Essential Guide

Browse Sections


Crafting an automation strategy that gives back

Last updated:June 2013

Editor's note

Virtualization can be a double-edged sword for IT admins: It cuts down on hardware costs and maintenance, but introduces a whole host of new management tasks. Manually performing each monitoring, provisioning and maintenance task is not only tedious and time-consuming, but it leaves room for error. To mitigate the potential problems and speed up the processes, many data centers employ automation tools and technologies.

Automation isn't new to IT, but large-scale automation has become more popular as tools to manage that automation, such as vCenter Orchestrator and Microsoft Orchestrator, have matured.  

Unfortunately, automation isn't a set-it-and-forget-it process. You need to carefully monitor the environment to know exactly how much to automate and when to adjust for environment changes.

Most data centers will benefit from some amount of automation, but how and what you automate will depend heavily on the scale of your infrastructure. Whether you're just getting started, or you're looking to update an automation strategy, learn what tools are at your disposal and which processes are worth automating.

1Automation is a must-learn technology for IT pros

Data center administrators shy away from automation tools -- anything from a scripting language to an application -- for a variety of reasons. The learning curve often deters adoption, but the fear of rendering jobs obsolete also plays a role in their decision. In some cases, however, automation simplifies and secures IT processes.

2Finding a data center automation balance

Automation appeals to many admins by allowing them to simply script repetitive tasks. But the automation strategy itself requires effort to implement and work to maintain, and some organizations may not end up reaping the benefits. Evaluate the scale of your data center and your business plans: If you manage a large number of VMs or anticipate a cloud deployment, then you'll see more advantages from automation.

3Expert advice: Use common sense when devising an automation strategy

In addition to saving IT administrators' time and removing the potential for human error, automation also provides documentation. Before you rush out to automate every management task in your infrastructure, however, be sure it will offer good return for your business. Is it worth the effort to learn the scripts to automate a one-off task?

4How to avoid manual resource allocation

Automatically allocating resources to VMs gives admins more time to focus on strategic projects. To automate resource provisioning, admins can turn to certain memory techniques such as memory ballooning, transparent page sharing or other tools such as VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler.

5IT process automation in a Hyper-V environment

Hyper-V environments have a powerful automation tool at their disposal: Windows PowerShell. In addition to the automation, monitoring and testing capabilities of PowerShell, learn how Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) Self-Service Portal provides chargeback management.

6What you should know to get the most out of vCenter Orchestrator

The debate surrounding automation and workflow orchestration has less to do with the benefits of the processes and more to do with what, when and how to automate. Few in the industry are more pro-automation than Cody Bunch, a private cloud/virtualization architect, VMware vExpert and author of the book Automating vSphere 5 with vCenter Orchestrator. Bunch believes strongly in automation and orchestration, especially as organizations experience more sprawl than ever before while working with the same or fewer resources. He offers tips for admins planning to incorporate vCenter Orchestrator in their data center automation strategy.

7Workflow automation software showdown: Citrix, Microsoft and VMware

Each of the big three virtualization vendors offers an automation tool or suite to consider for your automation strategy: Microsoft has System Center Orchestrator, VMware has vCenter Orchestrator and Citrix has Workflow Studio. Though both VMware and Citrix support Microsoft's PowerShell as a scripting standard, vCenter Orchestrator and Workflow Studio do not allow management of competitor's workflows or infrastructures. System Center Orchestrator, on the other hand, not only offers multivendor interoperability, but can manage multiple operating systems as well.