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Will automation turn net managers into crash test dummies?

Apr 02, 20034 mins
Data Center

* How much of net managers' work can automation take on?

Perhaps you’ve seen the commercial where a robot is sitting reading a newspaper in an auto-painting facility. Suddenly, an announcement comes over the intercom that all paint-department robots should report to the crash test dummies department. The paint department robot looks up with a surprised and frightened look. The commercial is about a new, innovative replacement material that makes painting cars obsolete.

That’s exactly how some IT people view management automation – that it will replace them, and they’ll be sidelined to the “crash test dummies department” or worse. But to be fair, there are also those of you out there who see automation as just another way of getting the job done. It’s not a panacea, merely one tool in your tool kit.

Automation is a two-edged sword. It can be a productivity tool because of its rapid response and broad touch, but for the same reasons it also has the potential to wreak havoc in an IT environment if it’s deployed without proper testing, checking and rechecking.

No matter what stance you take on automation, the fact of the matter is that it will slowly invade and permeate your management environment whether you like it or not. Management automation is currently a major push for many management software vendors. It will be built into management products. It may be as simple as automatically pulling in context information when a problem occurs, so you have a contextual view of the problem. Or it may involve automatically provisioning additional systems in a server farm in response to a performance spike.

Automation could be revolutionary, but I’d venture to say it is more evolutionary. We already have examples of automation in our environments. Consider the screen saver. If you don’t use your system for a sustained period of time, it automatically puts the system into screen saver mode. Yes, it’s a small thing, but useful in prolonging the life of your monitor.

Here’s another real-world example of how automation can be a big help. I hate staying in hotels/motels that only have an air conditioning unit in the room. Basically, the settings that you have are “Fan-High,” “Fan-Low” and “Off.” So when going to bed, you have the choice of leaving the fan on all night and dealing with the noise generated by the air conditioner. Or you can turn off the fan and enjoy the quiet, until you have to wake up in the middle of the night to turn on the fan because it’s too hot. Staying in a hotel that has a thermostat solves this problem automatically. It’s painless and allows you to get a good night’s sleep, so you can concentrate during that important meeting the next morning. It’s automation at work.

I’d suggest that management vendors will be embedding automation in their products – some you will hardly notice, and others will be more visible.

Automation isn’t the solution to all the problems you face. It will not relegate your whole department to the “crash test dummies” department. There are many, many tasks that rely on human intuition and reasoning to figure out. But there are also many, many tasks that could be handled by automated tools. The trick to effectively using automation is knowing the difference. As with any functionality, if it’s applied improperly, you’re causing more problems, but when it’s applied correctly, it could make your life much easier.

I’d like to hear about where you are with regard to automation. Whether you like automation or not, I’d like your gather your views. I’ve posted a short survey (it should take five to 10 minutes to fill out) posted on Enterprise Management Associates’ Web site at the following URL:

In return for taking the time to respond, your name will be entered into a drawing, where we will give you one month of phone access to EMA’s analysts. I’d really like to hear from you, so please click on the URL above, and let me know what you think. I’ll report back on our findings when I’ve collected all of your responses.