Process Automation: Exponential Challenges, Exponential Rewards
The trap of unchecked virtualization complexity can have a stifling effect on the advantageous spread of virtualization in data centers.
Indeed, many enterprises may think they have already exhausted their virtualization paybacks, when in fact they have only scratched the surface of the potential long-term benefits.
Automation, policy-driven processes and best practices are offering more opportunities for optimizing virtualization so that server, storage and network virtualization can move from points of progress into more holistic levels of adoption.
The goals then are data center transformation, performance and workload agility, and cost and energy efficiency. Many data centers are leveraging automation and best practices to attain 70 percent and even 80 percent adoption rates.
By taking such a strategic outlook on virtualization, process automation sets up companies to better exploit cloud computing and IT transformation benefits at the pace of their choosing, not based on artificial limits imposed by dated or manual management practices.
To explore how automation can help achieve strategic levels of virtualization, BriefingsDirect brought together panelists Erik Frieberg, vice president of solutions marketing at HP Software; and Erik Vogel, practice principal and America's lead for cloud resources at HP. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Listen to the podcast (35:58 minutes).
Here are some excerpts:
Erik Vogel: Probably the biggest misconception that I see with clients is the assumption that they're fully virtualized, when they're probably only 30 or 40 percent virtualized. They've gone out and done the virtualization of IT, for example, and they haven't even started to look at Tier 1 applications.
The misconception is that we can't virtualize Tier 1 apps. In reality, we see clients doing it every day. The broadest misconception is what virtualization can do and how far it can get you. Thirty percent is the low-end threshold today. We're seeing clients who are 75-80 percent virtualized in Tier 1 applications.
Erik Frieberg: The three misconceptions I see a lot are, one, automation and virtualization are just about reducing head count. The second is that automation doesn't have as much impact on compliance. The third is if automation is really at the element level, they just don't understand how they would do this for these Tier 1 workloads.
You're starting to see the movement beyond those initial goals of eliminating people to ensuring compliance. They're asking how do I establish and enforce compliance policies across my organization, and beyond that, really capturing or using best practices within the organization.
When you look at the adoption, you have to look at where people are going, as far as the individual elements, versus the ultimate goal of automating the provisioning and rolling out a complete business service or application.
When I talk to people about automation, they consistently talk about what I call "element automation." Provisioning a server, a database or a network device is a good first step, and we see gaining market adoption of automating these physical things. What we're also seeing is the idea of moving beyond the individual element automation to full process automation.
As companies expand their use of automation to full services, they're able to reduce that time from months down to days or weeks. This is what some people are starting to call "cloud provisioning" or "self-service business application provisioning." This is really the ultimate goal -- provisioning these full applications and services, versus what is often IT's goal -- automating the building blocks of a full business service.
This is where you're starting to see what some people call the "lights out" data center. It has the same amount or even less physical infrastructure using less power, but you see the absence of people. These large data centers just have very few people working in them, but at the same time, are delivering applications and services to people at a highly increased rate rather than as traditionally provided by IT.
Vogel: One of the challenges that our clients face is how to build the business case for moving from 30 percent to 60 or 70 percent virtualized. This is an ongoing debate within a number of clients today, because they look at that initial upfront cost and see that the investment is probably higher than what they were anticipating. I think in a lot of cases that is holding our clients back from really achieving these higher levels of virtualization.
In order to really make that jump, the business case has to be made beyond just reduction in headcount or less work effort. We see clients having to look at things like improving availability, being able to do migrations, streamlined backup capabilities, and improved fault-tolerance. When you start looking across the broader picture of the benefits, it becomes easier to make a business case to start moving to a higher percentage of virtualization.
One of the things we saw early on with virtualization is that just moving to a virtual environment does not necessarily reduce a lot of the maintenance and management that we have, because we haven't really done anything to reduce the number of OS instances that have to be managed.
The benefits are relatively constrained, if we look at it from just a physical footprint reduction. In some cases, it might be significant if a client is running out of data-center space, power, or cooling capacity within the data center. Then, virtualization makes a lot of sense because of the reduction in asset footprint.
But when we start looking at coupling virtualization with improved process and improved governance, thereby reducing the number of OS instances, application rationalization, and those kinds of broader process type issues, then we start to see the big benefits come into play.
Now, we're not talking just about reducing the asset footprint. We're also talking about reducing the number of OS instances. Hence, the management complexity of that environment will decrease. In reality, the big benefits are on the logical side and not so much on the physical side.
Frieberg: What we're seeing in companies is that they're realizing that their business applications and services are becoming too complex for humans to manage quickly and reliably.
The demands of provisioning, managing and moving in this new agile development environment and this environment of hybrid IT, where you're consuming more business services, is really moving beyond what a lot of people can manage. The idea is that they are looking at automation to make their life easier, to operate IT in a compliant way, and also deliver on the overall business goals of a more agile IT.
Companies are almost going through three phases of maturity when they do this. The first aspect is that a lot of automation revolves around "run book automation" (RBA), which is this physical book that has all these scripts and processes that IT is supposed to look at.
But, what you find is that their processes are not very standardized. They might have five different ways of configuring your device, resetting the server, and checking why an application isn't working.
So, as we look at maturity, you've got to standardize on a set of ways. You have to do things consistently. When you standardize methods, you then find out you're able to do the second level of maturity, which is consolidate.
Vogel: It becomes more than just talking about the hardware or the virtualization, but rather a broader question of how IT operates and procures services. We have to start changing the way we are thinking when we're going to stand up a number of virtual images.
When we start moving to a cloud environment, we talk about how we share a resource pool. Virtualization is obviously key and an underlying technology to enable that sharing of a virtual resource pool.
We're seeing the virtualization providers coming out with new versions of their software that enable very flexible cloud infrastructures.
This includes the ability to create hybrid cloud infrastructures, which are partially a private cloud that sits within your own site, and the ability to burst seamlessly to a public cloud as needed for excess capacity, as well as the ability to seamlessly transfer workloads in and out of a private cloud to a public cloud provider as needed.
We're seeing the shift from IT becoming more of a service broker, where services are sourced and not just provided internally, as was traditionally done. Now, they're sourced from a public cloud provider or a public service provider, or provided internally on a private cloud or on a dedicated piece of hardware. IT now has more choices than ever in how they go about procuring that service.
But it becomes very important to start talking about how we govern that, how we control who has access, how we can provision, what gets provisioned and when. ... It's a much bigger problem and a more complicated problem as we start going to higher levels of virtualization and automation and create environments that start to look like a private cloud infrastructure.
I don't think anybody will question that there are continued significant benefits, as we start looking at different cloud computing models. If we look at what public cloud providers today are charging for infrastructure versus what it costs a client today to stand up an equivalent server in their environment, the economics are very, very compelling to move to a cloud-type of model.
Without the proper governance in place, we can actually see cost increase, but when we have the right governance and processes in place for this cloud environment, we've seen very compelling economics, and it's probably the most compelling change in IT from an economic perspective within the last 10 years.
Frieberg: If you want to automate and virtualize an entire service, you've got to get 12 people to get together to look at the standard way to roll out that environment, and how to do it in today's governed, compliant infrastructure.
The coordination required, to use a term used earlier, isn't just linear. It sometimes becomes exponential. So there are challenges, but the rewards are also exponential. This is why it takes weeks to put these into production. It isn't the individual pieces. You're getting all these people working together and coordinated. This is extremely difficult and this is what companies find challenging.
The key goal here is that we work with clients who realize that you don't want a two-year payback. You want to show payback in three or four months. Get that payback and then address the next challenge and the next challenge and the next challenge. It's not a Big Bang approach. It's this idea of continuous payback and improvement within your organization to move to the end goal of this private cloud or hybrid IT infrastructure.
Vogel: We've developed a capability matrix across six broad domains to look at how a client needs to start to operationalize virtualization as opposed to just virtualizing a physical server.
We definitely understand and recognize that it has to be part of the IT strategy. It is not just a tactical decision to move a server from physical machine to a virtual machine, but rather it becomes part of an IT organization's DNA that everything is going to move to this new environment.
We're really going to start looking at everything as a service, as opposed to as a server, as a network component, as a storage device, how those things come together, and how we virtualize the service itself as opposed to all of those unique components.
It really becomes baked into an IT organization's DNA, and we need to look very closely at their capability -- how capable an organization is from a cultural standpoint, a governance standpoint, and a process standpoint to really operationalize that concept.
Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: HP sponsored this podcast.