From Factory Automation to Cloud Automation

My six-year-old son loves the show How It’s Made on the Science Channel. There are usually many episodes back-to-back on Sunday mornings, and he’ll be up at 7 a.m. or earlier ready to watch. I’ll usually sit down and watch the episodes with him and am fascinated by the automation that goes into creating some of the things we use in our everyday lives.

As I thought more about it, I thought about how it’s not that different from when we work with our customers to adopt cloud computing. These customers need to look at their operational procedures, processes, and how they run their business and begin to identify areas where automation can bring about real savings. After all, cloud is not very useful unless you can automate your IT processes and then offer it out as a service to users and customers. Let’s take a look at some of the lessons we can learn from these big factories that automate their assembly lines to create the products we use.

How did they figure that out?

One thing that I always end up saying to myself while watching the show is something along the lines of, “How did they figure out all of these complex procedures?” In other words, how do they know that the metal they’re working with needs to go into an oven that cooks at a specific temperature for a set period of time in order to harden it properly? How do they know exactly how much ice cream to portion out for each ice cream sandwich?

The answer, in all cases, is that the company who designed the product fully understands what is involved in the process of creating the product. It sounds pretty simple and obvious, but unfortunately many IT departments don’t follow this same logic when they approach automation. IT departments understand they need to automate the process, but in their rush to do so they don’t fully understand all of the implications.

A relatively basic example of this would be the deployment of application workloads. Before cloud and automation, the requestor would typically request the server from IT. Now that most workloads are virtualized, it’s relatively easy for IT to create a new virtual machine. And they can often complete this in a matter of hours or days. In some case they’ll log the entry into a CMDB or update a ticket in an ITSM system and then hand the server off to the requestor.

In that scenario, IT may not have any sense of what happens after the server is deployed. Does the software being installed have any special licensing considerations? What is the expected lifecycle of the server? Does it need to integrate into any other systems? Simply put, if they don’t have the answers to these (and likely other) questions, how can IT be expected to properly automate the deployment of that application? IT needs to work with application owners, developers, and other stakeholders, in order to fully understand what is required before trying to automate the application workloads. By working together with the people who will be using the application they can properly automate it and bring real value to the business.

They use the right tool for the job

In the factory some of the tools used to create products are custom-made, and others can be repurposed. The same factory that makes packaged turkey can likely also create other packaged foods due to the similarities in requirements for automating those processes. Likewise, in the world of cloud, there are many different tools available to automate functions and choosing the right one is crucial to making the most of your investment.

When we work with customers deploying Enterprise Hybrid Cloud, we spend a lot of time up-front understanding the customer’s current state. What tools do they have in place? What skills does the customer’s IT team have, and what technologies can they support? Gathering this information helps us recommend the best solution for each customer. After all, why write a script for something when an existing tool might already be available?

Our customers are often already using tools like Puppet or Chef that can provide key functionality for cloud automation and orchestration. For integrating with third-party systems, there may be existing plug-ins for tools like vRealize Orchestrator that provide this functionality. And, of course, there are other systems that require custom-written scripts to properly automate functions.

When picking the right tool for the job, organizations need to consider many factors. We help them figure that out up-front so they can see real, tangible benefits and savings with Enterprise Hybrid Cloud.

Automate everything?

Occasionally How It’s Made will show certain items being created by hand. In many cases this is due to the precision required for what they’re making. There may be another important reason that the show leaves out: scale.

Just because something can be automated doesn’t necessarily mean it can scale. And, more importantly, just because something can be automated doesn’t mean that it should be automated. It may cost more money, time, and effort to create the automation than the benefit customers and end users will realize. The big factories know and understand this, and IT needs to as well. Fully understanding everything that goes into automating your processes, or making ice cream sandwiches, will allow organizations to get the most benefit.

Enterprise Hybrid Cloud brings real value to customers by helping them package up and deliver IT as a service, and automation is a key element of that. By fully understanding what needs to be done to properly automate something—knowing what tools you have available at your disposal and making decisions around the value of automating processes—organizations can derive real value from their cloud investments.

About the Author: Matt Liebowitz

Matt Liebowitz is the Global Cloud Platforms lead for the Dell Technologies Consulting Services Portfolio.  He focuses on thought leadership and service development for multi-cloud and cloud platform related Consulting services. Matt was named a VMware vExpert every year since 2010 and is a frequent blogger and author on a wide range of cloud related topics. Matt has been a co-author on three virtualization-focused books, including Virtualizing Microsoft Business-critical Applications on VMware vSphere and VMware vSphere Performance. He is also frequent speaker at the VMworld and Dell Technologies World conferences.