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What Cloud Service Providers Can Teach Us About Automation

AUTHOR: Ron Jackson Gus Bekdash
Golden Image - Automating the Mundane

When exploring automation options available in the marketplace, it is instructive to think about how cloud service providers (CSPs) are using automation.

Cloud service providers rely on two broad approaches to make their compute services attractive. First, they reduce infrastructure cost by achieving high levels of virtualization and by concentrating clients into large IT resource pools. Second, they use automation to reduce labor cost and increase agility.

But virtualization and concentration have their limits, and as more enterprises learn to operate close to those limits, CSPs lose one important way to be a cost-effective alternative to in-sourced computing. CSPs are left with highly optimized automation as the only differentiator vs. in-house computing. No wonder many CSPs list their automation and operations intellectual property as their most important asset—as well as one of their largest investments. Because of the breadth of their client base, automation for CSPs is not easy and comes with many tradeoffs.

In many cases, the case for cloud computing is really an unarticulated desire to get some of the automation benefits that some CSPs have. But the CSP success in automation has its limitations. First, CSP automation is concentrated on the lower layers of the IT stack—i.e., it is concentrated mostly on the hardware, though sometimes it may reach into the operating system. Second, it is focused mostly on provisioning and resource management. CSPs in general have at best modest capability for handling the day-to-day operations of their clients, like application incident management, which consumes far more resources than provisioning. After all, IT assets spend most of their lifecycles in day-to-day operation, not in the provisioning phase. Third, the automation benefits are achieved usually at the cost of ruthless standardization.

The CSP straitjacket standardization, in turn, presents two disadvantages to the enterprise. The CSP standard may simply not meet many enterprise needs. So, many workloads cannot be migrated. And because CSPs partially manage and automate only their own standardized infrastructure, the migration path, where most IT projects succeed or fail, becomes arduous, with two environments to manage instead of one. What is needed is a solution that offers a path to the cloud while providing immediate automation benefits throughout the IT asset lifecycle, regardless of whether it is in the cloud or on-premise.

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