Automation isn't new, but with few budget dollars and strapped IT staff, many enterprise network managers are turning to the technology to complete operational tasks and create a more efficient environment.
Attendees, vendors and industry watchers at Interop Las Vegas and Forrester IT Forum this week shared why automation technology could help IT departments continue to delivery optimal IT services without requiring a significant capital investment. In some cases, the automation technology is already present, but a look at process improvements could drive up efficiencies, said Evelyn Hubbert, senior analyst at Forrester Research.
"The economy is forcing IT departments to go back to basics, in a sense, to squeeze more out of existing infrastructure. Because the management of existing systems can be up to 70% of IT costs, IT is starting to understand the importance of better management in their efforts to get leaner," she said.
Companies are exploring asset management more, tying in specific financial metrics and better understanding their license usage to stop paying for assets they might not be utilizing. Also more enterprise IT managers are exploring chargeback capabilities, such as those from Apptio, to help them to understand better how much it costs to deliver a service to other departments.
"A lot of IT is working now to rethink their organizations during the downturn. With automation and virtualization, they can introduce efficiencies and work to retool their staff ratios," Hubbert says. "Maybe they can't invest in a lot of new technologies now, but they can work to improve processes and figure out how to better use resources."
For Andrew Brill, network planning manager at Kaiser Permanente, using automation technologies can help his group better identify performance problems, rather than wait for calls to the help desk. While speaking on a panel at Interop, Brill explained end-user perception varies greatly and reported problems might not also be an issue with IT systems.
"We have tried to automate the problem identification process because we see largely with someone calling the help desk we have to determine if it is a real or perceived problem, if the end user is received the services they should expect," Brill said.
And vendors such as NetQoS, Network Automation and Paglo used Interop to showcase additional automation and performance-related features in their software to help IT staff more quickly identify and resolve problems. For its part, NetQoS updated its Performance Center product to include an application performance dashboard that provides a quick take on response times across applications and sites. The product, available now, also offers network managers mapping capabilities that display topology and groupings to delivery real-time updates on application performance.
"If you can help empower those tier-one folks with the right application performance data and be able to give them better information to where to route these issues, then problems can be solved more quickly," said John Mao, Product Manager for the NetQoS Performance Center.
NetQoS Performance Center is priced starting at US$25,000.
And Network Automation showcased an updated version of its automation product, AutoMate 7.1, which now includes cross-platform agent technology that will allow IT managers to incorporate non-Windows machines and systems into an automated workflow. The vendor also looked to social networking tools to help speed problem resolution. For instance, company CEO Dustin Snell said AutoMate 7.1 can use instant message or Twitter technology to alert IT to performance or availability problems.
"The new instant message action provides the ability to send messages to any leading IM platform. Many want an IM instead of an e-mail for their automated alerts," Snell said. "The social networking angle also can automatically update your Twitter feed, for instance, or a server could have its own Twitter feed that it updated automatically with events."
Available now, AutoMate 7.1 is priced starting at US$10,000.
And software-as-a-service management provider Paglo added server and virtualization management capabilities to its on-demand platform. Customers adding the new modules can now get a unified view of distributed physical and virtual VMware machines and be able to search and report on data within the environment. The software also performs automated alerting based on customer-defined critical machine and process thresholds.
Paglo Server and Virtualization Management is available now and is priced at $1 per physical or virtual machine per month.