Data centers are incredibly complicated. Hundreds or thousands of servers, all in racks, connected both to each other and the world outside, have to be installed, maintained, repaired, updated and even kept at regular temperatures. Human operators can do it, but network automation can potentially do it better.
Data center automation is where the workflow, processes, and operations are done by smart algorithms that monitor and maintain every facet of data transport and management throughout the system, from infrastructure to applications and beyond.
This automation can schedule and monitor, provide data center-wide insight into nodes and their configurations and perform routine processes like patching and updating on a rolling basis without human input. It not only means cost savings and higher efficiency so your team can engage in higher-demand tasks, it also lets you continually meet compliance and regulatory standards.
The Role of Data Center Automation
The need for storage and management can change not just overnight, but within seconds. Imagine you store two applications on a server – a game and an ecommerce website. Christmas is coming and you stock a product that catches on across social media in another country, resulting in an unexpected spike in visits and sales in the middle of the night.
Data center automation recognizes that the flood of incoming web queries will overload the servers earmarked for your ecommerce engine, and it knows the players where the game is most popular are asleep (and thus offline), minimizing the networking load.
And so, while you and your IT staff are themselves in dreamland, automated management shuts down idle game servers and redirects ecommerce traffic into them on the fly to deliver web content and process financial transactions without interruption.
The biggest motivation behind data center automation today is agility. A computer is a blank slate, but the processes and applications it will perform are endless, so the reconfiguration it needs for different uses is endless too. Scale that up to a data center and you can see how critical it is to automate the provisioning, connecting and maintaining of servers and networks.
Application developers work with a huge variety of operating systems and APIs, and they need delivery of standardized (occasionally specialized) infrastructure builds at a moments notice to program, test, and deploy. Whether that's bringing a new rack online or spinning up thousands of virtual desktops with the necessary software programming tools already installed, automation can deliver faster than an army of data center staff.
Even without 2020's explosion in streaming entertainment thanks to a global health crisis, the growth of data in the online world means we simply can't produce and train enough human beings to keep up with our ever-shifting and expanding network needs.
If you take nothing else away from this story, just remember that the unique selling proposition of data center automation is the means to move data fast and easily. Even if an IT manager or CTO needs to make a decision, they can be armed with the best and latest information to do so very quickly.
Also read: Best Server Virtualization Software of 2021
But like everything computer-driven, data center automation is not perfect. There's a real threat of alarm fatigue and false positives — so many alerts demanding attention that staff tend to tune them out and potentially miss a legitimate problem. Even then, there might be too many priorities that need human intervention for staff to keep on top of them.
Also, if a process does fail or an errant command is issued automatically, it can propagate heaven knows where and cause a cascade of negative effects.
Mostly however, there's the emotional hurdle. Many IT professionals might see data center automation as a means to make their skills and employability redundant, and there's an inherent trust barrier to putting our faith in automated systems to such an extent, especially when million-dollar cloud applications or websites depend on data centers running smoothly.
Reshaping the Data Industry
One of the early tenets of cloud computing was “buy the base, rent the peak”, a principle intended to guard against overprovisioning; paying for a server farm full of idle computers costing you money.
In today’s world, trends, services, networks, websites and apps change and move faster than analysts and ICT buyers can keep abreast of. Provisioning infrastructure and networks is the lynchpin by which online services rise and fall, and there's simply too much work to be done as we do more online. Data center automation will (many say 'has to') become standard operating procedure, it's just a matter of when.
Think back to an accountant writing and adding figures in a ledger. Today she deploys automation by putting those numbers in a spreadsheet or accounting application that does the adding up, freeing up time for more tactical services like staying abreast of tax law to maximize deductions.
Using automation, data centers will be the same. With automation spinning networks to life, staff have more time for strategy, customers, and the next innovation coming down the pike.