So you've decided to automate your data center. Wise choice! Automation can provide real value to the IT organization and to the business it serves. Unfortunately, many would-be automators underestimate the task. “IT shops often think they can buy automation — all they need to do is pick the right tool,” says Paul Delory, research director at Gartner. “In reality, there is no one tool that will automate your entire data center. More importantly, there is no tool that will devise your automation strategy for you, or deal with the policy and organizational implications of an automation project.”
“ To appoint an automation architect is to recognize that automation has become its own discipline within the enterprise IT organization.”
As an example, consider automating the creation of backup schedules for a newly created server. It’s likely to involve some technical challenges, such as installing a backup agent (which is trivial) and setting the backup policy for the new endpoint (which can be surprisingly complicated).
Before any technical work can proceed, a larger question must be answered: What should the backup policy for the new server be? This is not a question for the IT department, but for the business. The business must decide the best retention policy for the data housed on the server, which is likely informed by legal, regulatory and insurance constraints. It must also determine the effects of that retention policy on the infrastructure, such as the need for more storage.
“These decisions are often made on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis,” Delory says. “But a process that requires human intervention or judgment can’t be automated.” Automation projects will encounter both technical and non-technical challenges. You need an architect empowered to address both.
The role of the automation architect
The automation architect must be able to interface effectively with both technologists and business owners, and shepherd the initiatives to completion. “To appoint an automation architect is to recognize that automation has become its own discipline within the enterprise IT organization, one that entails making fundamental architectural decisions,” Delory says. As you devise your automation strategy, an automation architect will help your enterprise address a number of key technical decisions:
- Which tools will be used, and for what purposes?
- What is the best way to implement the tools?
- Who will be in charge of maintaining each?
They will also consider the following business process realities:
- How will corporate policies be decided and enforced?
- To what extent should technical requirements drive business decisions, and vice versa?
- How can the IT organization best collaborate with the business it serves?
IT organizations at the largest enterprises have already begun to appoint automation architects. Some now have whole teams of automation engineers. Forward-looking organizations that want to succeed with automation should follow their example.