center automation products. Opsware says it is the first unified automation suite for the whole data center, integrating change management, compliance and process automation.

Then this week Opsware upped its automation plans with the release of the Opsware ITIL Acceleration Solution, which takes the company's automation software and couples it with the best practices found in the IT Infrastructure Library. The new release will enable companies to speed their best practice adoption and automate the processes across data center environments, Opsware says.

Automation may not yet be to the point of The Jetsons, but it does seem vendors are working to put the technology to work streamlining operations in heterogeneous data centers. Only time will tell if the technology lives up to its utopian promise though.

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