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What challenges or problems server automation tools solves?


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Server automation software performs a variety of server management tasks that would otherwise require the direct or manual attention of IT professionals. Some of the repetitive tasks performed include: inventory, configure, compare, provision, snapshot, audit, deploy, break-fix, patch, regulatory standards scan, remediate, update, roll back, reporting, VM sprawl management if necessary and track performance over time.

 

Why use server automation tools in Datacenters?

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From the owner of the Server Automation tools perspective, Cost Reduction and Cost Avoidance can be two business reasons for adopting server automation tools in Datacenter as these tools help organization to do more with less.

 

Below are few key reasons for using server automation tools:

 

  • Growing Volume of  Servers to be managed - With increased levels of virtualization adoption, server management demands are overwhelming enterprise datacenter managers and throwing labor to solve the issue is not feasible.
  • Time Factor - The biggest issue with server management is the time burden. Each aspect of server management demands an IT administrator's time and attention --   and every server multiplies time required. IT talent is so consumed  performing a host of relatively simple tasks "fighting fires"    that they are` not able to focus on strategic  projects. Additionally with increased adoption of agile methodology by many IT organizations, time factor available for managing severs is   constantly shrinking putting additional pressure on IT datacenter managers.
  • High Chance for Human Errors - Even an expert IT administrator can make mistakes is a fact of life. For example, a busy administrator might forget a server's configuration -- easy to do with dozens or hundreds of different systems -- and omit an important patch. Human errors cause poor workload performance or compromise security and compliance on servers.
  • Improving Consistency is the only way to manage- Server automation software automates highly interdependent complex tasks which otherwise would take expert to perform via scripts and if passed on to  junior administrator  can results in many variations and inconsistencies. Use of Server automation tools increases consistency, eliminates variations between administration styles, and minimizes errors and omissions.  Companies can better control provisioning, security and compliance and have better level of governance if they use server automation tools to perform server management tasks.

 

Ultimately use of Server Automation tools help valuable IT staff become free to focus on evaluating new technologies, improving data center architecture and working on projects that add value to the business and move from reactive fire fighting mode to proactive planning and execution mode.

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Role of Infrastructure Automation Tools (Provision, Configure and Orchestrate) in the world of Cloud Computing

 

With advent of cloud computing businesses are getting a taste of agility from public cloud service providers.  Demand for IT services is increasing at faster pace.  While deploying new servers has become much easier in the cloud, managing application instances and making sure everything stays compliant, patched and updated remains a major challenge. This has created an operational climate in which many IT departments are often overwhelmed by the scale of their cloud setups.  IT  realizes that Configuration Automation is the only solution for making efficient updates and configuration changes across the entire cloud landscape.

 

 

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Cloud computing requires behavioral changes to the way IT operates and delivers the business services. What we hear a lot from IT heads of many advanced users of cloud computing is that cloud solves many traditional IT problems but  it  creates plenty of new issues that organizations have to deal with.

 

As per IDC worldwide spending on public cloud services (such as Amazon Web Services) will grow to nearly $100 billion in 2016 and spending on the private cloud market ($12.3 billion worldwide last year) will grow to more than $22 billion by 2017.  As per Cisco Global Cloud Index forecasts, there is ever increasing transition of workloads from traditional data centers to cloud data centers and by 2017 nearly two-thirds of all workloads will be processed in cloud data centers. This trend indicates that over time more and more production workloads will be running in Public and Private Clouds.

 

Provisioning may be the need of hour to get started with Cloud Journey for many organization but to stay on track and reap the true end to end benefits of cloud computing will require managing across private and public cloud environments. This goal only would be possible if IT Automation tools can address such lofty needs.  Key message is mature enterprise customers very rarely deploy just a VM.  They are already thinking about the end to end model e.g. configuration management, billing, compliance, monitoring, patch management etc. Not many vendors have a good story to sell about end to end management in a hybrid cloud model as they are relying on very basic configuration automation and process orchestration tools.

 

I would like to end the blog  with couple of  generic examples showcasing what customers are already doing or planning on doing with  BladeLogic Automation tools for  their cloud workloads.

 

 

  • A Global IT outsourcer is using BladeLogic Automation tool in their Cloud Command Center to patch servers running in one of the popular public cloud.
  • A Large Publishing house plans to use BladeLogic tools to install applications and run compliance against their public cloud VMs.
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If you are running a sizable infrastructure automation initiative to manage your Data Center server assets then having  visibility  and ability  to track the progress of your Infrastructure automation journey  is critical for overall success. As an organization one should have milestones which helps organization track operational efficiency gains and  use of automation tool in meeting the  organizational security and regulations compliance needs .

Tracking progress of Infrastructure Automation initiative is not only critical to determine current level of ROI but also helps identify areas of operations where use of automation tools can aid value to make  organization more agile and aligned with business priorities.  Let’s discuss few KPIs measures that owner of Infrastructure Automation Initiative should leverage as they are on board with their infrastructure automation journey.

 

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  • Tracking servers in the Data Center – This KPI tracks the scope of automation initiative.  Tracking overall server numbers including growing Vs shrinking stats helps understand if owner  to focus on what matters and identify  if is a need to extend  automation to cover most if not all server assets.
  • Tracking composition of Physical Vs Virtual Servers by OS and OS versions – This KPI helps understand strategic OS vendors,  versions being used,  standardization opportunities across business units  and identification if there are any OS vendor contractual arrangements  which better serves the organization.
  • Virtualization genealogy - Tracking virtualization genealogy information is critical to control virtualization sprawl.
  • Hypervisors used - Tracking  hypervisor platforms and inventory of them helps with standardization and usage pattern across business units.
  • Identification of EOL OS and App Versions -  Tracking inventory details for your servers and apps is a typical starting point for robust asset management. Tracking inventory of Server OS and App versions helps identify  OSs and commercial/open source app versions which are currently EOL. This information helps identify lack of vendor support and security risks exposures to the organization.
  • IT Team needs quantification -  IT team who is using infrastructure automation tools wants to track bare metal provisioning as well as virtual machine provisioning activities have been carried out and details of how long it has taken to see if they are benefiting from use of automation tools. They should see improvement to the tune of activities taking minutes and hrs Vs days and weeks.
  • Capturing Server Configuration Details - Leveraging automation tools for capturing each and every server configuration information across server landscape for Disaster Recovery purpose helps organization prepare for adverse event.
  • Track infrastructure operational tasks performed by automation tools -  Understanding operational tasks done using automation tools prepares organization for identifying areas which are well suited for such tools and where to focus limited resources.  Initial and on going successes achieved due to focused effort helps organization become mature and help it better in grain automation tools to be part of their operational processes.
  • Server to Admin Ratio -  Ability to track servers to admin ratios over time helps determine automation tool in helping do more with few resources or less skilled resources. It is the key measure of ROI.
  • Determining Access Level -  Having details of per infrastructure user level access including access at server assets and permissions granted provides organization with a view of who and what level of access users have . It is also critical for organization to understand roles used and permissions are available at the role level. This information provides a centralized view of access control across Data Center and identify weak spots or potential security weaknesses.
  • Maturity of Automation -  Use of automation tools in the Data Center  needs to be policy driven to exercise right level of governance. Understanding of  number of patch, security and regulatory compliance and audit policies that are used to manage the infrastructure showcases organization intent to enforce the internal and external policies and how mature/serious organization is about use of infrastructure automation tools.
  • Level of Effort spent Vs success achieved using automation tools -  Jobs level visibility detailing out of different types of job runs, how long  and overall status of those jobs allows administrators determine effectiveness of automation tools for infrastructure management.
  • Meeting organization security considerations -  Organization’s security team cares for full visibility into how often operations team is running patch scans. Security team wants  periodic feeds  showcasing per server level status of missing and installed patches as well as compliance achieved  against regulations as well as identification of known exceptions.  Auditors need details and historical reporting  for certain automation activities to track SOX and other forms of operational compliance.
  • Patching Level visibility -Having  visibility into  latest server status across all applicable patch catalogs, trend of patch compliance% over time, correlating peaks and valleys with when OS patch vendor is releasing patches and when security team has agreed to push patches to servers in the  Data Center showcases the time lag between availability and application of the patches.
  • Commands Executed -  Having visibility into which commands have been run on the servers helps security team detect abnormal activities.
  • Compliance Details over time - Security team periodically wants IT team to generate Compliance details report showcasing per rule level status of the compliance scan, remediation done and wants to continuously monitor the operational environment for any lapses to take corrective actions.

 

 

There are many more KPI metrics  beyond  what we have covered above which are needed to run an effective infrastructure automation initiative and seeing the value in action. Good news is that Reporting engine for BladeLogic Server Automation is designed from ground up to provide such KPI metrics easing the burden of IT system administrators and Data Center IT managers responsible for Infrastructure Management.

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Situation today is that most of today’s business processes are supported by IT and as a result much of the internal and  regulatory compliance burden falls on IT to achieve the level of compliance required in an effective, efficient, and sustainable manner. Internal organizational policies and external regulations requires IT operations groups to provide evidence of the integrity of their companies' IT environments. Recent rise of data breaches highlighting the seriousness of the challenges that corporations and their IT security teams  are facing.

 

Situation is further complicated with growing infrastructure complexity as organizations implement multitier apps, SaaS, virtualization technologies. The cloud computing has further increased complexity, adding many more VMs, users both inside and outside the walls of the enterprise. As  if this was not good enough, as more Enterprise IT development organization adapts agile like methodology for software application development, rate of configuration changes pushed out are like never seen before. Enterprise IT environment is in a state of continual flux. There is an on going barrage of software changes, such as software patches and updates, as well as a constant demand for new application software.

 

To achieve and sustain compliance, IT must maintain tight control of the IT infrastructure and allow developers to make changes at the rapid pace. Configuration Compliance and Automation tools will be critical to ensuring that information about the IT environment is known, stable and appropriate at all times. Configuration Compliance Automation tools helps enforce proper configurations are  maintained for all devices throughout the enterprise. Organizations must centralize compliance scan and reporting for regulatory and internal auditor purposes.

 

 

Industry analyst firms like Gartner recommends Configuration Compliance and Automation tools as an effective way to ensure accurate configuration control. These tools can support Audit and Compliance to Reduce Risk and achieve a baseline, which will enable enterprises to avoid "drift" and prepare for audits.

 

Key benefits of Configuration Compliance Automation tools includes:

 

  • Automate assessment processes to improve overall security and compliance posture
  • Prioritize remediation efforts based on a composite view of risk
  • Communicate IT risk in business-relevant terms by reporting

 

 

Why it Matters?

 

 

  • Ensuring that IT systems are always properly configured not only are critical for compliance and security initiatives but also tied to overall business viability and goodwill
  • Given the rate of change, only possible way to demonstrating to auditors that systems are compliant w/o time consuming manual gathering projects with significant cost implications is to proactively leverage configuration management & automation tools
  • Automating configuration auditing enables a greater level of security and dramatically reduces preparation time for IT audits conducted for regulations such as PCI, Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA.
  • Compliance efforts can act as a catalyst and provide a foundation for the launch of initiatives that align IT more closely with the business. These initiatives can bring significant additional business benefits, including reduced risk and increased business
    efficiency.


Companies that are proactively able to:  maintain an audit-ready posture with regard to monitoring, protect entire IT infrastructure environment from non-compliant changes, collect and report compliance-related information, able to verify configurations of targeted servers/VMs/Apps have not changed and are  consistent across all IT groups  will be the only ones which are able to achieve their compliance goals and minimize their exposure to downtime and security risks.

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How does the change management process at your organization work? Is it rigorously enforced or more of an optional step based on whether or not you have time to document what you’ve done? Perhaps you are one of those organizations that that are compelled by regulatory standards to properly track and report change but still have issues due to the manual nature of the process or unpredictable behavior caused by unauthorized/unplanned changes?

 

There’s no doubt that proper change control brings big benefits to the business. It’s not just about reporting change, it’s about making sure that the changes that are made are authorized, will not interfere with the business and that if mistakes are made and outages occur that the cause can be quickly tracked down and the impacting change addressed.

 

So what’s the answer, how can we make sure it’s not us (IT) that disrupts the business through poor change management processes? Well to be successful organizations need an automated and integrated approach to change management. 

 

Automated is good as a change policy can be put in place and that policy will always be implemented, there is no room for manual errors or forgetting to create change requests in the first place.

 

The integrated approach brings other benefits. For example, embedding and exposing the change approval mechanism inside the toolsets that your organization uses  to make changes (for example server or network configuration solutions) means those users of those toolsets natively understand the relationship between the task they are performing and the status of the change request that has been generated.

When it comes to troubleshooting issues or outages, if there is integration between the monitoring tools and the change management system, any incidents that are raised against a piece of infrastructure are automatically enriched with information detailing all the different changes that have recently occurred on that component, greatly reducing the time it takes to identify the root cause of a problem and fix it.

 

If all this sounds interesting and you can relate to some of the challenges listed above, take a look at BMC’s continuous compliance solutions which integrate our Bladelogic automation solutions to service desks and monitoring solutions.

 

Never make an unplanned, undocumented and potentially dangerous change ever again!

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As I look at the Server Automation Community, I see a lot of activity and back and forth.  Bill Robinson is answering any and everything you can throw at him.  But have you noticed the content being made available for Server Automation?

 

Just last night, the BSA Technical Success plan (found here: BSA/BDSSA Technical Success Plan) was posted by Newton Nyante and contains a maintenance schedule to optimize the performance and increase the uptime of your BladeLogic environment.  This will be enhanced with how-to docs and videos moving forward as well.  Please feel free to comment on how this doc could be improved.

 

We hope to continue to produce and post more of this type of content and would love to hear from all of our community users.

What can we provide to continue to add value to the community?  How has what has already been provided helped you?

 

Let's work together to maximize the community experience for all of us!

Jody Hunt

Time to make the donuts...

Posted by Jody Hunt Feb 17, 2011
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A growing focus of datacenter automation is application release automation. IT exists to run applications, and deploying new applications or updating existing ones is a crucial part of IT's job.

 

Most of the application release solutions on the market propose that you use process orchestration to accelerate your application release processes. Guess what: orchestration is not the hard part of release automation. There are a lot of ways to do process orchestration and workflow management. Best practices in most organizations are smart people writing scripts and documentation for application release standard operating procedures. Scripts are a poor-man's orchestration, and scripting works for simple application environments that don't change frequently.

 

So here's a question: do the words "simple" or "unchanging" describe any of your critical web-based business applications?

 

The fallacy of using a purely process-oriented approach to release automation is that it only solves the easy and most immediate part of the problem. The hard part of the application release process is maintaining configuration consistency across multiple application servers in multiple environments. At its core this is a data management problem. Using orchestration (scripts, procedural documentation, etc.) for application configuration management just bakes a whole bunch of configuration data inside a sequence of commands. As soon as something changes even slightly (and that's pretty soon)...time to rewrite the instructions - a never-ending maintenance chore. "Time to make the donuts."

 

Worse is when you're not the person who wrote the scripts, because then you have to reverse engineer the logic and figure out where and how to make the requisite changes. You can only hope the person carefully documented the code they wrote. Right.

 

You need to be able to dynamically manage configuration data separately from workflows. Configuration discovery and configuration data modeling is a fundamental requirement for release automation.  Process automation without configuration management just helps you make mistakes faster, and consigns your best people to "making the donuts".

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   I'm Jude.  A fair number of you already know me.  I'm the moderator for the BMC BladeLogic community here, among other things.  I've been drinking the BladeLogic Flavor Aid for a few years now.  It's good stuff.   I hope to see this forum become more active and to see more people making contributions, particularly as we migrate more content from the old site.  Please feel free to drop me a line to introduce yourself; I'll be happy to talk your ear off about automation, IT in general, or darn nearly any other topic that suits your fancy. 

 

     Among the other projects I've been taking on, I have been spending a fair amount of time preparing for the launch of BladeLogic 8.0.  My next post will discuss my experiences with it so far and my impressions.

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