Dec 19, 2011 (03:12 AM EST)
Data Center Automation: Why It's Time To Move

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Data Center Automation

Shifting spending from IT operations to innovation and meeting business needs more quickly should be key goals for every CIO. One way to do this is with a highly virtualized data center. But IT won't get the staff efficiency gains and cost savings from virtualization unless it automates more of the work IT does.

The message is starting to get through: 36% of the 345 business technology professionals we surveyed are already using process automation tools, while 32% have an implementation project under way.

Faster response time to service requests is the top process automation impact, cited by 25% of tech pros surveyed who have fully deployed process automation tools. Others cited reduced errors and shifting staff to new activities--which means freeing IT to focus on higher-value projects. Cash savings, though, can be elusive: Just 11% cut staff, and 5% cite cost reduction as a key impact of process automation.

Despite the lack of hard savings, private clouds are driving a new interest in automation; IT just can't deliver the highly scalable and more flexible virtualized data centers without it. Public cloud environments, in contrast, add complexity to process automation, as workloads tend to be set up in silos, but emerging cloud-broker technology provides a potential solution.

The difficulty IT faces with a process automation project will largely depend on its systems: The more standardization, the easier automation will be. Lots of homegrown applications and complicated workflows will increase the difficultly. Yet it's still worth pursuing. IT leaders must get a better grip on strategic challenges like better governance and cloud integration, but tech teams at the same time can identify small-scale projects for quick wins in 90 days or fewer, like integrating hiring and firing processes with Active Directory.

The Governance Mandate

Automation must start with governance--a process for aligning IT and business priorities and then ensuring that execution follows a well-defined process. It's discouraging that only 45% of IT pros who use or plan to deploy IT automation tools say governance is extremely important in process automation. That number should be higher.

Governance frameworks such as Six Sigma, ISO 9001, ITIL, and CMMI can provide a significant head start in helping standardize and formalize processes. These frameworks won't meet all of IT's needs, but they can significantly reduce the time to establish core process areas.

Two great candidates for automation are configuration and change management. Automating these can help reduce errors in the infrastructure and eliminate a lot of manual effort to keep systems up and running.

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Also see:
What To Look For In Automation Products