Agility, Automation and the Application

By Mahesh Kumar

Network and IT infrastructure management is moving towards achieving data center agility – agility in deploying new application services and agility in trouble shooting network problems for application downtime. True agility in the infrastructure can be achieved only when – teams have better visibility (state, status and statistics) of the infrastructure and change control has certain level of automation enabled. Application centric infrastructure helps network engineering and operations teams respond quickly to application downtime yet automation is the key to ensuring quick error free changes to the application infrastructure.

Change automation ensures better predictability and availability of applications as changes are planned, designed and implemented during change windows. The IT Process Institute’s Visible Ops Handbook reports that “80% of unplanned outages are due to ill-planned changes made by administrators or developers”. Automation of change management ensures better processes through approval work flows, integration with enterprise ITSM tools and change automation platforms. A recent Gartner study projected that “Through 2015, 80% of outages impacting mission-critical services will be caused by people and process issues, and more than 50% of those outages will be caused by change/configuration/release integration and hand-off issues”. The lack of process and visibility in change management leads to large number of misconfigurations in the network and ever declining customer satisfaction.
So, what is necessary to achieve this so-called “automation”?

1. A centralized solution for change management – All changes need to go through one window allowing easy tracking of all the changes done across the infrastructure. Audit track reports of changes allow for easy detection of configuration drifts in the network and easier troubleshooting during application down time.
2. Customizable work flows – Changes need to go through multiple levels of review before the implementation team pushes them to the devices. A production environment may require more approvals for a change in comparison to development or pre – production. The work flows need to be customizable to ensure each request is handled with the right kind of focus. More the reviews, lesser the misconfigurations, higher the application availability.
3. The solution needs to integrate into the enterprise change systems – This allows for changes to be planned ensuring better predictability for the applications. Changes outside the allocated windows are the biggest cause for application downtime.
4. Application centric configuration management – Application teams should be able to map any configuration drifts for their application infrastructure. What firewall policies got changed? What configurations were modified in the load balancer? All changes need to be tied to an application and the application operations teams need visibility into their service infrastructure.

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