IT automation, sometimes referred to as infrastructure automation, is the use of software to create repeatable instructions and processes to replace or reduce human interaction with IT systems. Automation software works within the confines of those instructions, tools, and frameworks to carry out the tasks with little to no human intervention.
Automation is key to IT optimization and digital transformation. Modern, dynamic IT environments need to be able to scale faster than ever and IT automation is vital to making that happen.
What’s included in IT automation?
In theory, if it's an IT task, some level of automation can be applied to that task. So, automation can integrate with and apply to anything from network automation to infrastructure, cloud provisioning and standard operating environments (SOEs), and further, to application deployment and configuration management.
Automation capabilities and applications can extend further into specific technologies, like containers, to methodologies, like DevOps, and into broader areas, such as cloud, edge computing, security, testing, and monitoring/alerting.
Automation. What is it good for? Absolutely everything.
Okay maybe not everything (yet), but a holistic approach to IT automation can help you get repetitive, manual processes out of the hands of your staff. This allows teams to be more productive, reduce errors, improve collaboration, and free up time that can be spent on more meaningful, thoughtful work.
Provisioning is all about heavy lifting, whether on bare metal or in a private, hybrid, or public cloud. In order to run business systems, you need infrastructure and that infrastructure must be set up. What used to be all about racks, boxes, and cables in a datacenter is now (mostly) all about virtualized assets, from software-defined datacenters, networks, and storage to virtual machines and containers.
Most of what we do now is defined in software, and the move to software increased the scale and capacity of what’s possible. This move also grants—and, by necessity, requires—the codification of processes. This helps you meet the demands of your business under increased cost awareness and time constraints.
Here’s where automation comes in. Why should you spend time setting up these environments through templates manually? Thanks to codification, achieved through Infrastructure as Code, you have a template that you follow to do this work. Why not have an automated system follow those rules instead? Roll out deployments in your datacenter with automation that works with your existing infrastructure and management tools to take full advantage of what you already have to get to the future state you need.
Not all applications are created the same. They require different settings, filesystems, ports, users...the list goes on. Once you’ve automated provisioning, you need to be able to tell those resources what they need to do. Storing what your application environment looks like in a document, spreadsheet, text file, or even email won’t help you achieve a repeatable, robust environment to host your applications. And, as you gain more systems, more instances, and more complexity, you need a better way of recording what systems look like so you’re able to manage them effectively.
To this end, you need a robust configuration management solution that lets developers simply define the infrastructure (bare metal, virtualized, cloud, containers, etc) in a way that can be easily understood by everyone on your IT team. The simpler it is to automate ad hoc scripts and practices for system management, the easier it is to get real work done.
Chances are, you’re not deploying a single service on a single machine. Your IT is probably a little more complex than that. It requires managing and servicing multiple apps across multiple datacenters and infrastructures. Oh yeah, there’s also your public, private, and hybrid cloud deployments.
The more complex an IT system, the more complex managing all the moving parts can become. The need to combine multiple automated tasks and their configurations across groups of systems or machines increases. That’s orchestration, in a nutshell. On top of that, you can control these orchestrations with robust automation solutions. This lets you keep track of all of them, connect them all together, and run more advanced, autonomous, systems—easily.
An IT migration is the shifting of data or software from one system to another. Depending on the project, an IT migration could involve one or more kinds of movement: Data migration, application migration, operating system migration, and cloud migration.
IT migration projects commonly involve many moving parts and requirements that are highly specific to an organization’s needs. In an IT migration, automation can contribute to faster and smoother projects, reducing the errors that can result from repetitive manual processes.
Whether you use a more traditional approach to app deployment or if you use continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) approaches, development pipelines rely on robust, automated systems to achieve modern expectations. Successful app deployment hinges on a fully efficient set of automated, essential tasks and capabilities, especially during the testing phase. Deployment automation can help you move from commit and build to testing to deployment in a proven, trusted, and codified manner. This reduces opportunities for human error while improving efficiency and throughput.
IT automation allows you to deploy your applications with certainty, configure needed services from the start, and get your apps and their artifacts up and running—all via a common, transparent approach that’s understandable by all of your IT staff.
Security and compliance
Define security, compliance, and risk management policies, enforce them, and remediate issues by building them as automated steps throughout your infrastructure. Move security to the forefront of your IT’s processes and be more proactive with the help of automation.
Having standardized security processes and workflows means easier compliance and auditing. You know exactly how everything is enforced and you can verify if consistently. New compliance requirements are easily implemented consistently across your IT.
Is this the same as business automation?
Not quite. Business automation is changing. It used to be that it was more focused on automating business processes (like record keeping) to make them faster and easier to monitor. Today businesses are having to deal with digital disruption. They need to adopt automation strategies that help them digitally transform.
For example, it used to be enough to automate the record keeping for insurance companies. Now, business automation works to develop new opportunities to sell insurance itself. This happens by business and IT leaders working together to align modern approaches to application development with business processes—then codifying these models to allow for easy maintenance and distribution.
Okay, so what's Ansible?
IT automation has many separate uses, or use cases. The ultimate realization of the benefits of IT automation comes in when you start combining use cases. Or, even better, when you combine all of them into a single system. That’s where Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform comes into play.
Ansible Automation Platform is a subscription that includes all the tools, services, and training needed to implement enterprise-wide automation. It’s Red Hat’s software for automating provisioning, configuration, management, and deployment. Ansible carries out these activities through the use of playbooks—Ansible's instructions and language for automation.
Playbooks can describe policies you want to enforce or steps to follow in a general IT process. Ansible, Inc., the company responsible for this software, was acquired by Red Hat in 2015.
There are 2 open source projects that are part of the Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform:
This is the brains behind all things Ansible. It shares the same name with the open source community project, Ansible, and is fundamentally identical to that project. But, being a formal offering from Red Hat brings other benefits, like support, remediation, and in-depth documentation.
AWX brings an easy-to-use user interface (UI) and dashboard for Ansible. It lets users see everything happening across their nodes, centralize automation, grant role-based access, schedule jobs, and more. It also gives real-time information of playbook runs and natively supports cloud deployments.
What's the difference between Ansible and Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform?
The future of IT automation
Knowing the future is—of course—impossible, but there are things we’re starting to see coming together for automation. Certainly there will be greater autonomy and, subsequently, greater intelligence built into these systems. They’ll expand to cover more parts of the IT software stack—think about automation built from bare metal to middleware, apps, security, updating, notifications, failover, predictive analytics, and decisions being made with no direct oversight.
Consider a security risk being automatically detected, reported, patched, tested, and deployed while your IT staff are asleep. Your system could self-heal, gather relevant information to discover if and where an attack came from, notify the correct people—all without losing uptime.
These features are now within reach, with Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform.
Want some hands-on experience?
Red Hat offers interactive labs in a preconfigured Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform environment. You can use these labs to experiment, practice, and learn how to create, manage, and scale network and IT practices efficiently—from rapid development and deployment, to simplified operations and analytics, to consistent end-to-end user experiences.