IT infrastructure automation is a buzzword topic today. According to Gartner, by 2024, developments in analytics and automatic remediation capabilities will refocus 30% of IT - from support to continuous engineering. By that time, 40% of products and platform teams will be using AI ops for automated change risk analysis in DevOps pipelines to reduce the unplanned downtime by a smashing 20%.
But since the infrastructure is an invisible engine running our applications, sometimes it's hard to correctly understand its value – and, by extension, the value of automating it.
In this article, we explain what IT infrastructure automation is, what its key components are, and why companies should start automating their infrastructures.
What is IT infrastructure automation?
Infrastructure automation refers to the use of technology for performing tasks with reduced assistance from human workers in order to control software, hardware, networking components, operating systems, and data storage used to deliver IT services and solutions.
In its essence, infrastructure automation is a collection of processes and tools that organizations implement to reduce the amount of manual effort associated with provisioning and managing workloads in a public cloud, hybrid cloud, or on-premises environment.
What is the goal of IT infrastructure automation?
The goal of automating IT infrastructure is to make all the activities related to the resources we mentioned above as efficient, fast, and hands-on as possible.
Today, many everyday functions that IT is responsible for could be easily automated with special solutions. This, in turn, would free up IT employees to address more mission-critical issues and architect the infrastructure for the future.
By automating repetitive tasks, the IT department would simply have more time to focus on important strategic tasks that provide added value to the organization. That's why IT infrastructure automation could potentially improve almost every aspect of the public, private, or hybrid cloud environments. It makes workload deployments more efficient, cuts costs, and removes unnecessary waste.
What are the components of an IT infrastructure?
Software refers to all the applications used by the organization, starting with web servers and content management systems (CMSs) to operating systems like Windows, macOS, or Linux. But software connects to hardware as well – for example, an operating system is responsible for managing system resources as well as hardware. It makes all the connections between the software and physical resources that actually do the work.
By hardware, we mean data centers, personal computers, servers, routers, switches, and other types of equipment used by businesses today. You could easily include the facility that houses and powers your data center as part of your infrastructure as well.
Networking refers to all of the interconnected components of the network that allow network management, operations, and communication between internal and external systems. The network itself consists of elements such as network enablement, Internet connectivity, firewalls, and security but also hardware elements like tables, routers, and switches.
What are the different types of IT infrastructure?
In a traditional infrastructure, all the components such as data storage, data centers, and other equipment are owned and managed by the business within its facilities. This type of infrastructure is usually quite expensive to run. It requires investment in large amounts of hardware such as servers but also the physical space to store them – not to mention the resources for powering and cooling them.
Cloud infrastructure is infrastructure based on components and resources related to cloud computing. We can divide this infrastructure type into several subtypes:
Private cloud – In a private cloud, the organization uses resources that are dedicated exclusively to it.
Public cloud – In this alternative, you rent cloud infrastructures from cloud service providers such as AWS, Google, Microsoft Azure, IBM, Alibaba, and others.
Hybrid cloud and multi-cloud – By implementing workload orchestration, portability, and management across multiple cloud environments, companies can create a hybrid cloud or multi-cloud environment.
Hyper-converged infrastructure - This type of infrastructure allows managing compute, network, and data storage resources from one single interface. Thanks to software-defined compute, and data storage brought together, your business can support more modern workloads with scalable architectures enabled by industry-standard hardware.
Why should companies automate their IT infrastructures?
In general, automation is an excellent solution for tasks that are well understood, repetitive and tedious to accomplish manually. These tasks are also discrete and require a high level of standardization and/or governance.
Here's why implementing IT infrastructure automation is a good idea.
Accelerating the speed of provisioning
If your customers are complaining about slow response and turnaround times, you might be in need of some automation. Companies that take days or weeks from the time when a request is made to the moment when the service is fully deployed are missing out on market opportunities. Waiting might inspire users to turn to other offerings.
The smaller the size of your company, the easier it is to manage things manually. As your infrastructure increases in scale and IT needs grow, manual management techniques will become less effective.
They will inevitably lead to a growing backlog of infrastructure-related requests. And how can administrators provision what's needed when they're limited by lack of automation, outdated processes, and the added complexity of some types of infrastructure like a hybrid cloud? This is not a method for providing SLAs that users are expecting.
If your company has problems with tracking assets across the IT infrastructure and wrapping effective processes around requests for assets is hard, you might benefit from automating your infrastructure.
For example, when internal users begin to purchase public cloud instances using their own credit cards, your organization might lose control of its intellectual property. Such shadow IT projects occur when IT departments are operating with legacy infrastructures and processes – and now want to take advantage of innovative solutions.
All of this creates data management and agility challenges, leaving your organization incapable of quickly delivering IT services to satisfy its business requirements. That's why many businesses are turning to the public cloud.
How to optimize for cost, performance and achieve compliance? You need to have full control over your assets, maintain visibility across workloads, and understand where people are placing them (not to mention where in fact, they should be placing them).
Many organizations struggle to understand the true cost of their infrastructure resource requests, usage or even attribute the right cost to the right business units.
At the same time, executives expect to be kept informed about costs and have the ability to attribute costs to each and every line of business. How else are you going to optimize your costs?
By moving to a service-based pricing model, you can start to create a culture of accountability. Cost optimization will become the responsibility of everyone requesting services. That way, users will no longer see these resources as something available free of charge.
Consequently, IT will no longer be seen as a liability that generates enormous costs but as a real asset. But automation is just one of the strategies for optimizing infrastructure costs, we've written a whole article about reducing cloud costs.
This is also the path toward implementing an IT and service model where you are no longer owning physical IT assets but renting resources on an as-needed basis. Lifecycle management is important here as well because resource leases should be retired as soon as they're no longer required or stop providing any value. This is where automation can help enormously and keep your cost at bay.
Virtual tool sprawl
Another aspect where automation comes in handy is for efficient usage and allocation of all of the cloud resources. This is especially important if you're using the public cloud. Many instances end up underused and overprovisioned. Companies typically go over their cloud budgets by 23%.
Most of the time, virtual environments simply grow organically. If users see that a workload is free of charge, you will quickly start dealing with virtual sprawl. What you need is to automate the decommissioning process where physical resources become depleted and stop as soon as they're not needed anymore.
All the workloads that are underused, not used at all, or overprovisioned need to be brought to the attention of the administration team and remediated in some way. Naturally, the best way is to automatically deal with all that.
Automation helps to find waste
When deploying workloads in a non-standardized and inconsistent manner, you will see an impact on the performance of your infrastructure. Other issues are added complexity and cost.
Overallocation is a common problem organizations face when using public cloud resources. By reclaiming them, you get to achieve a higher over workload density and reduce costs.
Over-provisioning and under-provisioning are equally threatening. An automated solution can easily identify poorly performing workloads and automatically take action to either delete resources or allocate additional ones.
How to implement IT infrastructure automation
To improve the speed and agility of your infrastructure while reducing its complexity and costs, you need automation. This is what allows users to quickly model, deploy and manage applications to any environment that can be spun up instantly.
Automation is a cost-effective and sensible answer to managing this sort of complexity - a mix of different services that make up your infrastructure. While in the past automation systems required significant resources, today IT departments can easily implement automation solutions with little burden on the existing IT teams.
The best way to implement automation is to do it gradually. Instead of scheduling a major rollout and causing a massive change throughout the organization, focus on areas that use virtual environments or cloud infrastructures.
These are quick wins that will instantly show the value of automating infrastructure. By running the first successful automation project, you will gain stakeholder buy-in and clearly show its business benefits.
This also helps to build trust in the process by gradually adding manual approval gates so that your experts understand what the automated processes are doing exactly. That way, you can work proactively with your customers to understand which option should end up in the self-service catalog and how they will be using the cloud for their workload placements.
Some potential opportunities in the lifecycle of virtual machines include:
the initial request for service
provisioning VMs and IT services
approving or rejecting requests
fulfilling requests for resource changes
self-service for customers
automating basic environmental maintenance tasks
activating governance to power the corporate standard identification
The most important aspect is partnering with a team of experts that have experience in IT infrastructure automation.
These specialists know what options are available on the market and can help you cherry-pick the best ones to start a successful process of automating your IT infrastructure. It's especially important that you can identify these quick wins and help leaders understand the value of automating infrastructure - especially since they often fail to consider infrastructure as a key engine running all of your business.
Implement automation with our help
At Maxima Consulting, we have an excellent track record of implementing infrastructure automation solutions for clients operating across different industries.
We know what it takes to build a good business case for automation and gain approval to make quick wins, cut costs and reduce the complexity of infrastructures. Get in touch with us if you need help in this area; our consultants are ready to assist you at every step of the way.