Virtualisation makes automation a reality

The recent global meltdown has impacted most sectors, markets and countries around the world. With uncertainty about the depth and duration of the economic slowdown, companies are crafting survival strategies for their businesses. As a result CIOs are being forced to slash their IT budgets and optimise IT infrastructure to save costs and increase efficiency. Organisations are opting to leverage their existing IT resources to maximise business efficiency. This has accelerated the demand for versatile computing that can manage multiple applications and servers running at the right time, with the right capacity to support the business.

Previously, capacity was increased by simply adding new server hardware, but this resulted in a ‘server sprawl’ - an inefficient set-up of multiple servers with low utilisation rates, requiring enormous resources and consuming vast amounts of greenhouse-gas producing power. Now Organisations are looking for ways to make their IT infrastructure do more.

Why virtualisation?

Initially, virtualisation on its own was touted as the way to combat server sprawl. The virtualisation and consolidation of servers can improve physical server utilisation rates.  But CIOs still have the complex challenge of ensuring the right applications are running at the right time with the right capacity to support the business.

It is the increased automation possible in a virtualised server environment is the key to managing IT infrastructure in a way that supports the real demands of the business. virtualisation was the first step to solving capacity constraints, now automation addresses the management constraints.

Moving towards automation – from conscious to subconscious The complexity of managing modern IT infrastructure without automation is like the human body operating without the intervention of the conscious brain to pick up an object.  Similarly, automating a business’s IT infrastructure to  run the critical and mundane aspects of IT management will allow it to effortlessly, quickly and seamlessly respond to changes.

An automatic infrastructure can rapidly change servers, applications, connectivity to network and storage needs of the system. It can re-purpose machines according to the real-time demands of the business and enable capacity to be “dialled up” or “dialled down”.

What makes automated infrastructure reliable is its ability to bring up a failed server on new hardware, with the same network and storage access within minutes.  This process is augmented without making any changes to physical machine, cable, LAN connection or SAN access.Fortunately, we are now at the stage where automation tools and expertise is available. While mainframes have been automated for some time, the Wintel environment has become increasingly standardised, making the processes more consistent and suited to automation. For instance, some of the biggest issues in the data centre are around managing patches, capacity and security. By identifying underlying consistent process and variables upfront, many of these processes can be automated to negate the need for constant human intervention. This frees up resources and funds to invest in other areas of business. This is bound to become increasingly relevant in India as small and mid-sized companies gradually expand and diversify.

In automated infrastructure, powerful workflow automation and management systems with strict policy control can:

*Allocate resources to the applications and users that need them automatically in real-time

*Continually monitor service levels to ensure business performance is on target
nProvide a dynamic, on-demand environment, with support for the industry's leading virtualisation,  provisioning and re-purposing tools; and

*Support major third-party servers, software, and devices

The ultimate business dashboard

On the governance side, the CIO will have tools to monitor and report on the performance of the automated infrastructure, its applications and services, and to set policy and demand planning. These governance tools will enable them to view and manage the IT infrastructure by creating composite applications based on business priorities and activities, such as payroll, accounts, and online sales.  In collaboration with other components of the automated infrastructure, they can dynamically change the infrastructure to respond to changing business conditions.

In conclusion

Automation is the next step in the evolutionary chain, enabling technology to help drive growth, innovation and profitability. This will enhance cultural change within Organisations as constraints are removed and management can drive innovation and growth knowing that IT can respond to the ever changing priorities of the business. The technology underpinning automation is actually available today, although it will become increasingly sophisticated in the coming years.  As always, adoption will lag the cutting edge capability, but there are early adopters and it is predicted that the techniques will become mainstream in 2010 as the competitive gains reaped by the first movers become apparent.

(The writer is Director, Enterprise Computing Group, Unisys India)

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