Automation and Orchestration
in the Data Center
Tools that enable IT infrastructure to handle simple management
chores can improve efficiency, security and compliance.
Data center optimization requires an expertly architected infrastructure that utilizes a number of different technologies to handle a variety of workloads. But technology alone is not enough; people and processes must be part of the equation as well.
While servers, software and backbone networking equipment may make up the physical data center, those systems can’t run themselves. Much of the success — or failure — of an enterprise data center depends on an organization’s plan for managing and maintaining these tools. As enterprise data centers grow more complex, organizations need to find ways to streamline and simplify this work. Many are turning to automation and orchestration technologies that reduce repetitive or mundane tasks, speed up processes and drive down overhead.
In addition to saving time and freeing up IT staff to work on other projects, automation and orchestration solutions can dramatically speed up the delivery of data center resources. For example: Between licensing and technical concerns, it can take some organizations weeks or even months to manually provision virtual machines. With automation and orchestration tools, that turnaround can be shortened to hours.
Additionally, speeding up the delivery of IT services can prevent the problem of shadow IT, when users pursue their own technology solutions instead of relying on IT staff. Line-of-business users are less likely to bring in outside tools if in-house IT shops are able to meet their needs quickly and efficiently.
For organizations looking to implement orchestration and automation solutions in their data centers, tools such as data center services optimization, server automation and network automation each provide a number of distinct benefits.
Data Center Services Optimization
In early 2014, 451 Research coined the term “data center services optimization” (DCSO) to describe new software tools that IT suppliers introduced to help their customers deliver better services, manage their resources in real time and fully optimize and leverage their investments. The concept of DCSO builds off of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) technologies, which help organizations manage their data centers more effectively and is sometimes referred to as the “operating system” for the enterprise data center.
As analysts at 451 Research observed vendors “increasingly pushing beyond the definitional scope of DCIM … further up the IT stack and beyond the data center walls,” they created the DCSO category to describe these tools that include DCIM but also extend beyond it. DCSO systems draw on external resources and integrate with multiple systems to provide organizations with a more business-, cost- and service-oriented view of the data center.
451 Research identifies four key components of DCSO: optimized energy management, data center service management, data center service-based costing and data center business planning. Two of these components — optimized energy management (which includes components of what was formerly called IT power management and control) and data center business planning — were previously categorized by 451 Research as parts of DCIM, which illustrates how the thinking around data center management has evolved. In fact, DCIM has essentially been subsumed by DCSO, according to 451’s definition.
The Cost of Network Downtime
Network automation tools can help organizations prevent network downtime. Here’s a look at how important that benefit is to the bottom line:
- Information and communication technology downtime can cost a midsized company $1 million per year.
- For larger enterprises, the cost of IT and communication downtime can reach $60 million per year.
- Network interruptions are the largest cause of downtime.
- On average, companies experience five downtime events — totaling 27 hours of downtime — per month.
Source: IHS, “The Cost of Server, Application, and Network Downtime: North American Enterprise Survey and Calculator,” January 2016
To understand how server automation tools can help enterprises achieve significant time savings, IT administrators need only consider the amount of time they spend on routine management tasks that must be performed on each server — including inventory, configuration, provisioning, workload balancing, patching, updating and performance tracking — and then multiply those hours by the number of servers running in their organization. These management tasks can overwhelm IT shops running enterprise data centers, especially in those with a high degree of virtualization. Server automation solutions have sprung up to help ease this burden and free up staff for other projects.
Because of the dramatic time savings made possible by server automation tools, organizations that implement these solutions often see a rapid return on investment. According to Hewlett Packard Enterprise, 82 percent of organizations that deployed HPE Server Automation realized a return on their investment in 12 months or less, with more than half of those saying they achieved ROI in less than three months.
According to a TechValidate survey of HPE Cloud and Automation Solutions users, published in March 2016, 65 percent of organizations say that server virtualization tools helped reduce or eliminate errors resulting from manual processes. This reduction in errors is an especially important benefit of server automation, as it results not only in time savings, but also in improved data center performance.
Like server automation solutions, network automation tools free up staff time and reduce errors by completing management functions automatically. While server automation tools carry out tasks such as patching, network automation tools are used for tasks including network mapping, device discovery, configuration management and the provisioning of virtual resources. These tools replicate the model of many public cloud services, which are already highly automated.
As IP networks have become more important to the day-to-day operation of organizations in virtually every industry, they have also become much more complex — supporting video, collaboration, email, IP telephony and other applications. In the not-too-distant past, most organizations would have been able to weather a brief network outage with relatively little problem, but many enterprises today would find their operations coming to a near standstill if they lost access to their IP networks for even a short period of time. Because of this reliance on the network, IT administrators are under immense pressure to avoid unplanned downtime.
Network automation can help businesses cope with challenges and meet goals related to IP networks by delivering these key benefits:
- Cost reductions resulting from the automation of time-consuming manual compliance and configuration tasks.
- The ability to easily pass audits and meet compliance requirements through proactive policy enforcement, along with audit and compliance reports.
- Improvements in network security stemming from an increased ability to recognize and fix security vulnerabilities before they affect the network.
- Better network stability and increased uptime due to the prevention of network inconsistencies and misconfigurations.
Network automation tools work by first learning how a network functions within an organization, and then gradually taking control of network management tasks over time. For example, one such solution — HPE Automated Network Management (ANM) — begins by baselining the environment so that the tool will understand the “steady state” of the enterprise network, and then begins monitoring network performance and availability. After a steady state has been established, ANM focuses on automating network management functions and addressing policy compliance and enforcement, helping to boost availability, performance and security.
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