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There are a number of pure-play IT automation vendors, and they seem to be doing just an OK job: Only 3% of respondents to the InformationWeek 2011 IT Process Automation Survey are unsatisfied with the automation their tool vendors provide, but the majority, 51%, are only somewhat satisfied. There's room for improvement.
Among the most-used products in our poll are HP Operations Orchestration, IBM's Tivoli Provisioning Manager, Microsoft Systems Center Opalis, and CA Workload Automation. Just a half dozen IT process automation vendors were in this market a few years ago, but 14 made this year's list.
For process automation to work inside the private cloud, service requests, change management, and incident management are the three most important areas to address. If you're looking at individual products inside the private cloud, without the enterprise process framework, be sure your tools can manage processes on their own. For example, IBM's Tivoli Netcool Configuration Manager automates network configuration management tasks, controls network device access, and helps ensure network policy compliance. All of this is done within the tool, where reporting and governance may also be monitored.
On the server side, BMC Server Automation allows bare-metal provisioning on new servers and reprovisioning of operating systems on existing ones, as well as patching, configuring, and managing heterogeneous servers according to policy. Cisco's acquisition of NewScale brings a unified self-service IT portal that facilitates on-demand provisioning for private or hybrid cloud computing.
A key element to check with these products is whether they have a broad array of product integrations as well as the ability to extend these into custom apps. You'll need to check that they cover a variety of applications in IT operations and that they integrate marketing-leading products.
For the best fit, ask these questions:
>> How do existing processes in the software work, and how easily can they be changed? Since many companies need some help defining processes, vendors supply prebuilt automation tasks that can be used as starting points and modified as business requirements change. Requirements will change, so investigate how easy it is to modify a workflow.
>> What reporting is provided on the status of automated processes, as well as errors and exceptions? In addition to reporting, make sure you check how the product alerts managers to problems.
>> Do the benefits of automating processes outweigh the time and effort required to install, configure, and maintain the software? Large companies with complex processes will see the most value from these tools. Contrast the benefits with the fact that these products can add another layer of complexity. How well does the vendor help mitigate that?
>> Do you have the expertise? All process automation products require skill to set up and configure--tasks best left to the vendor or a qualified systems engineer. For a larger environment, we generally allot several weeks to deploy and integrate. Once deployed, the ability to create processes and workflows is very straightforward in all of the products.
>> How well does the architecture support distributed environments? For mission-critical processes, you must ensure that the automation systems are highly available, redundant, and support distributed architectures.