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Automation is about empowering people to do more, to focus on bigger picture problems and to use tools to perform the rote tasks that do not require or benefit from manual intervention. When IT automation was first introduced, it began as a task-driven, domain specific initiative; script-based tools were a reaction to address the pain points of a single job function. This original wave of automation was about enabling an individual to do more, faster, generally taking place in small pockets and usually orthogonal to other similar efforts taking place elsewhere in the same organization.
Technology professionals across various teams often dealt with similar issues, but tackled them separately and thus with less efficiency. As the scale and complexity of technology platforms grow more interdependent and application deployments more frequent, enterprises need to drive business agility and transformation while taking the friction out of the system.
While IT automation tasks have traditionally been human initiated, the sheer volume of platforms, application components, configurations, deployments and changes associated with digital transformation require a new approach. In order for organizations to meet these challenges, they must break down the siloes that so frequently exist among teams to integrate best practices, tools and processes. They need to adopt a new approach to operations through autonomous automation.
The next wave of ITOps is autonomous automation
Historically, the operations workflow went like this: a monitoring system detected an issue with an application’s or subsystem’s availability or performance, which queued an alert on an operations console for someone to evaluate, debug and remediate the problem to return the system back to normal functionality.
When modern automation entered the picture, operators could capture the action they took to remediate the problem in a playbook so the next time that problem occurred they could just re-run the playbook. Many different individuals and teams documented and shared those playbooks for greater organizational efficiency. The scalability problem is that this approach still requires human operators to connect the problem with the correct automated action to close the loop.
Enter intelligent operations coupled with event-driven automation to significantly reduce the need for human intervention in what becomes an increasingly autonomous operations environment. In this scenario, a sensing mechanism detects an issue and triggers an event that then gets evaluated by a knowledge-based or AI system to determine the appropriate course of action based on patterns of the same or similar set of circumstances. This then kicks off an automated workflow to remediate the problem, test the effectiveness of the remediation and close the loop without having to involve engineering or operations in the flow. That autonomously managed system, whether it's at the infrastructure level or any other level, can rapidly adjust course without the need for human intervention. Think of it as a self-healing IT infrastructure.
Actualizing this type of automation for cloudscale operations or the limited capacity of infrastructure at the edge is imperative. We see the need for this particularly with customers in a number of industries: financial services, retail, transportation, distributed manufacturing and the like. Because these devices exist beyond the data center and the physical locations where IT professionals can address these systems, it’s critically important to have an automation system that can exist at the edge and manage itself for tasks like network automation, network configuration, device resets and deployment updates.
Common ground is more important than ever
Getting on the same page with automation technology should be an organizational priority. When the DevOps revolution began more than a decade ago, it initiated a change in how IT teams consumed technology, broke down cultural barriers and redefined the processes between developers and operations teams. The next wave of automation has to build on that change but also extend beyond the confines of DevOps to all IT operating models.
Connecting existing IT and process siloes helps to create an enterprise-wide culture of automation, in turn driving greater reusability, reliability and compliance. To achieve this, however, IT teams must be able to use Agile methods to create, test and share managed automation content more quickly. Red Hat’s vision is to support enterprises as automation approaches expand, enabling customers to use Ansible as common automation ground across domains and disciplines.
We’ve seen customers accelerate growth by pivoting to a shared culture that makes automation repeatable and easily shareable across an organization, helping to minimize instances of human error while advancing broader strategic and organizational goals.
Collaborative automation gives associates the tools and processes to become creators and innovators for the business while still performing the necessary rote tasks to keep the lights on for the business. This raises up individual contributors, departments and entire enterprises to focus on transformation over maintenance.
The desired end state? Teams can speak the same language and share the same subsystems, with a coordinated framework to operate within that enables individual successes while still supporting the broader objective. All while providing access to resources that are compliant yet consumable for their own purposes.
People are at the heart of automation culture
The open source community, and Ansible in particular, is the epitome of this approach, fostering groups of passionate experts that regularly engage through sharing code and experiences. The vibrant Ansible community has bettered automation practices at end user organizations and at Red Hat through open collaboration. Organizations can apply this mindset cross-functionally for their own success; scaling automation takes on a deeper meaning when businesses take the human element of automation (as creators and innovators) into account as well as the actual technology being automated.
Automation is not about minimizing IT professionals - it is about encouraging them, enabling these individuals and teams to focus their skills and expertise on big picture innovation by building repeatable automation for more efficient solutions. So what began as a people to machine process, ultimately comes full circle as a machine to people initiative.
About the author
Tom Anderson is a vice president at Red Hat, responsible for the Ansible Automation Platform product and business strategy. His focus is on helping customers automate the way they deliver services to the business with Red Hat’s hybrid cloud solutions.