Today, IT Administrators face numerous challenges. First, the increasingly complex applications and growing data volumes require larger IT infrastructures. Second, the cloud era further compounds the situation by introducing hybrid and multi-cloud scenarios, significantly escalating the already high level of complexity. Third, there is an urgent need for skilled workers, however, the market fails to meet this demand, resulting in a constant shortage of skilled personnel. Consequently, many companies experience overload in their IT operations departments, writes Goetz Rieger, Principal Solution Architect at Red Hat
Another crucial challenge is the time pressure. No company can afford to wait for months to connect to new servers and clients or install software. However, when there is a shortage of human resources or IT infrastructure is too vast for manual management, this becomes unavoidable. Last but not the least, time is of essence when it comes to management of patches and security updates. The longer security vulnerabilities remain unaddressed, the higher the risk.
Automation platforms are a game-changer to overcome modern day hurdles
The solution lies in strategic IT automation. This involves automating not just a few selective processes, but implementing automation widely across the entire company. Automation platforms serve as the technical means to achieve this goal by automating redundant administrative tasks and controlling hardware and software processes. Consequently, administrators are relieved from these repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on more value-adding responsibilities.
Over the years, we have seen that the most successful automation results are achieved through platforms with modularised architectures that communicate via programming interfaces (APIs). Open-source software platforms have a distinct advantage in this regard as they leverage contributions by the community for various applications and devices.
Today, there are automation tools available that combine modularisation and open-source availability, with professional support. Automation runs through so-called playbooks, which administrators write using easily written and understood YAML. For example, the playbook can define the necessary steps to install a patch on any number of Linux systems. Once created, users can easily repeat the process with a single click when the next patch becomes available.
Automation platforms offer central advantages because they can be operated by IT specialists and tech-savvy non-specialists. A simple graphical user interface, which is standard repertoire, enables even those without extensive IT expertise to utilise these platforms. Automation platforms cater to both IT administrators and developers. Developers often need to test new software versions, requiring isolated servers or cloud instances for setup and rollout. With an automation platform, they can perform all these steps with a single click through the user interface, provided the appropriate playbook is available. Moreover, test instances can be shut down just as easily with a single click, which is particularly important in the context of the cloud to avoid unnecessary cost.
Event-driven automation sets new benchmarks
Automation through modules or playbooks is already a significant step, but it is proactive. This means that automated processes must be triggered by the user. However, in IT administration, there are often events to which administrators must respond promptly with automated tasks, resolve issues or enhance observation where needed, so issues can be identified and fixed early.
Event-driven automation is invaluable when the requirement is to execute a series of processes automatically. This requires an Event Listener component which can process events from third party tools. A byproduct of this means troubleshooting patterns and remediation approaches are automatically initiated based on an initial event in the environment.
One rulebook to automate them all
How automation platforms respond to an event is defined by the administrators in so-called rulebooks. Rulebooks contain instructions written in YAML, following a strict if-this-then-that model. If a condition is met an action is executed, for example a playbook is called and the processes defined in it are executed..
To illustrate this principle, let's consider the example of a developer setting up a test instance. Suppose a monitoring tool notifies the automation platform that no processes are running on the test instance, indicating the completion of the test. If the rulebook specifies that, in this situation ("if this"), the automation platform should shut down the instance in AWS ("then that"), the developer wouldn't need to manually trigger this process. In this example, a simple click is sufficient to create the entire temporary test environment and subsequently shut it down after the testing is finished.
Initially, administrators are responsible for creating the rulebooks and playbooks, but once established, they greatly reduce workload. The possibilities enabled by this functionality within automation platforms are virtually limitless.