Service Automation: Your Path to a More Efficient Data Center

BMC Software – Sebastian Junger's 1993 book, The Perfect Storm, tells of the 1991 Halloween storm that destroyed a fishing vessel based out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The storm was actually the convergence of three different weather-related phenomena and resulted in 12 deaths and considerable damage to the Massachusetts and New Jersey coastlines. The success of Junger's book brought the phrase perfect storm into popular culture. The term is used to describe the simultaneous occurrence of events which, taken individually, would be far less powerful than their combination.

A Perfect Storm in IT

Over the last decade, a "perfect storm" of sorts has occurred in the world of IT, bringing new challenges to IT management. IT infrastructures have become exceedingly complex, resulting in highly interconnected networks of new and powerful technologies. These complex IT networks include new technologies, such as server virtualization. The also include legacy distributed and mainframe computing environments that support millions of transactions through multi-tiered applications. Many of the day-to-day management activities supporting this complex environment are still performed manually, often with little repeatability and low reliability. In this mode of operation, even the slightest human error can cause devastating service outages that adversely affect quality of service, top line revenues, and even a company’s reputation. To make matters worse, government regulations and internal policies are demanding stricter governance and accountability. As if that were not enough, senior management is pressuring IT to reduce costs, while the complexity of the IT infrastructure seems to grow very year.

The eye of this perfect storm is the data center. To effectively manage your data center in this turbulent atmosphere, you have to navigate through territory in which the cost of mistakes can be substantial and the probability of making mistakes is increasing. As such, you must demonstrate agility and efficiency throughout the lifecycle of change, release, and configuration management. It’s also important to automate the lifecycle management of critical business services across the entire IT infrastructure, including physical and virtual servers, applications, network devices, and client systems. You must do this in an environment that is in a state of continual flux, with changing business conditions, a changing user base, and a continuing flood of patches and updates.

Charting your course

Fortunately, you can meet these challenges through service automation. Service automation includes a set of integrated solutions for automated configuration management. It enables you to automate provisioning, patching, auditing, and remediating software across servers, network devices, and client systems in support of changing business needs. By automating these onerous tasks, you can improve operational efficiency and gain control over service quality, security, and business agility. Simultaneously, you reduce risk and costs while also making compliance a by-product of your processes.

In charting your course to service automation, take a deliberate and well-planned incremental approach. Address your most critical areas first, and then continue to improve those areas while adding more capabilities.

Phase 1: Look at where you are, and decide where you want to go – Bring a map

First, assess your current situation and establish your vision for service automation.

•Gain a greater understanding of your current IT operations and processes, such as provisioning and compliance.

•Identify your “pain points” and the key business benefits you expect to achieve.

•Begin to prioritize your initiatives based on business impact. “If IT improves x process, what are the tangible effects on the business?”

•Take the first steps toward developing a roadmap for implementing a service automation capability to meet your business needs.

Phase 2: Address the gaps

Next, compare your current operational performance to your vision. Be sure to include technology, process, policy, people, and governance in your assessment. The result of this phase is a road map for addressing the gaps between your current situation and your vision across all of these areas.

It is advisable to take a phased, incremental approach, breaking your program into bite-sized projects. Prioritize projects according to your organization’s most pressing needs and current service management maturity level.

•Evaluate the current state and maturity of your IT processes for such areas as change, configuration, compliance, and release management.

•Evaluate the current toolsets and technology available to support processes.

•Identify potential areas of improvement in your current processes that you can address through service automation.

•Identify value drivers and predict the business benefits of the proposed solutions.

•Establish success metrics and baseline your current capabilities so that improvements are measurable and demonstrable.

•Prepare a high-level implementation plan describing the individual projects that will make up your program.

•Design your logical architecture, addressing such items as the foundation data required, the interfaces that need to be discovered, federated data, and security requirements.

Phase 3: Develop a program plan

This involves laying the foundation for the projects outlined in the map you created in when you defined the gaps. Develop a program plan that defines the processes, policies, and guidelines that will govern the implementation of each project you have selected and ensure that dependencies and relationships among the projects are managed effectively.

The program plan should address milestones, project dependencies, deliverables, review requirements, and project resources. Also establish a common foundation for the program that includes service definitions, IT processes, and supporting technology architecture, as well as governance and organizational alignment strategies.

•Define detailed implementation plans and program infrastructure in terms of personnel, roles, standards, and organizational transformation.

•Ensure that the solutions you select will support your business objectives and help IT adapt to the changing needs of the business.

•Establish effective and efficient processes that help IT deliver services in line with business expectations.

•Prepare your people for the process and technology changes to come.

Phase 4: Take action

Here’s where you act upon the individual projects that specified in the program plan you developed in the program plan. Do the following for each project:

•Establish goals that include key milestones and stakeholders. The key here is to have the appropriate set of phases to meet and exceed expectations.

•Define a process that outlines the required activities and tasks.

•Define a team model that identifies the people responsible for carrying out each task in the project.

•Take advantage of any tools or methods available to help you complete the project on time, on target, and within budget.

Phase 5: Follow up and measure

Finally, assess the implementation against your vision to determine whether you are gaining the business benefits you expect. Also use this phase to continually improve your service automation initiatives.

•Measure and evaluate the benefits realized from the projects using the metrics you established when you defined the gaps.

•Ensure that the solutions are operated and maintained effectively.

•Continually monitor and improve upon the process, technology, organization, and governance strategies that you have implemented.

Enjoy the Rewards

With service automation, you will become more responsive to the needs of the business, providing your company a competitive edge. You will also dramatically improve IT staff productivity by automating time-consuming, but necessary, repetitive tasks, such as provisioning, patching, and auditing today’s complex IT environment. Finally, you will protect your valuable knowledge by embedding this knowledge in automated processes.

Business agility is increased by speeding up such tasks as rolling out new and updated business services and applications and on-boarding new employees. By moving up to a whole new level of service automation, you can get ahead of the perfect storm. For more information about BMC Service Automation, visit www.bmc.com/serviceautomation

About the Author

Kia Behnia, chief corporate architect in the CTO Office at BMC Software, is responsible for leading the design of BMC Atrium, the industry-leading, service-enabling architecture for Business Service Management. He was previously CTO for the change and configuration products at BMC, and CTO for Marimba, Inc., which was acquired by BMC. Prior to joining Marimba, he served as a senior member of the technical team for Tivoli Systems, Inc. Behnia has more than 15 years of experience in the management of distributed systems and databases.

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