September 28, 2011

Automation Unlocks The Door To The Private Cloud

By Jason Cowie

Private Cloud Automation

As companies increase their use of virtualization and succeed in expanding its reach to ever more mission-critical applications, their environments inherently become more complex. So, even as data centers get closer to the promise of the private cloud, the rate and ease with which they can advance potentially diminishes. How can they overcome the final hurdles or private cloud adoption, where the promise of greater efficiencies and faster service awaits? Automation quickly becomes the catalyst that enables organizations to make this transformation.

Virtual data centers require new and innovative approaches to solving legacy problems such as asset management, automated provisioning, and change and configuration management. With increased demand for resources compounded with the speed of virtualization, the virtual data center quickly becomes susceptible to virtual sprawl and stall that can only be addressed by automating routine or time consuming tasks. Automation enables businesses to overcome cloud adoption challenges, improve operational tasks and efficiency, and consequently boost the morale of IT teams.

If virtual data centers are to transform into private clouds, they must first move from managing infrastructure to managing consumption of services. By leveraging easy-to-use approval and deployment workflows with policy-driven automation, IT teams can efficiently scale out administrative capabilities to quickly respond to and fulfill on-demand service requests. By standardizing processes with business and IT policies, organizations can ensure consistent and predictable delivery of IT services across virtual data centers and private clouds.

Successful private cloud implementations not only reduce operational costs, but also allow organizations to reap the benefits of faster delivery models, improved quality of service and increased agility and responsiveness to business needs. Administrative support is one of the highest operational costs in the data center, and manually responding to the increased demand in a cloud model will not only result in unacceptable admin ratios and costs, but will inevitably increase the number of incidents, errors and outages.

Opportunities for automation

The best approach to automation is to implement it gradually. Focus on the areas in your virtual environment or private cloud that are a clear fit and that provide the best overall benefit. These generally include:

Discovery and reporting: You can’t manage what you can’t see, and this is a basic need for any virtual data center management system.

Capacity planning: In order to meet service level agreements (SLAs), it’s important to proactively plan infrastructure capacity needs by understanding growth trends and identifying and optimizing over- or under-provisioned assets.

Self-service: This is a key feature that both offloads administration teams and engages business teams by providing the ability for business teams to request virtual machines on demand and to track requests all the way to the provisioning of virtual machines (VMs). This is combined with the ability of stakeholders to obtain real-time information about the virtual infrastructure without adding work to the administrative teams or requiring accounts in vCenter.

Automated provisioning and lifecycle management: Unlike their physical counterparts, the lifespan of virtual machines can be anything from minutes to years, and they are also inherently mobile. This combination of mobility and variable lifespan requires lifecycle management designed for VMs, ensuring that only approved and compliant VMs are provisioned, that they are managed and controlled while they are in the environment, and that they are decommissioned at the end of their lives in order to free up valuable resources for reuse.

Change and configuration management: One aspect of the complexity inherent in growing virtual datacenters is in the standardization and maintenance of configurations, as well as the monitoring and audit of all changes in the environment.

Resource optimization: Ensuring that all resources are used efficiently and at optimal levels is a basic goal of all physical data centers. This is even more important in the more dynamic virtual data center.

Policy-based automation:  As the volumes of VMs increase, manual maintenance and support of the environment becomes both unreliable and unworkable. The only way to get to any form of private cloud is through the use of standard practices, policies and automation.

The effect of automation on the bottom line

When businesses first venture into virtualization, they gain momentum (and management buy-in) from immediate reductions in capital expenditures. These cost savings, though, represent only the beginning of the financial benefits of virtualization. The true value lies in the private cloud, where data centers can realize reduced operational expenses over the long term. Automation makes these cost savings possible.

Without automation, the cost of added staff, inefficient hardware utilization, and unexpected downtime can substantially decrease the expected return on investment from virtualization, and in some cases stall the entire initiative. The only way to achieve REAL and long-lasting reduction in operational expenses is by automating the day-to-day tasks associated with virtual systems management.

By Jason Cowie

Jason Cowie

Jason is the Vice President Product Management at Embotics and oversees product direction and strategy. Previously, Jason was the General Manager at EMC responsible for the Server Management business, and played a key role in the acquisition of Configuresoft. While at Configuresoft, Jason served as Vice President of Product Management helping secure Configuresoft as the industry leader in security and configuration management. Jason’s extensive management background spans sales, business development, consulting, and product marketing at various companies including Microsoft, Scalable Software, and Mission Critical Software (merged with NetIQ in 2000). He received his Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, and completed graduate studies in Information Technology at the University of Victoria. 
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