Ask the IT Consultant

Feb 18 2012   1:15PM GMT

Reducing Cloud Operations Costs with Automation

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question:  How can I best realize the promised operational cost savings of my private cloud?

If you are running a typical enterprise IT organization, you are probably struggling with an organization and processes that are not optimized for delivering cloud services.  Traditional IT operations are best designed to handle customized applications and a heterogeneous IT infrastructure, just the opposite of the skills and processes that are needed to support cloud services.  As an illustration of this, I recently had a conversation with a data center engineer about deployment automation.  He noted that his group was able to build a new server in four hours so he didn’t really see the point in further automation.  Hand building systems works fine when you are building 10 servers a week.  It does not scale when you are building 10 or 100 servers a day.  Deployment automation is designed to solve the problem of how to set up hardware and systems quickly when managing hundreds of racks and thousands of servers.  To achieve this level of automation requires the acquisition of new staff skills, building a factory approach to operations, and developing different types of processes.  What is often overlooked is that it will in turn drive significant changes to the enterprise IT organization to meet the new demands for supporting the cloud infrastructure.

Public cloud services are offered so cheaply is because they have both the economies of scale and more importantly, the operations expertise to support highly automated IT infrastructure. Amazon is estimated to have over 300,000 servers.  They do not provision them by hand; it would be an impossible task.   Any company that is managing cloud services, public or private, has faced this problem and has needed to build processes to allow data center administrators to quickly stand up new or replacement racks and servers.

With automation, racks and servers can be provisioned with a minimum of error-prone human labor in a few minutes or hours.  In the case of hardware failure, the administrators simply install new hardware, power it up and allow the auto-provisioning systems to complete the loading of the operating systems and applications.  The hardware is pre-wired into the rack, so that it can be easily plugged in and then automatically configured using the deployment automation.  Ideally, systems are configured and monitored to send out alarms or even automated orders directly to the vendor for new hardware when a certain usage level is reached or there is a hardware failure in the system.

If you are serious about reducing your operational costs for your cloud investment, the smartest thing you can do is invest in some serious automation for all your operations.  This includes not only building staff skills and developing the capacity for automated virtual machine deployment, but also automating deployment of server nodes, network gear and even entire racks.  I would recommend creating automated deployment processes to allow daily or even hourly system builds for faster systems development, test cycles and production deployments.  Leverage automation processes and framework to automate deployment of all modules across the entire cloud architecture.

Deployment and operations automation not only allows for appropriate expansion, but it also cuts the costs of delivering high availability by reducing the need for expensive hardware redundancy.  Service level agreements, growth and scaling can all be addressed by deployment and operations automation.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc.  Transforming Businesses with Cloud Solutions

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