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Automation of data centers: 10 ways to start off your automation initiatives

Automation of data centers or DCA is sometimes referred to as orchestration or run- book automation, but as technology evolves one will find more reasons to automate almost all of

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the routine work in a data center. Some of the benefits of automation of data centers include freeing up the system administrator's time and effort, as well as helping them focus on new initiatives and pro-active work. In the long run, it will also lead to lower staff intake. To begin with, this task of automation of data centers can be completed by deploying DCA tools. Let's take a look at some areas, which are key for automation of data centers.

1. Incident management: Most IT departments struggle with tickets that are generated due to a temporary error on the systems that they monitor. A simple example is that of a file system, which has less than 10 per cent free space. Here, the monitoring agent is designed to create an alert ticket every one hour, since the service level agreement (SLA) for storage allocation is 48 hours. Hence, the system administrator has to deal with at least 48 tickets, a task that takes away four hours of his time. But automation of data centers can solve this problem. A DCA tool can be deployed to reduce the number of tickets by at least 80 per cent.

2. Request management: While taking a look at automation of data centers, it is important to note that handling requests such as user addition, temporary access, storage provisioning and even virtual workload provisioning, form a major part of the data centre team's day-to-day activities. The SLAs are so tight, that most big organisations have to create a special deployment team to work on these requests.

In this regard, by going in for automation of data centers along with deployment of DCA tools, one can ensure easy integration with request management software, workflow engines, and identity management solutions.

Opting for automation of data centers and deployment of a DCA tool can help save 30 per cent of your time.
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3. Change management: Even though very critical, change management poses few areas that can be automated and it's definitely possible to reduce workload by automating some of the tasks such as disk replacement of enterprise storage arrays. Opting for automation of data centers and deployment of a DCA tool can help overcome this problem as well as save 30 per cent of your time.

4. Disaster recovery automation: Recently, I came across an organization, which had to execute 40 steps to failover in case of disaster. The recovery time objective (RTO) was 15 minutes, and there was no way a manual execution of the steps could guarantee the RTO. So the company went in for automation of data centers, as well as deployed a DCA tool to execute the steps and all it required was a click to trigger the failover.

5. Release management: Data center automation can help you automate the patching process, as well as the rollback to reduce time taken for preparation and execution of patch roll-outs.

6. Configuration management: Most of the times, a configuration management database (CMDB) is manually updated by change owners or administrators who execute the change. This may lead to an inconsistent database. But automation of data centers and use of DCA tools to update CMDB with real-time information will help.

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Virtual machine management: Choosing automation of data centers and deploying DCA tools can help automate lifecycle management for virtual machines. The tool can be customized for automatic provisioning of VM templates, and also for automatic decommissioning.

8. Privileged user management (PUM): Many IT departments employ dedicated personnel to change key account passwords once every month to comply with security requirements. The administrator executes the same set of commands on thousands of servers and network equipment to change credentials. But going in for automation of data centers and opting for a DCA tool can automate this process. Combine this with appropriate request management tools and you could even remove user IDs from critical systems when required.

9. Automated job scheduling: Data center operators are usually entrusted additional responsibility of triggering jobs manually for applications like SAP or generation of end-of-day reports. But with the automation of data centers and use of DCA tools, not only does their job become easier, but they can focus on core jobs like data centre monitoring.

10. Performance management: Although this area may require lot of planning, opting for automation of data centers and deployment of DCA tools can help perform some reactive actions in case of performance degradation. Automation of data centers can also help in memory resizing of virtual machines or migrating data from a hot spot on the storage system.

About the Author: Biju Krishnan, a DCT consultant, has worked with IT majors in India and Malaysia in cloud computing, grid computing, and virtualization and storage technologies. You can reach him on biju.krishnan@coparsystems.com

This was first published in July 2010

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