Automate Your Way to Cloud Self-Service
Standing up a private cloud is the first important step in breaking open departmental silos, modernizing back-end applications, and providing access to the jewels of the enterprise. However, provisioning and acquiring these services is still a process that involves a lot of moving parts, from attaining approval to making sure there is enough storage and processing capacity.
Moving applications to private cloud means making their functionality available across the enterprise as virtualized services. However, those services don’t operate in a vacuum – they still need to tie to back-end processing power, network connectivity and storage. For that reason, developers, administrators and end-users can’t simply call a service and have it immediately up and running. Another required step in the private cloud implementation process is to automate as much of the provisioning process as possible. Automated cloud provisioning can be defined as processes that employ pre-defined policies and procedures – without human intervention – to deliver services or applications from private cloud catalogs. It potentially saves hours, or even days, weeks or months, of manual effort to activate a service. It also makes self-service a practical reality.
What’s at issue with private cloud – for both IT Teams and business users - is productivity and speed. In a report on private cloud management, International Data Corporation (IDC) analyst Mary Johnston Turner explains: “Despite the fact that IT organizations can provision virtual machines very quickly, many organizations find that it often still takes weeks to complete all the related storage, network, security, application, and middleware provisioning activities and work request approvals that are required to deliver a working service to business users.”
Private cloud costs can add up quickly, Turner explains, since “the ongoing management of software patches, security policy updates, root cause analysis, end-to-end performance optimization, and capacity planning is more complex across virtualized environments than in traditional, static architectures.”
Being able to automate these aspects helps enterprises realize the full value of their private cloud architectures. First, IT resources are freed up for higher-value activities.With automated provisioning in place, IT staff can pursue working more closely with the business on strategic opportunities versus spending time in the nitty-gritty work of developing and testing services.
Also, with automated cloud service provisioning, time to market is increased. Typically, standing up new or modified business services requires multiple steps and involvement from parties in the areas of designing, approving and testing. By pre-defining policies and procedures, cloud services can be up and functioning almost instantaneously, in contrast to the days, weeks or months it normally takes to prepare them.
Greater reliability and increased quality is realized with automatic provisioning of cloud services. This helps reduce downtime due to errors created in manual processes. Self-provisioning also provides developers and quality assurance personnel with the ability to efficiently test and review services.
Automated cloud provisioning bakes governance into cloud-borne processes, which guarantees adherence to standards, sign-offs from business managers and orchestration of services. Creating cloud-based services promotes closer collaboration between IT professionals and business users as well as cost savings, and ensures that security requirements are met.
In light of these automation advantages, here are some guidelines for achieving greater levels of automation in cloud provisioning processes:
Make sure processes meet their full potential before automation. Automation cannot improve a process, and it may only exacerbate existing flaws. Processes selected for automation should be as efficient and of greatest value to the business as possible.
Document processes. IT groups creating automated provisioning processes should define and document their organizations’ processes. Often, such processes are carried around in employees’ heads instead of formally written down.
Engage the business. Process owners need to be identified and involved in the processes that are being automated.
Develop policies. IT and the business need to work together to establish policies that will guide the automated process – covering areas such as permissions, approvals and service level agreements.
Employ metrics. Establish a set of baseline metrics before the system is automated. The baseline metric should measure the time and expense for a service request to be processed and implemented. These metrics can then be compared to the automated process for comparison. For example, it may have originally taken a developer three days to spin up a new server for testing purposes, but with automated provisioning, this time is cut to two hours.
Start small with a pilot project. As with all IT initiatives, a “big bang” approach encompassing all systems and processes may be risky. A pilot project, focusing on a single process, enables IT to work the bugs out, as well as provide training opportunities for business end-users.
Joe McKendrick is an author, independent researcher and speaker exploring innovation, information technology trends and markets.
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