Network automation doesn’t mean zero visibility

IT automation can cause some concern among senior management who misunderstand the term, often interpreting it as entirely offloading stewardship of, and visibility into, a process or system, warns an executive with Infoblox Inc.

“It sounds like everything is going to happen by itself and I’ll have no control along the way,” said Matt Gowarty, senior product marketing manager with network automation vendor Infoblox Inc., during a recent Webcast.

The truth is that IT automation doesn’t mean eliminating the human element to the point of zero visibility. Instead, it’s about automating tedious daily tasks that will then allow IT pros to apply their knowledge elsewhere, Gowarty.Nominate someone you work with for a ComputerWorld Canada IT Leadership AwardThe traditional spreadsheet method of managing IP addresses is just one example of an area that can be addressed with network automation, especially “as some of us have been trying to tread water and keeping our head above water for a while, it’s getting harder to do so,” said Gowarty.

Other common repetitive daily tasks in the networking domain that are “repeatable” enough for automation include network provisioning, directory services and DNS, said Gowarty.

Automation can be described as “managing the cost of managing” the IT infrastructure, said Jim Frey, research director with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) Inc., also on the Webcast. It’s about reducing costs and making it easier to deploy new technologies and services across the network.

“Automation is a great way to take the human factor out of as many things as possible,” said Frey.

A managed environment will allow IT admins to accelerate diagnosis of problems and shorten restoration times, said Frey. It can range from discovering what’s on the network, to performing root cause analysis, to monitoring and alarm management, and reporting for key performance indicators.

Network automation also ensures compliance to policies, said Frey.

Very often organizations will try to manage the cost of network management by resorting to things like cutting staff, reducing facilities, consolidating management tools or renegotiating support contracts, said Frey. But that only causes more distress because “all of those have downsides because there are interactive,” he added.

Automation has made a shift from nice-to-have to must have, and was even listed as the strongest area of payback for reducing long-term total cost of ownership in a recent EMA study. Moreover, EMA found that, in 2009, organizations listed automation as a top IT area to prioritize now that the economy is showing positive signs.         

Technologies that are growing in popularity like virtualization and cloud computing are also driving the need for automation. Gowarty said two-thirds of unintended consequences to the network are tied to change brought about by daily tasks and new technologies. It’s less about other threats like virus attacks, he added.

“We are adding new technologies but don’t have the people to scale,” said Gowarty.

Besides the network, other areas that are ripe for automation include application lifecycle management and IT service management.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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