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VM automation strategies and benefits for sizable workloads

Before automating VMs, admins must consider several factors, such as workload size and cost efficiency. Otherwise, automated VMs can cause issues rather than yield benefits.

VM automation has many benefits, but it's not suited to every workload or environment. It's well matched for the creation and management of vast amounts of VMs. But, for IT administrators with smaller workloads, this process might be detrimental to the cost efficiency of the VMs themselves.

Admins looking to automate VM tasks should consider whether or not their workloads are large enough to benefit from automation and if the effort required to support them manually yields greater value. Admins must also be aware of the most common mistakes others fall into, the different automation tools available and how to determine which tool is best suited to their needs.

Organizations not suited to automation

VM automation can be advantageous, but those who only require the creation of a small group of VMs won't benefit from integrating it. The main challenge admins face is that VM automation itself isn't automatic. The process depends on invested time and effort to properly establish policies, scripts and templates.

Admins considering VM automation should be conscious of the limitations. For example, VM automation works best when it's creating various, identical things. It doesn't assist with individual workload automation to the extent that some admins might require. For example, admins looking to specify the exact resources and configurations needed for each VM might have an issue -- not to mention that it requires periodic reevaluating, updating and changing automation scripts and templates.

Use cases for automation

The most common use case is VM provisioning and workload deployment, which assists admins in allocating vCPUs and memory to speed up the creation of identical VMs.

The vast range and volume of virtualization can make it difficult to support manually. But automation can help admins keep up with resource demands and add speed and consistency to VM workload provisioning, deployment and management. There are a few use cases for automation that can improve VM delivery and performance.

The most common use case is VM provisioning and workload deployment, which assists admins in allocating vCPUs and memory to speed up the creation of identical VMs.

Another would be the development of modern software. Automation acts as a critical tool for this process because it guides multiple daily repetitions through repositories, builds, debugging, build testing, configuration management and deployment to VMs.

Admins can also use automation to support VM lifecycle management tasks and business governance.

Common automation mistakes

If admins plan to incorporate virtualization automation into their environments, there are a few oversights they should be wary of. Though VM automation can provide speed and consistency, improper use can cause issues with licensing and resource allocation. Any number of issues can occur during virtualization automation, but admins often make three primary mistakes.

The first is when virtualization automation doesn't accurately reflect business policy, which can cause problems with the way employees provision resources, allocate licenses and handle approvals.

The second oversight concerns errors and omissions. Automation as a tool doesn't provide admins with an absolute guarantee of correct behaviors, which can drive propagation of any errors that occur.

The last mistake admins often make is neglecting to accommodate for periodic reviews and changes. The steps and resources that automation uses to constitute each task changes over time and, if not given proper attention, can lead to an automated task producing undesirable results and requiring a lot of effort to fix.

Different automation tools

Once admins have determined whether or not VM automation is beneficial to their workloads, understanding the tools available helps determine which is best suited for their needs. Virtualization platforms usually include native tools, such as vSphere PowerCLI, which provides automation scripting capabilities. But, if admins don't have access to these native tools or would rather rely on another tool entirely, third-party tools can provide VM automation just as well.

The number of third-party VM automation tools is vast, but there are specific use cases that can help guide admins. For example, Puppet Enterprise offers admins automation for provisioning, configuring and management of software and servers. Red Hat Ansible and Chef are other examples of third-party tools that specialize in capabilities such as automating complex workflows and infrastructure policies.

Choosing the right automation tool

Selecting the appropriate automation tool, whether it's native or third-party, and understanding its core capabilities are important parts of the automation process.

Admins must take into account many considerations when picking an automation tool, such as integration and cost. For admins who use Windows, PowerShell is one of the first contenders. Conversely, VMware environments are better suited to Puppet Labs, Ansible, Chef and VMware's own vRealize Orchestrator. Though these tools tend to work better on their prospective platforms, they can extend to different environments. For example, Chef is compatible with Azure, but admins might find that the support provided might not be as extensive compared to licensed products.

This was last published in July 2019

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