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Automation tools grow up

As rigid early automation tools start to fade away, new approaches are coming to market that promise to give admins continued control while taking pain away from complex tasks.

I recently spent a few days meeting with small groups of CIOs and Vice Presidents who oversee data center infrastructure. And, while there is concern about giving up too much control to automation tools, more senior executives seemed to have heartburn over the need to find ways establish and maintain standardized processes as well as service levels that can be enforced in a realistic way. Most want to justify IT value, and view better service levels as a key way to do this. Of course, storage and system administrators will end up determining the technology direction to support this sooner or later.

OK, so you'll heard it before. Buy a software package and it will automate mundane tasks and processes that overload you today. Problem is, most storage administrators (and some CIOs) lament that early automation tools go to far -- usurping control of important tasks into inflexible scenarios where one gives up all control in order to automate things such as storage provisioning as well as a number of other tasks. I've written about early storage automation tools before, but things are definitely starting to heat up. As the rigid early tools starting to fade into history, new approaches are coming to market that promise to give administrators continued control while taking the pain away from redundant and increasingly complex tasks.

I'll call these advanced automation tools storage service management tools. Ultimately, they will manage storage services, making sure they are automated as well as meeting service levels. The fact of the matter is, service level agreements are becoming increasingly common as IT executives look for ways to ensure that business units contribute to the budget for storage and other data center infrastructure.

Core to these growing automation tools will be workflow engines that allow you to customize the process, divvy up responsibilities amount IT staff, and even set up approvals to allow administrators to monitor these tasks even as the heavy lifting is getting done.

What you need to consider:

These tools will assist in standardizing storage processes, such as provisioning, backups; improve interoperability between different storage management tools from different vendors, even data migration between different storage tiers. But you may ask, "What process? We don't have any standard processes." Many of these tools will provide templates that will allow you to customize processes, and define processes when there aren't any standardized ways of accomplishing a task. There is no reason why you can't automate many of today's management tasks, but you need to determine the best way to automate and then instill it in a repeatable process.

What you should do to get ready for this:

There are a few things you need to consider in looking at storage automation tools that include service management:

1. Determine your criteria for deployment. This means determining what's most important to you -- ease of use, ability to customize the standardized process, integration with other management tools, price, etc.

2. Start with the basics. It is important to automate things that are time consuming first and then start thinking outside the box. This also could improve teamwork between various teams within IT, such as database, network and system administrators.

3. Consider service levels you can enforce with automation. Once established, you can leverage service management tools to improve availability and overall performance of the storage operations.

Keep your eyes open, for a number of automation tools already are available to assist with the automation process. INVIO pioneered storage automation with its Storage Practice Manager. Now, VERITAS has entered the fray with its CommandCentral Service, Storage and Availability products. Other Enterprise Storage Resource Management vendors, the cast of small and large vendors, will likely add service management capabilities over the next year.

For more information:

Tip: Is now the time for automation tools?

Tip: Can you really trust automation? 

Tip: Let automation solve your storage headaches 


Jamie Gruener is a SearchStorage.com expert and the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies. Ask him your storage management questions today.


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