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Server Automation

4 Posts authored by: Akbar Aziz Employee
Akbar Aziz

Break, Fix, Repeat

Posted by Akbar Aziz Employee Jul 10, 2014
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I went to see Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt a few weeks ago (no spoilers). In the commercial, the theme is Live, Die, Repeat. The premise is that every time Tom's character dies, he gets better at his task and closer to his goal. Now, lets change the theme to - Work, Fix, Repeat. Does that sound familiar? Does it feel like you do that every working day, where you take care of mundane issues, requests and tasks only to feel like someone has pressed the reset button on you? Does it feel like you are getting better at your job because of it? Are you getting closer to accomplishing your work goals? Are we not optimizing our skills or processes to make us more efficient? Much effort and energy is spent to do the work, and to do it correctly, but the work never ends. Again, someone has pressed the reset button and we are facing the same issues again the next day and the same amount of energy wasted to fix it. Notice how I used the word "wasted" in the last sentence. How can my energy be wasted if I am doing good quality work? Can automation help be more productive? Can I show the value of automation?

 

Because of the constant flow of work coming to IT Admins, automation has now become a necessity instead of a luxury. But doing automation for the sake of automation is not the right approach. Bill Gates has been quoted saying,


“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”


My approach would be to start by taking care of the easy tasks and getting them to a repeatable and steady state and then moving to more complex issues. That is how we started in BMC IT, by taking care of the "low hanging fruit" and then moving to more extensive tasks like disaster recovery. We also realized that the more tasks we automated the more interest we would get from other teams in IT to help automate. This led to questions like:


  • How would we take on the new work (intake process)?
  • Is this really a business process or IT process?
  • Does it make sense to automate this?
  • What priority does this request have over other automation requests?
  • Do we have the tools (our own or third-party) to make this happen?
  • Can the results be measured?

 

Going back to the Bill Gates quote - "automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency" tells us that we should always be asking this key question "Does it make sense to automate this?" It is something BMC IT always struggles with because saying "No" is never easy to a customer.  We did not have any guidelines on automation except for ITIL. It was learning on the go and taking our bumps along the way. Something good did come out from our journey though.


All of our lessons learned and how to maximize your automation efforts and more have been captured in a new white paper called the BMC Automation Passport. This white paper outlines the processes, value and strategy that organizations need to review along their automation journey. Understanding the value gained and how to gauge new automation projects going forward is essential for success.


Lets stop the break, fix, repeat cycle by understanding the value of automation and how to define its success. We may not be the hero Tom Cruise is in the movie, but we can be the hero who helped get the automation journey started.

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Last weekend, I drove from Houston to Lubbock for my sister-in-law's graduation from Texas Tech University. The drive was long, about 9 hours, but pleasant as I drove through many scenic parts of the Texas hill country and small towns that were charming and inviting. The only negative was having to slow down as we came into small towns. Speed limits would go from 75 MPH to 30 MPH in some places and then up to 50 MPH as you got further away from town. Basically, when we came to towns where the population was dense, the speed limit drops for the safety of the population. As we move further away, the speed increases.


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This got me thinking about the day-to-day life of IT Admins who are always moving at top speed where possible and HATE to slow down. We want to quickly get through emails, trouble tickets, troubleshoot issues, drive-by requests, etc. Many of us even hate to slow down to eat lunch because we feel we have more fires to extinguish. We don't slow down even when it impacts our health. So is going at this pace the right approach?


A recent study published by CIO Insight shows how overloaded IT Administrators are in their day-to-day job. Here are some highlights from the study:

 

  • 79% of IT Admins are seriously considering leaving their current role due to job related stress
  • 23% say they put in between eight to twelve hours of unpaid overtime every week
  • 35% say they miss time with their families due to the demands of their job
  • 25% say they have suffered from a stress related illness because of their jobs

 

These are disturbing numbers but many of us already can relate because we work like this everyday. So what can we do? What are our options?

 

First, knowing what we have and what we are managing is key. Second, making sure that IT policies are sound and being implemented. Third, monitoring those policies. Fourth, implementing automation to help remove human error from our repeatable tasks. Fifth, being able to audit and track the changes that happen in the environment. These are just a few of the steps necessary to helping IT Admins get control over their work activities.

 

In the past month, we have released some tools to help our customers reduce some of the stress. The Compliance Assessment Risk Kit (CRA-Kit) helps customers who have ADDM understand their current compliance and security risk. More info about the tool can be found here: Time for spring cleaning and starting new.  Existing ADDM customers can sign up here for an assessment using the CRA-Kit: Secure your data center from breaches and prevent future vulnerabilities - BMC Software

 

This week, we are releasing the Health and Value Dashboard for BladeLogic Server Automation. This tool allows the IT Admins responsible for managing the BladeLogic infrastructure, a deep dive into how well their environment is configured and running. It also includes a value report on how much your organization is saving with tasks like provisioning, patching and compliance. Showing value to your organization is one key element in reducing stress, i.e. job security.

 

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The value of automation is invisible. Proving your value and being able to show it to the business is essential to your success. Our goal is to show the value with our customers investment and hope this will provide the vehicle they need to slow down and be more productive in their day-to-day activities.

 



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Spring is here. With the arrival of the season, many take on the task of taking out the old and starting anew. For me, it began with the cleaning and organizing my 5 year old daughter's bedroom  As I walked into the abyss of dolls, stuffed animals, goodie-bag leftovers, and unopened new toys, I was getting that overwhelming feeling that was quite familiar. It's the same feeling I would get when trying to make sense of what servers we own, what is compliant, what is under warranty and are we licensed for those Operating Systems.

 

When walking out of a clean and organized room, where everything has a place and a place for everything, you realize that a 5 year old does not understand that concept too well or care to. But this time it was different. How? I had asked my daughter to help me organize her room. She had a vested interest in making sure she could find the toys that she really loved to play with and a clear defined place to keep those toys going forward. She understood (at least that's what she tells me) that having a clean room is great because it gives her more space to play. In order to get to that understanding we first had to sort out what she had. We made piles of Barbies, Build-A-Bears, My Little Ponies (her favorite) and the rest of the remaining toys and games. Once she realized what toys she had, she started pointing out the toys she wanted to keep and what to donate to charity. As we worked through the piles, it occurred to her that many of the toys were from her toddler days and that she was too big to play with them now. Another benefit was that all the dolls that were missing accessories were now found and she could play with them as if they were new.

 

When I look at the example above, it made me realize that similar things happen to those of us who are constantly trying to manage and keep an organized server infrastructure. Now obviously there is a lot more at stake when managing your company's server environment compared to a child's room, but the concepts are similar. Let's break that down shall we?


  1. Knowing the servers you have (making piles of toys)
  2. Cataloging and sorting the servers (organizing into Barbies, etc.)
  3. Defining compliance policies on how to build those servers (where and how the toys should be kept)
  4. Discovering the servers that are not managed (finding new toys that were never opened)
  5. Finding out which assets are out of warranty (toys that were from her toddler days)
  6. Having the necessary teams have vested interest in the management of those servers (daughter helping me to clean the room)
  7. Keeping a standard configuration in place (keeping the room clean and organized)
  8. Avoiding buying additional hardware (finding accessories for toys that were never played with)


When looking at it from this perspective, one would think that keeping things in order would be easy. It can be if you have the right tools, the right organizational structure and management backing to support those tasks. From a BMC standpoint, ADDM, CMDB and BladeLogic Server Automation can all help in managing and keeping things under control.


Our latest offering is a new utility called the Compliance and Risk Assessment Kit. This utility is available to our Sales and Services teams NOW and can help identify potential risks in your environment. It offers OOB compliance reports which look at the following:


  • Compliance and Security overall score based on the items below

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  • When was a server was last rebooted? Has it been over 60 days?
  • Does it have an anti-virus solution installed?
  • Which open ports are detected on a server?
  • Which runtime version is installed for Java and .Net?
  • Which types and versions of Apache, IBM WebSphere, Microsoft IIS, Oracle WebLogic and Red Hat JBoss are installed?
  • Which types and versions of database applications such as Oracle, SQL Server, PostgreSQL and MySQL are installed?
  • The distribution of Operating Systems in the environment. Are you still running Windows 2000?
  • The distribution of physical vs. virtual infrastructure
  • Which types and versions of BMC products installed?
  • Heartbleed detection! Which servers are not patched from the OpenSSL vulnerability (see screen-shot below)?

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The utility is also configurable for the different applications that are discovered by ADDM so you can view what is important for your organization. This is a vital step in identifying your risks and with the help of BladeLogic Server Automation, being able to remediate those risks.


If you would like to get this data about your own ADDM environment, let's arrange an assessment with BMC specialists.


For remediation, there is a new Blade ZipKit which identifies servers impacted by the Heartbleed vulnerability and offers auto-remediation for patching AIX, CentOS, Oracle Linux, Red Hat, Solaris and Ubuntu servers. It also helps discover Windows servers that are impacted by the vulnerability.


As we start to control, discover, inventory, organize and understand our environments, the more difficult it can get without the right set of tools to help you along the way. By leveraging the BMC tools I mentioned earlier, server management and compliance can be less daunting and give you more time to enjoy the beautiful spring weather or go clean your child's room.

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BMC is very excited to launch the BMC ZipKits program, which aims to provide Pre-Packaged Content for Automation and Cloud use cases.

 

ZipKits for CLM - provides out-of-the-box blueprints covering Windows and Linux Operating Systems, middleware applications such as web servers, application servers, portal servers, database applications as well as runtime environments such as WAMP, LAMP, etc. These OOB service blueprints will drive self-service adoption and improve TTV. Additionally prepackaged content includes integrations as well as IaaS providers.

 

ZipKits for BSA - provides out-of-the-box system packages for popular Operating Systems like RedHat, CentOS, SuSE, Oracle Linux and MS Windows. It also provides BLPackages for common enterprise applications and databases like MS SQL Server, Oracle 11g R2, MongoDB, MySQL, WebLogic, IIS and Apache web servers. These packages are built for the community and supported by the community.

 

The BMC Pre-Packaged Content can be found at the links below:

 

BMC Cloud Lifecycle Management

 

BMC Server Automation

 

We hope the community will benefit from the provided content and also play a pivotal role by contributing their solutions when possible.

 

Official Press Release: BMC Software Delivers Easy Path to Cloud Computing

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