Managing the data center is a vital part of any IT team's job. But as more firms embark on digital transformation projects, the demands being placed on these personnel will grow hugely. Bigger data centers mean greater complexity, which in turn means much more pressure on administrators, who’ll have to work across wider environments with limited time and resources.
For many companies, the answer to this is data center automation. This promises to ease much of the strain on your employees, free up their time for more productive activities, and make operations more cost-effective.
However, as is the case with any emerging and greatly-hyped technology, there remains a lot of uncertainty about the capabilities and benefits of these solutions, which can lead to disappointment if firms invest without fully evaluating what they can truly offer.
What can data center automation offer?
When deployed correctly, automation offers a way to streamline many of the day-to-day data center management activities that are made more complex as solutions scale up. For example, they can handle capacity planning to ensure that you always have the resources you need to cope with a growing business without resorting to overspending on excess capacity.
It also provides much more visibility into data center operations, letting you see where your biggest costs are being generated, as well as helping you make more efficient use of your IT infrastructure. This all means reduced operating expenses and less stress for those overseeing the equipment.
Therefore, it's no wonder data center automation technologies have enjoyed a boom in popularity in recent years. In 2018, a TechRepublic survey found 60% of firms had not yet deployed any form of this. But by 2023, IDC predicts three-quarters of enterprises (75%) will adopt automated operations practices to support their employees.
However, there remain a number of misconceptions about data centers that may mean firms are disappointed with the results they get.
Busting the myths: 4 misconceptions about data center automation and the reality
Understanding what data center automation can and can't do is crucial to a successful deployment. Firms that try and fit the technology into a role it's not suited for may well find that the reality of the technology doesn't match their expectations, and so regard it as a wasted investment. If deployed correctly, the tools can still have major benefits, but it's vital to be realistic about what you hope to achieve.
Myth 1: Everything needs to be automated
A common misconception about data center automation is that it's an 'all or nothing' project, and once you embark on this path, you're committing to automate every part of your solution. This isn’t the case.
Instead, starting by focusing on the areas where automation would be most beneficial isn’t just practical, but recommended. This building block approach will help you develop your understanding of the technology, as well as generate 'quick wins' that can combine to deliver a much more effective solution in the long term.
Myth 2: Automation will take jobs
One particular objection you may encounter from your workforce is that automated systems will eventually replace them completely, but this is far from the truth. There’ll always be a need for human oversight and intervention in these systems to make sure they're working effectively.
Instead of replacing employees, automation tools free them from many of their more tedious day-to-day responsibilities. This allows them to spend more time adding value to the business and makes their own work more fulfilling, as they can focus on interesting, strategic activities.
Myth 3: Automation can make up for staff shortages
By the same token, turning to automation as a solution for a lack of skills within your workforce is likely to be doomed to fail. If you don't have the right people to monitor, configure and update the systems as the business grows, you won't be able to make the most of the technology.
What's more, automation shouldn't be viewed as a solution in itself, but more as a key step on the path to a smarter, more flexible data center infrastructure. It plays a vital role in agile strategies such as DevOps, which will be the future for many businesses, so having people within the organization with experience and expertise in these technologies will still be a must.
Myth 4: You can use an off-the-shelf solution
There are many providers of data center automation tools to pick from, but whichever partner you choose, it’ll be vital that you select a solution that can be tailored to your unique circumstances. There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to automation, and by relying on generic tools, you'll miss out on some of the key benefits of automation.
The ability to customize your technologies is the key to success. For instance, one idea may be to add solutions that can automatically provision network connectivity when new virtual machines are added. This can save a lot of work if you use these technologies heavily, but will require some initial setup work to ensure they fit your needs before adding workflows to bring in other elements automatically, such as load balancers or firewalls.