Everything You Need to Know About IT Automation

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Automation is a critical part of optimizing tasks and increasing efficiency throughout an organization. Naturally, automation has a huge role in the highly-technological realm of the IT department. IT automation helps IT managers avoid and manage incidents, maintain systems, and enhance cybersecurity, all while keeping costs low by streamlining their use of labor resources.

In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of IT automation software, how it’s currently used, and what lies ahead.

What this article will cover:

  • Why has automation changed the nature of IT?
  • What can be automated in IT?
  • Why use IT automation? (Key benefits of automation and AI)
  • How can IT automation save resources and cut costs?
  • Are there disadvantages to IT automation?
  • The future of IT automation platforms

What is IT Automation?

IT automation -- also known as IT infrastructure automation -- is the use of software and scripts to execute repeatable instructions and take the burden of certain processes out of human hands. Automation is a critical part of IT optimization and plays a major role in digital transformation in a world where rapid scaling and deployment is essential.

Why is IT Automation a Growing Trend?

Automation trends grow hand-in-hand with the rising focus on a fully-optimized operational approach. Within these methodologies, the IT department seeks to drive down IT operational costs and pay down debt by shifting human interaction away from mundane, repetitive tasks and toward opportunities for strategic growth.

Because Six Sigma and similar ideas seek to be “lean”, automation’s innate ability to facilitate experimentation, speed, and iteration is highly valued. Likewise, the ability to divert IT talent toward projects that make use of their skills rather than tying up human resources in trivial work. This is beneficial for the organization -- putting the right people on the right tasks usually is -- but also a boon to the IT professionals who feel their skills are being better utilized.

What Can Be Automated in IT?

Some level of automation can be applied to most IT-related tasks, provided there is an automation system or platform that can integrate with the operation. For example, automation is often used in network/infrastructure management, cloud services and standard operating environments (SOEs), configuration management, and application deployment.

IT migration

Depending on the project, an IT migration could involve moving several types of asset from one system to another. Commonly, there’s data migration, software migration, operating system migration, and cloud migration. IT migration projects are often complex -- even more so because they must be tailored specifically to the organization’s needs. Automation facilitates faster and smoother IT migration projects, as many repetitive processes are removed from engineers’ workflows and relegated to scripts and software.

Configuration management

Once applications are provisioned, a typically long (and sometimes tedious) configuration process must begin. Resources must be set up for the specific environment and usage. This becomes very complex as an IT environment expands, overlaps, and becomes otherwise unwieldy.

A robust configuration management solution uses automation to ease some of this strain. Developers can define the infrastructure in a way that automation tools can use ad hoc scripts and other shortcuts to free up more time for strategic work.

Provisioning

Modern organizations need an IT infrastructure to operate, and that infrastructure must be set up. Even in this world of virtualized assets and the cloud, processes must be developed to ensure provisioning is a smooth and efficient task.

Because of the trend away from server racks and bare metal, the majority of IT work is executed in software. This has increased the scale and speed of what IT teams can do, but it also demands a more robust development and documentation of processes.

By codifying infrastructure -- an already standard practice -- IT teams have a template for provisioning within their environment. Automation simply takes these rote tasks and checklists out of the hands of individuals and executes them with minimal human input.

Orchestration

Business IT systems tend to be very complex, and the more complex these systems become, the more automated tasks and configurations must be deployed across multitudes of systems or devices. Orchestration is the management of these large-scale rollouts. Automation helps IT professionals manage and track these orchestrated deployments and other tasks done at scale with ease.

Application deployment

Modern application development leans heavily on automation -- particularly in terms of app deployment. Deployment automation helps dev teams move software through all stages of development, all the way to testing and final deployment, in an efficient and repeatable way. This reduces the chances of human error impacting the development process and ensures that configurations and builds remain consistent throughout.

Security and compliance

Automation is taking more of a front-seat role in modern cybersecurity. New uses for AI and machine learning go well beyond standardizing processes and workflows for compliance purposes. Automation is being used extensively to learn and analyze patterns of behavior, identify suspicious activity, and alert IT teams or Security Operations Center (SOC) personnel about potential threats.

What are the Benefits of IT Automation?

IT management is a constant struggle of results weighed against labor and resource costs. IT automation is among the best ways to streamline processes so that valuable IT talent can be allocated to the most beneficial tasks. The ripple effect of optimizing IT operations in this manner creates many benefits, including:

Reduced costs. Automating repeatable tasks, such as application deployment, change and release management, patch management, and service ticket management can help IT operations to trim their budget by operating more efficiently and reducing staff size.

Increased productivity. Automating workflows reduce manual work and surprises that need to be dealt with, pulling key staff away from more pressing project work and strategic objectives.

Increased availability. Automation of continuity-related services ensures the maximum uptime while minimizing risks. Automated maintenance tasks help keep the IT infrastructure running smoothly with minimal room for human error.

Reduced errors. Automation ensures consistency and uniformity on a large scale by removing the human element from tasks.

Better security. IT automation is key in modern cybersecurity threat detection and can be used to streamline and optimize incident response. By taking a share of threat detection responsibility away from human eyes, automation reduces the chance that something will be missed while at the same time allowing IT professionals to focus their attention on more complex threats.

What are the Disadvantages of IT Automation?

There are always two sides to every story, and while automation is a powerful and inevitable part of the future of IT, there are still some counterpoints to consider.

Inflexibility. Automated processes are often rigid and unyielding by nature -- and while their knack for consistency and uniformity is one of the greatest benefits of automation tools, it can also be their downfall. Nothing beats a human touch when things go awry, processes break down, or ghosts appear in the machine.

Upfront cost. It’s important to remember that while automation usually reduces costs in the long term, they still require significant upfront costs for deploying and configuring the hardware. (And let’s not forget any costs associated with maintenance and future upgrades.) It’s important to balance the amount of time and resources that will be saved over time versus these upfront investments.

Harder to address errors. Studies have shown that, while automated systems generally produce fewer errors, they are much harder to fix if they do produce one. It’s important that automation systems are configured properly from day one, and that risks of errors -- no matter how small -- are thoughtfully balanced out against the benefits.

Human error isn’t technically eliminated. IT automation systems still need to be configured and maintained. There is typically a cost and expertise requirement that goes along with doing these things properly. And since you really want to avoid bugs in an automated system (see above) this is an important consideration to keep in mind.

The Future of IT Automation

IT automation is already widely used by IT departments and managed IT service providers, but it continues to evolve day after day. The lean operational mindset is driving developers to create more autonomous systems that require even less human interaction than what is in use currently. Even now, automated systems still require IT professions to create and implement certain elements, like scripts, policies, templates, and workflows.

As automation progresses toward greater intelligence and self-sufficiency, these IT automation platforms will begin to make greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies. As we mentioned, these technologies are already seeing wide use in cybersecurity threat detection tools, and the potential for AI to become a more key player in overall IT is only increasing.

The further along we get along this trend, the more IT teams will be freed up to work on more strategic initiatives for their stakeholders or clients. While the reduction in labor needs might seem like a decisive blow against IT professionals, it will actually enable Information Technology to continue its climb into the C-Suite, helping to secure IT a permanent seat among the executive leadership that drives the organization.

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