Every organization out there is today trying to increase its operational efficiency while reducing IT costs. Starting from application release to customer support, every single IT aspect needs faster solutions that reduce the amount of manual work and deliver a fantastic experience. More and more companies turn to agile, flexible, and quickly scalable technology foundations to achieve their business goals and keep up with competitors.
This is where IT infrastructure automation comes in. Automation accelerates the entire business process, not just infrastructure.
In the previous article, we covered the basics of IT infrastructure automation. Let's take a closer look at the benefits of automation and for which infrastructure aspects automation might not be the best choice.
8 benefits of infrastructure automation
1. Significant cost savings
Automation is the primary driver for reducing IT costs without compromising the quality of services. It helps to remove the manual effort to optimize your IT resource capacity. Automation also allows for better control of resource allocation and utilization across all of the business processes.
The truth is that IT infrastructure automation is essential for optimizing both traditional IT infrastructures and modern, cloud-native solutions acquired through digital transformation initiatives.
2. Faster DevOps adoption
DevOps is a best practice that fosters agility companies need for releasing products of higher quality, faster. And automation is at the heart of DevOps.
That's why adopting DevOps and integrating it across the entire range of functionalities requires a high level of infrastructure automation.
To build a properly functioning DevOps, you need full infrastructure automation that affects every single stage in the software development lifecycle.
3. Improved user experience via self-service portals
Self-service portals and service catalogs are now expanding beyond IT processes to match the needs of different business areas. For example, you can find them in human resources for calculating benefits and compensation or in supplier management for contract renewal and bid reviews.
Self-service solutions accelerate productivity and increase service delivery. To take full advantage of such self-service portals, organizations need to embrace business process automation.
The idea is to automate every repeatable workflow in the process to make self-service portals more productive and deliver real value to business teams.
4. Reaping the benefits of cloud computing
While most organizations today use public cloud infrastructures to some extent, they still struggle to use best-of-breed solutions to the fullest. In fact, many untapped benefits are waiting in the cloud that could provide incredible value to businesses.
By taking advantage of infrastructure automation solutions, businesses can discover new methods for making the most of their cloud infrastructures (not to mention slashing their cost).
Automation is a necessary prerequisite for gaining more control over cloud activities. Such a tool can divide workflows and allocate them across different clouds used in the enterprise - using public, private, on-premises data, and hybrid arrangements.
5. Programming infrastructure
Today, data centers are the keystone of IT infrastructure for many organizations. However, the role they play changes because of the higher availability of cloud storage. Organizations can use hosted sites and social storage platforms spread across various provider facilities.
To make the most of this opportunity, they need to develop the capability for orchestrating and automating infrastructure facilities. Automation is what allows programming storage as a service through these hosted sites, social platforms, and public cloud services.
6. Bimodal IT
IT has always served as a strategic partner for any business process. While it continues to fulfill the set Service Level Agreements, the IT department can also provide better security controls, maintain operational capabilities, and reduce the cost of running the business.
Bimodal IT refers to the management of two separate modes of IT delivery. While one is focused on stability, the other promotes agility.
This is a great solution for businesses that want to catch up with the advancing digital world. In this context, automation can serve as a catalyst for transitioning from traditional IT methods to bimodal IT. In this scenario, automation accelerates IT processes and provides the required stability.
7. More efficient workflows
By implementing infrastructure automation in Continuous Delivery, organizations can automate a wide range of jobs with greater accuracy and efficiency.
Note that every task within a given workflow can have separate dependencies to make sure that they are only executed when specific conditions are met. For example, you can set a condition to provision the server only after specific tests are done and achieve greater cost savings.
8. Faster updates
Today, customers are used to companies delivering better and newer products on a regular basis. That's why it's so important for both IT and software development teams to use automation.
Automation solutions help to streamline the process of releasing new software and reduce the amount of time it takes to fix bugs and other issues that impact the customer experience. By rolling updates out faster, you will ensure that customers are satisfied with your solutions.
Challenges of infrastructure automation
What is holding organizations back when it comes to automation? And how can organizations move towards IT automation more productively? Here are a few issues affecting the rate of automation adoption in the IT world.
1. IT's orientation towards tasks
Automation is often implemented at a granular level - for example, network administration of IP addresses. However, managing these addresses is actually part of a bigger picture: the entire security management directive that embraces many different areas of the IT infrastructure as a whole.
Tying these pieces together into a universal infrastructure strategy is very difficult and prevents organizations from making the most of automation.
2. Complex IT environments
When the IT department deploys the service, that service might be deployed quickly and without any documentation. The team might not even properly script or refresh them for accurate application testing.
For example, app testing might require many instances of an operating system with changing components like databases. Since there are so many different system configurations, you can't guarantee that all the test systems will be taken down once testing is complete. And over time, handling these IT assets will become challenging. They will end up wasting resources that could have been provisioned anywhere.
Now you see why the complexity of an organization's IT environment is another factor inhibiting it from automating the IT infrastructure. IT teams are already facing such complexity at hand and are reluctant to potentially complicate their lives with automation.
3. Lack of leadership or strategy in infrastructure building
The IT infrastructure is the engine running behind all of the applications and data that empower a business. However, it's not visible to people who are not directly involved with it.
That's why the non-technical upper management and boards of directors might find the concept of automating it difficult. Without appreciating infrastructure and what automation can bring, they might not be ready to agree with CIOs when asked for expensive automation solutions. These often compete with flashier projects like a new ERP system or investments in new tablets for the salesforce.
4. Tool sprawl
IT professionals are often tasked with researching all the different infrastructure tools available on the market and making recommendations. These recommendations result in purchasing decisions.
However, these recommendations are based on the features and capabilities of the tool - not on whether it cleanly integrates with the existing infrastructure. As a result, organizations experience tool sprawl because a set of tools that are hard to integrate become a wasted asset.
5. Upfront investment
There's no denying that IT infrastructure automation comes with upfront investment. To make sure that automation brings organizations the results they seek, it's essential to first identify the areas where automation should be deployed and where it will bring quick wins (or the greatest return on investment). After starting a project like this, implementing automation elsewhere will become an easier task.
When not to automate infrastructure
IT infrastructure automation is not a silver bullet. In some cases, it might do more harm than good. That's why it's important to first identify whether the business case is a good candidate for automation before jumping on the automation bandwagon and trying to implement it all across your infrastructure.
Here are several scenarios where automation might not bring a good return on investment - or even become a risk.
You're dealing with critical data
Using an automation agent to deploy code is one thing. It's quite another when you're using automation to deal with data.
For example, if you have a critical database that you absolutely can't risk losing, using an automation solution to provision the environment for it is risky. What if your script deletes the database permanently because it simply wipes your cluster clean as part of its provisioning operation? What if the automation tool has no idea where to locate critical data and could potentially ignore or delete it?
Naturally, it's possible to mitigate that risk by configuring your tools in a way to protect critical data resources against accidental deletion or disaster. However, when you're dealing with data that is extremely important to you, manual provisioning might be a better choice because it reduces the risk.
Automating configuration might not be worth your time
Before getting an automation solution, carry out the cost-benefit analysis. The effort required to create automation can be significant, and sometimes it's just not worth the trouble.
For example, if you only create a few environments, you will probably spend less time if you set them manually instead of configuring the automation tools that spin them up.
There's no point in automating something just because you can do it. Make sure that automation always saves time and cost in the long run.
More automation means more code to manage
Consider how your infrastructure automation tools contribute to your incident management and operational maintenance workloads before setting them up. The more templates and automation scripts you develop, the more code will need to be managed and kept up-to-date. You also make sure that it's secure and the right people have access to it.
Before automating something, take a step back and decide whether having more DevOps tools to maintain and secure is worth your time. If you're going to use a script hundreds of times, it definitely is. But if you use something sporadically, it's not a good candidate for automation.
Another thing to consider is the fact that infrastructures might be inconsistent. For example, automation is a great tool if you need to spin up environments constantly on an infrastructure that is composed of the same types of clusters, operating systems, etc.
However, if your deployment environment varies a lot, automation might not be helpful. For example, if you use multiple clouds at the same time or update your infrastructure frequently.
There's no denying that IT infrastructure automation is a must-have for all organizations looking to release updates more frequently and streamline the process of software development.
However, automating a task just for automation's sake is a mistake. It's important that organizations make sure that implementing automation serves their broader business goals, such as increasing their resilience or operational efficiency.
Every time when tasked with implementing an automation solution, take a moment to weigh its benefits against costs.
And if you're not sure what to do, it's worth consulting with specialists in the matter. At Maxima Consulting, we have years of experience in assisting organizations in automating all aspects of their infrastructures. Our experts know how to tell whether an application or use case is a good candidate for automation with cost efficiency in mind.