Automation in IT and software development (DevOps) is one of the top priorities of organizations from government to enterprises to telecommunications operators worldwide. It seems intuitively obvious that automation would be valuable. It is valuable to break down the business case behind automation in data centers so that organizations can replace intuition with real business benefits.
Let’s look at a few well known examples of companies that use automation to their advantage:
- Amazon – Automation enables it to deliver its retail products faster than anyone in the world. It’s never down, accepting orders 24x7x365 through tremendous peaks in demand. It has overtaken the IT market with Amazon Web Services (AWS), the first and biggest public cloud provider – all through automation.
- Zappos – Famous for its customer service and responsiveness, Zappos has built a phenomenal brand by offering products that customers really need and always responding to complaints rapidly. Try complaining about it on Twitter and see what happens.
- GE – Automation enables them to deliver DevOps practices to industrial products. They save billions of dollars through automation of the most advanced data collection from their large equipment and optimization based on that data.
The top vendors and the early movers in any market receive the majority of the profits, and these positions are dominated by vendors that are masters of automation.
The following are the main business benefits of automation that can be measured:
- Automation is a pre-cursor to DevOps – speed, agility – competitive advantage
- Automation enables scale at speed
- Automation reduces cost – both OPEX and CAPEX
- Automation ensures reliability
- Automation improves security
In today’s world, every company is a software company – software drives their customer insights, drives their customer interfaces, is behind their brand promise and is the enabler for new products and services. Competitive advantage comes more and more from this digital transformation. Over and over we see that the companies and organizations that drive internal innovation around software are more responsive to their customers, more aligned with customer needs and more successful in their markets than their competitors. Automation is a key factor in this ability to be responsive and to innovate.
With automation, companies and their IT organizations deliver new products and services to their customers faster because their internal software development processes are automated, allowing them to push new innovations through their pipeline faster.
Scale at speed
Speed at scale is a phenomenon of the internet world that has now become an expectation in all businesses. From the Olympics to the Christmas rush to the Mars landing, organizations must be able to scale nearly instantaneously in response to events. This is possible not at human speed but at the speed of machine-to-machine interaction – i.e., automation.
For companies operating in consumer markets, automation is imperative for scaling at speed. But for all companies, ability to scale at speed is critical for competitive advantage. Ability to capture revenue when the opportunity arises determines revenue, growth and profitability. Alternatively, inability to respond quickly to changes has a very high cost to companies in terms of revenue and growth opportunity.
Automation is also a big factor in both CAPEX and OPEX savings. Automation of IT processes and the introduction of DevOps automation means that infrastructure is utilized more efficiently, regardless of the infrastructure or where it is located.
Simply eliminating set-up and tear-down time for many IT activities from testing to demos and production changes leads to major improvements in infrastructure utilization by allowing much more work to be performed in the same amount of time with no additional infrastructure.
Any CAPEX savings is matched by an associated amount of OPEX savings associated with management, power and data center space.
Additional OPEX savings comes from elimination of manual operators. For example, companies implementing DevOps report that they are able to replace up to 20 operations people with one developer that implements automation. Even though developers implementing automation are highly skilled and expensive relative to operators, the total cost savings is huge.
In every organization there is a cost to failure. The cost varies by industry, but nearly all measure that cost. How can automation reduce failures? Automation provides consistency and repeatability of operations and processes, including consistency of the order in which operations are performed. This eliminates the variability that comes with manual operations and human error.
Knowing exactly how infrastructure is configured also leads to simplicity in upgrades and quicker diagnosis of errors and failures when they do occur. We all have a war story about an intermittent bug that took months to find and turned out to be the result of someone misconfiguring something or installing an uncertified driver. Automation prevents these occurrences.
Automation consistency also results in better security. Automated operations are not only consistent and repeatable but can be tracked so that there is a complete audit trail of everything that was done. It is possible to track every configuration and every test completed with that configuration as well as the results of those tests.
Automation ensures that security testing is complete and provides the audit trail needed to meet regulatory and compliance requirements. It is possible to record and track every change made to infrastructure and the historiography of changes. This not only ensures security but also provides the insights that are critical to continuous improvement of processes.
Security is hard to put a hard business value on, though there have been enough failures in recent years to provide a cost estimate by industry for failures due to security breaches, as well as the cost of compliance and regulatory penalties, not to mention the negative impact on brand associated with these failures.
For all of the above reasons, if automation is not on your top-3 list for 2016, it should be.
Joan Wrabetz is CTO for Quali. Earlier she was VP/CTO for EMC’s emerging product division. Joan has over 20 years’ technology executive experience. She was founder/CEO of Aumni Data, CEO of Tricord Systems (now Adaptec), VP/GM at StorageTek, founder/CEO of Aggregate Computing (now Platinum Technologies) and held management positions at Control Data Corporation and SRI International. She was a BlueStream Ventures partner, on the board of many startups and holds multiple tech patents.