Last year, I spent a lot of time on the road talking to IT managers about what they were most looking forward to in the coming year. Many said "better automation tools" to incorporate into their networks.We joked that then they could relocate to the Bahamas and phone in their tasks. But joking aside, the promise of true automation is something that IT managers are waiting for.Some folks call it "lights out" computing, where you don't need 24-7 hyper-support for everyday tasks. Others call it "autonomic computing" and refer more to the obsolescence of mundane configuration and recovery chores.What I'm finding overall is that automation means different things to different segments of IT. Whatever are your everyday challenges - chances are you want a vendor to show up with a way to automate those. Some want server configurations to be automated. Others want bandwidth apportioning to be automated. Others want data backup and recovery policies to be automated. The concept can be applied to all aspects of IT.And vendors are scrambling to meet these needs across the board. Cisco, IBM, HP, Sun and a host of smaller companies are all trying to find out what automation means to you and then offer you a product to address your needs.My colleague, Jim Metzler, in his infinite wisdom - and it is indeed infinite as I've found no limits to what all he knows (don't get him started on the Red Sox) - has pointed out that automation, if done correctly, could lower the overall cost of IT by redeploying expensive personnel away from mundane tasks and optimizing network resources. Automation should also result in increased uptime for applications and reduce errors due to misconfigurations.All major bonuses for IT. I'd add to this that it offers you as IT managers a chance to grow as you'll be able to tackle more sophisticated projects without worrying about more "predictive" problems. You won't suffer burnout from configuring your 85th server as automation will take what you did the first time and replicate it "intelligently" for you.Jim, as well as others in the industry, identifies automation in several ways: self-healing, self-configuring, self-optimizing and self-protecting. And these buckets can apply to the infrastructure, the servers and the applications. I'd even argue that we'll start to see the data lend itself to some aspects of automation.What do you think? Is automation the key to your advancement? Or do you see it as a way for companies to downsize? Do you even think the concept of automation is legitimate or is it more industry hype? If you've already started to automate some of your processes, how is it going? Is it more hassle than it's worth? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org****Register now for these upcoming events:* Enterprise Security Technology TourKeynote: Joel Snyder, NW Lab Alliance member and senior partner at Opus OneUnfortunately, network security has become a costly catch-22. Just when the stakes to your enterprise are highest, you're flooded with waves of security technology that are hard to evaluate fully, integrate properly, or deploy effectively. The typically "safe" response is to over-spend and over-build simply because you're overwhelmed not just with what to buy, but how to buy, when to buy, and why to buy. Find out what you need to know at the "Enterprise Security: Failsafe Architecture" event. https:\/\/www.nwfusion.com\/events\/security\/index.html* Remote Office Networking Technology TourKeynote: James Gaskin, NW Lab Alliance member"Remote office networks are our fastest growing need." "A crucial competitive edge." "The future of the enterprise."\u00a0 This is the word from corporations. How can network managers meet the business demands of remote and mobile workers and avoid the downside? Balance costs with benefits? Protect data and profits, too? Attend "Remote Office Networking: Central to Success" to find out. It's where you'll see solutions that embrace far-flung networks and yet integrate with your architecture.https:\/\/www.nwfusion.com\/events\/remote\/index.htmlEDITOR'S NOTE: Grit is also a platinum sponsor for the Network World Remote Office Networking Technology Tour.