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IT infrastructure automation lessens the load for data center teams

Network, storage and server management can be overwhelming and time-consuming tasks. Evaluate automation techniques to simplify everything from documentation to system uptime.

For IT admins, the maintenance of networking, storage and compute is an overwhelming task -- especially as data center technology becomes more complex. Fortunately, automation can ease the burden of tedious and time-consuming management tasks, leaving room for admins to focus on other projects.

Data center operators can use automation practices and tools in a variety of a different ways, from network configuration to server documentation. Explore these five ways IT infrastructure automation can ease your day-to-day routine.

Automate the network

While traditional networks relied heavily on hardware, modern networks incorporate more software and automation to reduce manual deployment, configuration and management efforts. Automation can also reduce human error, thus improving security and network uptime.

Network provisioning traditionally requires admins to manually configure each device, but software enables them to automatically provision network resources across workloads and thousands of devices. With automation, admins can associate specific network and security policies with applications and devices that can follow them as they migrate. Admins can also enable the network to identify specific traffic types and then prioritize resources accordingly and implement policies to automatically change bandwidth.

Network automation, however, is a challenge to implement in most enterprise data centers. There are a limited number of suppliers with products that can help begin to automate manual processes. Also, a lack of clear architecture and universal standards makes it difficult for enterprises to jump on the network automation bandwagon.

Automate data center management through policies

As data center complexity increases, policy-based management has become an important skill for data center management. An admin, for example, can apply multiple policies to a single VM to meet needs around security, performance, availability and disaster recovery. These policies drive IT infrastructure automation and reduce manual effort.

Two especially common areas for this kind of automation are VM availability and applications. Admins can create availability policies for web servers that require a minimum number of VMs, for example, or policies that allow those VMs to run on local (rather than shared) storage to cut costs. Admins can also tag VMs to categorize them as being part of a certain application and then apply automated policies for disaster recovery, replication and more.

Automate to avoid downtime

Hardware and applications aren't the primary reasons behind system downtime -- rather, it's due to system administrators' mistakes. This is partially because many admins still use command-line interfaces (CLI), which don't provide much of a buffer between what an admin types and how the system responds. As an alternative to this risky method, admins should drive IT infrastructure automation through a library of scripts. Unlike the CLI, running a script will always produce the same outcome and leave no room for human error.

Orchestration systems also help avoid downtime by provisioning script outcomes, patches, updates and code rollouts. Admins can find these features in DevOps orchestration systems, such as Chef Automate and Terraform. Organizations with hybrid cloud deployments should consider orchestration tools, such as Electric Cloud and Platform9, to automate these tasks across different cloud platforms.

Automate system documentation

Documenting and taking inventory of each detail of your data center's hardware is extremely tedious, but automation can eliminate some of the frustration. However, automating the documentation process via scripts is most valuable for smaller organizations with limited IT deployments, since the process can get complicated when too many diverse systems are involved.

Use custom scripts, such as Windows Server PowerShell, to perform system inventories and capture server configurations -- but first verify that the scripts work and collect the information you need. You can sometimes update an existing script to add more inventory or write new scripts from scratch. To prevent "unintended consequences" -- or a change in one system that disrupts other systems -- use change management features, such as Microsoft's Desired State Configuration, to bring hardware and software components back to a known configuration.

Automate for Linux deployments

When you operate a data center in a Linux environment, there are a variety of options to customize and enable IT infrastructure automation. For example, CFEngine enables admins to automate large-scale configurations and can automatically fix system errors and configuration inconsistencies as it finds them. Its many features include package update automation, remote execution, patch management, configuration management and much more.

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This was last published in June 2017

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How do you plan on using automation in your data center infrastructure?
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I like to use ODBC and OLE/COM Automation within Win32 PERL programs to communicate with Microsoft Excel and MS-Access (or MS-Jet Red) Databases - on the backend.

Example:
Connect to 1000's, or even 10's of 1000's, of MS-Excel spreadsheets, in the background (behind the scenes) from your Perl application program. 
 (1.) Mine any of the data cells(row/column intersections), or range of cells, from these spreadsheets, to create consolidated reports, or perhaps to merge the data into 1 single spreadsheet to be used as a data source.  
(2.) Edit any cell or range of cells without human typing.
(3.) Or, perhaps you want to reformat all (or some) of the cells within all the spreadsheets.
(4) or perhaps you want to do all the operation of: 1, 2, & 3.

No need to spend hours and days (or more) manually opening each spreadsheet, seeking to a cell or group of cells, editing the data via human typing, or cutting and pasting the data into a separate spreadsheet.  Human error is eliminated.

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How about using Windows O/S "detached" background processing to kick off many batch SQL operations concurrently/simultaneously - instead of sequentially.  This can be done for reporting or batch edits (as long as the edits are done to different logical sets of records, so as not to step on each other). 
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