Unlocking the value of your IT department with Infrastructure Automation

Unlocking the value of your IT department with Infrastructure Automation

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Information Technology (IT) companies in today’s business landscape are in a tricky position: as more and more of our personal and professional lives come to depend on IT, availability is fast becoming one of the most central requirements of our daily lives.

At the same time, IT companies today are expected to respond to increasingly more complex requests, and to deliver results in ever-decreasing windows of time. No matter how efficient your employees, workflows and processes may be, we’re rapidly approaching a position in which servicing the burgeoning IT needs of today’s population is becoming impossible by traditional means. One of the most effective solutions to these kinds of bottlenecks, and one of the central principles underpinning DevOps is Infrastructure Automation. In this blog, we’ll discuss how Infrastructure Automation can see you through the most difficult of times and ensure your clients receive the level of service they expect, come rain or shine.

Why is automating IT infrastructure and operations so important?

According to a study by Gartner, IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) accounts for approximately 50 percent of the total enterprise IT headcount. With budgets often being stretched to breaking point, being able to reduce the cost of even a single department can alleviate significant financial pressure. But with I&O amounting to roughly half of the enterprise IT workforce, the potential for financial savings or releasing capacity are exponentially greater. I&O, in the context of today’s data-driven and IT-dependent culture, is also a valuable business area to focus on for facilitating innovation, building out new services and experimenting with new possibilities. With less time spent on ensuring things are ticking over, your I&O staff will have far more opportunity to do the kind of work that matters to them – and your business.

More staff doesn’t equate to increased productivity

One of the more persistent results of the Industrial Revolution is that we tend to think of more as being better when it comes to business. In reality, though, there’s little correlation between the two – especially in the light of automation technology. The real meaning of productivity to a business is the amount of staff time that can be spent on work that brings value. By automating tasks that take up a lot of time but provide little value, you’re immediately increasing the productivity of your IT department and driving their Return on Investment (ROI) up as a result.

Infrastructure Automation provides a number of benefits to your organisation.

With virtually all business processes depending to some degree on technology in today’s marketplace, Infrastructure Automation isn’t simply a tool for increasing the efficiency of one particular department. Rather, it’s a means of freeing up resources wasted on mundane, error-prone tasks and assigning them to more appropriately profitable and meaningful pursuits. Often, this is a product of an implementation itself: by automating critical business processes that don’t require a high degree of creative thinking or human input, you’re enabling your staff to focus on more innovative, less repetitive work. You’re also enabling more activities to be delivered with the same resources, which is key with the increasing expectations for agility and speed to market in today’s business landscape.  Perhaps even more crucially, you’re giving your staff the chance to thrive – to do the work they want to do, and be great at it. The connected world means a world of alternative opportunities not only for your customers but also your staff. As Adam Jacob (CTO at Chef) says, “sad people build sad products, which in turn creates sad companies.” And, as Richard Branson says, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to. If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

ECS Digital is a Digital Transformation consultancy with over 12 years experience implementing DevOps solutions for companies around the world. If you’re interested in finding out more about our approach and the unique insights we can offer into how to transform your business with DevOps and IT Automation, download our free guide to DevOps Maturity Assessment.

Image Credit: www8.hp.com

Andy CuretonUnlocking the value of your IT department with Infrastructure Automation
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4 Ways Infrastructure Automation increases efficiency in IT operations

4 Ways Infrastructure Automation increases efficiency in IT operations

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Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD) have made some fundamental changes to traditional development and operations paradigms. Rather than delivering builds weekly or monthly, developers have to release updates and new versions on a daily basis – in fact, it’s common for developers today to push out multiple CI builds in a single day. Consequently, operations engineers today have to deal with significantly more environments and instances, and being able to test and validate these builds as quickly as possible is key to maximising the benefits of DevOps. As many of these new builds may include configuration changes, it’s no longer practical to implement each of these individually. To this end, infrastructure automation is an invaluable component of DevOps, and in this blog we’ll discuss what infrastructure automation entails, provide some tips and best practices for implementing infrastructure automation, and talk about the concept of infrastructure as code.

What does Infrastructure Automation entail?

To understand infrastructure automation, it’s important to first discuss two key concepts:

  • Cycle Time

In his blog, Sanjeev Sharma defines cycle time as “The average time taken from the time a new requirement is approved, a change request is requested or a bug that needs to be fixed via a patch is identified, to the time it is delivered to production.” Essentially, it is the total time taken from the beginning to the end of a process, as agreed by you and your customer.

  • Versioned Environments

Because developers require multiple environment configurations and patch levels on-demand in a DevOps environment, operations engineers need to reassess the way they manage change and maintain their environments. Any change made to an environment, from changing the configuration to applying an update or patch, should be considered a new environment version. The only way that this can be managed in practice is through scripts, which create a new version of the environment when executed.

So what exactly is infrastructure automation?

The ideal solution to both minimising cycle time and efficiently and reliably versioning environments is to capture and manage your infrastructure as code. Processes like setting up a new environment or updating an existing environment become a simple matter of:

  • Executing a script that creates and provisions a set of images all the way through to the installed and configured application stack.
  • Versioning these scripts in the same way one would version code turns configuration management into a reliable, automated process of making the necessary script changes.
  • Checking each script back in as a new version.

Infrastructure automation, in other words, allows you to expedite environment management while maintaining best practices for .

How does infrastructure automation bring efficiency to my organisation?

Kent Beck, software engineer and creator of Extreme Programming, claims not to be a great coder, but a good coder with great habits. Essentially, that’s the aim of infrastructure automation – to mitigate the chance for error and enhance the productivity of development and operations through keeping good habits. Though many organisations have adopted agile methodologies, the reality of agile adoption in many businesses today is a far cry from the original agile manifesto. Many organisations operate under the pretence of being agile, but in practice are closer to what Forrester terms ‘Water-Scrum-Fall’. The reason for this is a lack of organisation wide adoption of DevOps, with agile adoption typically being limited to the development team, while operations and production run at an entirely different speed. Without implementing infrastructure automation and approaching infrastructure as code, the true benefits of DevOps cannot be achieved.

Four ways to increase efficiency in IT operations through infrastructure automation are:

  • Keeping things simple but comprehensive

Infrastructure automation simplifies many of the tasks that operations engineers have to deal with daily while keeping best practices intact. By automating wisely, you’ll be able to increase operational efficiency by several orders of magnitude without compromising on quality.

  • Modularising infrastructure

Breaking your infrastructure down into modular components and making them available from an infrastructure automation tool makes it easy to continuously manipulate systems without affecting development – for example, duplicating the production environment for bugfixing whilst provisioning multiple instances of the production+1 environment configuration for testing.

  • Avoiding lock-ins

There are several open source infrastructure automation solutions available – Puppet and Crowbar, for example – that are constantly being optimised. Opting for open source solutions is a good way of avoiding tying yourself in to software that starts out strong but ends up being stitched together by TODOs, FIXMEs and quick hacks. At the time of writing this article there have been over 73,000 commits by more than 2,000 developers in the Puppet community. Few enterprise software vendors can match this pace of development.

  • Standardising and versioning everything

Keeping a meticulous record of version changes to your environments, no matter how small, is essential to avoiding potentially crippling catastrophic system failures. As Jesse Robins put it, the ultimate goal of infrastructure automation is to “Enable the reconstruction of the business from nothing but a source code repository, an application data backup, and bare metal resources”.

Speak to a DevOps consultancy that understands your needs.

There’s no universally correct way to go about automating your infrastructure – each organisation will have its own goals that it aims to achieve through adopting DevOps, and the tools and strategies used to do so will vary from one to the next. To get the most out of DevOps, speak to a consultant that understands your context. With over ten years’ experience in automation, ECS Digital provides end-to-end solutions to solve your business challenges, whatever they may be, in the best way possible. To find out more about what we offer, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Andy Cureton4 Ways Infrastructure Automation increases efficiency in IT operations
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4 Critical factors to bear in mind when considering outsourcing

4 Critical factors to bear in mind when considering outsourcing

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Deciding whether to keep your business functions in-house or outsource them to an external company is a critical decision in today’s business landscape. While there are certainly pros and cons to both, your decision will have significant impacts on the way your business operates, so it’s paramount to understand exactly what it is you’re getting yourself into. As outsourced data centres and cloud storage become increasingly common in our professional and personal lives, the trend towards outsourcing critical business functions is growing – but does this mean that keeping your processes in-house is an outdated concept? In this blog, I’ll outline some of the pros and cons of outsourcing business processes and what to consider when looking for the best possible outsource solution.

1. Nothing makes up for experience in your field.

A serious risk that comes with outsourcing is that the partner you choose might not have the same understanding of your market as you do. This could wreak havoc on your bottom-line, cause you to breach contractual agreements, and lower the quality of work or service your organisation delivers – ultimately impacting customer satisfaction. For this reason, it’s vitally important to do your research and find an outsourcing partner that shares experience in your market or understands it as well as you do, and, crucially, that aligns with your business’ culture and work ethic. Selecting the right outsourcing partner can do far more than just take some weight off your team’s shoulders – at best, it could bring unprecedented levels of efficiency to your workplace.

2. Outsourcing is a business partnership – make sure you do a background check.

The reasons for outsourcing processes come down to a few common factors: saving costs, increasing productivity, or providing burst capacity. If you’ve selected your outsourcing partner wisely, you should see clear improvements in these areas. Your ideal partner should have solid experience in their industry and be able to suggest the best methodologies and tools to suit the unique context of your busines

3. Don’t hand over the keys before you know the driver.

One result of outsourcing that causes executives to break out in cold sweats is that it involves handing over a significant amount of control to an external party. Granted, this can be an intimidating process – whether you’re outsourcing an entire department or a single task, you’re essentially handing the keys of that function over to a stranger. The best way to get around this is to find an outsourcing company that you can identify with and trust in when handing over responsibility. Take the time to understand the culture and inner workings of your prospective partner, the company’s vision and, most importantly, get to know the key people you will be working with.

4. The best outsourced solutions are more cost-effective than internal hiring.

The potential for cost savings is often cited as the primary benefit of outsourcing business solutions, but evaluating your options based on their cost alone could set you up for failure. It’s vital to ensure that whoever you’re outsourcing your processes to is capable of delivering at least the same quality of work that your clients have come to expect from you – opting for cheap labour might seem like a good financial decision at first, but the long-term implications to your revenue can be catastrophic. Cost of output is the key measure and not the unit cost of labour. Even if you have to pay more for a more reputable provider, the holistic benefit to your finance will be more than worth it. Low cost labour delivering 75% of target output at 100% of budgeted cost is less attractive than higher cost labour delivering 125% of target output at 100% of budgeted cost – yet the unit cost of labour is too often the focus. At best, an outsourced partner will complement your workforce by bringing with it the wealth of experience that comes with working across multiple clients, and ensure that your business meets or exceeds its objectives.

To find out more about ECS Digital, including the training and consultation services we offer to optimise your business processes for outsourcing, and how we can support you by enabling your chosen partner, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Andy Cureton4 Critical factors to bear in mind when considering outsourcing
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