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The Channel Angle: Determining The Value And ROI Of Cloud Automation

‘In the new world, companies can set up a cloud footprint using automation to reduce human error, make it quick and easy to create new environments, document the setup in the case of employee turnover, and do more with fewer engineers,’ writes Mark McCoy of Chicago-based Asperitas Consulting.

[Editor’s note: The Channel Angle is a monthly CRN guest column written by a rotating group of solution provider executives that focuses on the triumphs and challenges that solution providers face. If you are a solution provider executive interested in contributing, please contact managing editor David Harris.]

The tech industry has grown software-centric and this new world requires a new way of thinking as more workloads are moved into the cloud. A cloud footprint can be configured through a provider’s console but the problem with that is anything manual has the potential for human error.

There are many compelling reasons why organizations should look at cloud automation. In the new world, companies can set up a cloud footprint using automation to reduce human error, make it quick and easy to create new environments, document the setup in the case of employee turnover, and do more with fewer engineers.

The process starts by creating automation to spin up servers and all the different components needed to run an application. Infrastructure automation, or software scripts, uses a configuration to create an environment. Once that automation is perfected it doesn’t change from environment to environment. It’s one and done.

After the automation is written, setting up new environments enables IT to just push a button. That avoids the potential for human error. It also makes it easy to create additional environments quickly according to business needs.

A performance testing environment is one example of an additional environment that can be set up. Some application projects are large enough that they need multiple user testing environments, and automation makes any additional environments easy to create.


Pain points with automating cloud deployments

Automation is a paradigm shift for management as well as administrators, who are used to doing things manually. It requires skillsets organizations likely don’t have and need to acquire. Additionally, the on-premises organization structure doesn’t work in the cloud for most organizations, especially when doing automation. Conversely, the people with automation skills often don’t have specialized knowledge in networking, security, DNS, and active directory, among other areas.

That said, momentum continues to grow for organizations to have cloud footprints. For example, the CTO of a large financial services firm client has flatly stated she does not want to make any additional investments in data centers or physical hardware. All new application workloads go to the cloud because the CTO wants to get out of the physical data center business and avoid the need to own properties. Cloud automation is the only way for her to achieve her goal; manual administration would not scale appropriately.

However, some organizations perceive that moving to the cloud will give them cost benefits, which is illusory. Rather, the benefit is about speed to market and enabling a business to become more agile and competitive. Automation is a prerequisite for achieving that speed. Otherwise, if you’re just porting current applications into the cloud you are moving the problem to someone else’s data center.

When corporations get into the cloud, they all make the same mistake of assuming it’s a tech change and that business will be conducted the same way, but with new cloud technology. The problem with that mindset is the cloud is all software-based and when workloads are automated, the old departmental or team silos don’t work. A silo might be a network administrator who is used to dealing with LANs and does not have innate cloud skills.

On-premises technology skills do not automatically translate to the cloud without upskilling. So what happens is, DevOps teams that have cloud and automation skills end up having to annex networking and other additional skills. This can leave on-premises administrators feeling their jobs are threatened and that they’re left out of the movement unless they are willing to gain new skills.

Cloud automation is not about eliminating IT roles but changing them. Some human still has to figure out what rules make sense for their company and then someone has to automate them and push them out so they’re effective. In the cloud, security should be automated as well.


The value of policy-based management

Ultimately, organizations migrate to policy-based management, which establishes automated guardrails that will prevent someone from doing things they shouldn’t.

That reduces the need to rely on people having to manually audit systems. The chief enemy of moving to the cloud is rookie mistakes. There have been instances where app developers have unwittingly opened databases so they can be accessed through the internet, simply because they don’t know any better. It’s a security breach if they do that because it increases the chance your data gets hacked and is seen by people who shouldn’t see it.

A policy-based management plan for automating cloud applications and workloads will prevent rookie mistakes. Most cloud vendors use APIs, so automating them is relatively straightforward.

The complexity of automating clouds will depend on the organization’s level of cloud maturity. For customers just getting started in their migration, make sure to automate everything at the outset.
Organizations should ensure they set up procedures to automate their cloud footprint so they don’t need to implement anything manually. That gets a little bit tricky when a customer that started out with manual processes wants to adopt automation. Then it’s more work involved to make that happen.

There are tools to do that, but the process takes longer. But organizations that have automated from manual processes are very happy in the long run.

A provider can teach organizations with a manual presence how to do automation as code. That saves a lot of time, effort, and headaches.


The benefits

Organizations that adopt cloud and automation will see cost savings in staff and dynamic scaling, and the ability to grow and shrink a cloud footprint based on demand. They will also see significant productivity gains.

The hybrid cloud presence even for large corporations can be managed with a relatively small staff when cloud automation is adopted. Compare that to the old world with an equivalent footprint, where everything needs to be done manually, and you’d be talking about many more people.

Mark McCoy is a managing partner and enterprise hybrid cloud architect at Asperitas Consulting , based in Chicago.

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