Data center management: What’s worth automating?

Data Center Management and Automation

Can automation help you reach data center management Nirvana?

Let’s begin with the obvious, common-sense answer to the question: “What aspects of data center management are worth automating?”

Anything that saves time, money or effort is a open for consideration.  That includes anything that prevents errors, minimizes delay, or frees resources for other applications, including human resources that can be re-assigned to more productive work. As with anything else, it’s about achieving return on your investments in data center management through automation.

Data center management: Saving money

Data centers have been changed forever by virtualization, especially server virtualization.  Running more server instances on fewer physical servers has freed up physical plant space which is either re-purposed or eliminated, reducing real estate costs. Fewer servers mean fewer servers to power, fewer servers to cool, and fewer servers to maintain, all of which significantly reduce costs.

Managing virtualized servers saves even more.  This may be most obvious in a university or similar setting where requirements for new servers come often, and are frequently unexpected.  Where time-to-value in these situations used to be determined by how quickly an allocation for the purchase of a new server could be approved and executed, it now takes minutes to provision a new server configured precisely to given parameters.

Automation of each of the individual server instances not only provides greater processing efficiency, it can also contribute to savings.  Top virtual machine managers can easily shift workloads from one virtualized server to another to take advantage of greater resource availability and efficiency.  Now the logic by which they decide which workloads go where includes identifying servers that can be completely emptied.  Once all workloads have been moved elsewhere, the automation can then power down the unused unit until it is needed again to satisfy new capacity requirements.  These savings go beyond those already achieved through the elasticity of today’s “cloud” environments.

In many respects, automation is the only way to achieve the tender balance between the cost of overutilizing resources–which can cause outages — and underutilizing them, thereby causing excess costs.

Data center management: GRC issues

One area that is often overlooked, perhaps because most people think there is no way to automate it, is the interface between the data center and its users.  Proper observation and fulfillment of information governance, risk and compliance (GRC) avoids exposure to very expensive potential legal action.

Automation can certainly be applied to documenting the enforcement of business policies, processes, and procedures involved in maintaining proper information governance and regulatory compliance.  While no automation can assure proper adherence, it does serve to invoke the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which suggests that the fact that something is being observed affects the thing being observed.

The data center management litmus test

The one challenge we all face as technology professionals is the propensity to automate whatever we find we can automate.  The goal of all automation is to reduce investments by people of their time, funds, and effort to create more value for their enterprise. That said, perhaps the best litmus test to determine whether or not to implement available automation is to ask yourself whether you’re automating just for the sake of automating.

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a contributor to EnterpriseEfficiency.com, a UBM Tech community.

Howard M. Cohen
Howard M. Cohen has over 30 years of IT channel executive experience and now consults, presents, and writes extensively on IT topics including virtualization, infrastructure, cloud, and management. He has written previously for VARBusiness, Redmond Channel Partner, eWeek, Microsoft, Citrix, Cisco, IBM, CA, Dell, Verisign, Ingram Micro, and many top solution providers.
Howard M. Cohen
Tags: Data Center,Storage,Technology,Virtualization