Dating “Dos” and “Don’ts” from the IT Automation Survey

In my last post, I introduced Pica8’s new IT Automation survey.  I discussed how the survey shows that digital transformation is driving IT’s focus on automation, especially how they manage automating remote sites.  They are clear about their desired goals, and IT automation efforts are well underway.

In this post, I’ll present the challenges IT faces in their automation efforts and provide some advice on how best to proceed with your IT automation efforts.  As a reminder, while IT automation is a clear focus, engagement varies by IT domain.  Let’s start by looking at the challenges IT is facing in each area.

In terms of automating the data-center, the biggest challenge was a lack of staff automation experience.  I say “was” because IT has largely completed automating the data-center (as well as their cloud, remote sites and mobility.)

The second challenge was the fact data centers comprise complex, heterogeneous systems.  It’s one thing if everything in your data center is Cisco gear.  But over the last decade, most shops have moved to a best-of-breed footing and now have a dizzying array of different systems.  That makes automation much more challenging.

The third challenge was, not surprisingly, cost.  Automating a complex, heterogeneous environment will necessarily require a multitude of automation platforms and a lot of staff effort.  And, given IT’s lack of expertise, a lot of consulting hours.

But IT has almost completed automating the data center and cloud operations and have now engaged with remote office automation.  The challenges here are different.  The biggest challenge is the lack of support from staff.  This one is interesting because the automation of remote sites is the only place where this challenge is a top three challenge.

Why?  One theory is that automating remote sites has the potential to reduce remote site IT staffing.  In fact, reducing staffing was the second most important goal for remote site IT automation.  Further, it is unlikely these remote IT workers will be reassigned to another role.  Since they are, by definition, remote, any reassignment would require a move.

The final challenge is cost, something mentioned for every domain.  This makes sense, but notably, it is listed third.  With virtually every organization either done with or engaged with automating remote sites, it is clear whatever budget challenges they have faced have been solved.

How is IT doing with their automation efforts?  In the data center and cloud 94 percent say they are doing somewhat to extremely well.  For remote sites, that drops to 61 percent, but that tracks almost precisely with how many have completed IT automation of remote sites (63 percent).

At Pica8, we’ve been focused on IT automation of remote sites for years.  We’ve seen our customers successfully navigate these waters.  From this experience we have the following tips for automating remote sites:

  1. Focus on automation solutions designed for enterprise network deployments and workflows, not DevOps workflow-oriented data center tools. These are very much different worlds.
  2. Start with inexpensive, open networking automation tools that simplify remote/campus switch deployment, configuration and maintenance, which is the lion’s share of what most enterprises need on a day-to-day basis. For very large enterprises, more complex/expensive tools can always be added later (if needed).
  3. Deploy simpler, GUI-based open networking campus automation tools to allow non-programmers to supplement your scarce and expensive top-tier network engineers, who are in short supply at most companies and organizations.
  4. Challenge your existing networking vendor as to why you are paying – both in terms of cost and complexity – for a one-size-fits-all proprietary automation solution packed with hundreds of advanced features that you will likely never use.
  5. Adopt Linux-based open networking for easy integration with the ever-growing catalog of open source campus automation and management tools on the market.