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Get Ready for IT Infrastructure Autonomics

by Steve Follin

I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard the latest hype about how autonomics—automated, self-managing processes—will revolutionize IT infrastructure services. All too often, when we hear these kinds of revolutionary messages, we’re disappointed when the vendors show up with vaporware and no concrete references to demonstrate real-world effectiveness.

But this time just may be different. Experts agree that autonomics has the potential to unleash a significant wave of service improvement and cost-efficiency. One thing is for sure: IT infrastructure autonomics is inevitable, and those of us in the trenches need to prepare for it. The sooner the better; autonomics will reduce service faults and labor costs. In fact, we are likely to see as much as a 40 to 75 percent reduction in labor cost from automation technologies that include autonomics, versus the 15 to 30 percent savings we have gained over the years through labor arbitrage.

At the extreme, autonomics includes cognitive computing in which software can process natural language commands and respond based on defined contexts or goals. But those in the infrastructure world are most likely to first exploit the self-healing capabilities that autonomics enables: some level of automatic fault discovery and ability to correct those faults. As a result, IT infrastructure will be able to automatically adapt to changing conditions and produce service quality and reliability above and beyond current infrastructure automation.

While cognitive engines are rapidly coming to market and are successfully being used in “ideal” environments, such as cloud providers’ data centers, they aren’t yet ready for prime time at the enterprise level. Commercial, off-the-shelf autonomic products that address the lowest-hanging infrastructure fruit (think server management) are already on the market and are very much a part of solutions being currently proposed by service providers.

In the next 12 months, we can expect to see impressive enterprise-level success stories that demonstrate how autonomics, at a minimum, can greatly reduce automation failures and the need to update automation playbooks. Here are the Top 5 steps you can take now to get ready:

1. Educate yourself on autonomic technologies. It’s important to distinguish between traditional IT automation (a set of scripts to handle anticipated events) and autonomics (software that can learn). IT automation has been in the marketplace for years and has proven to be very cost effective when processes are highly standardized. Autonomics software is just being introduced in “friendly” client environments in which the relationship with the service provider is healthy enough to withstand experimenting with new services.

2. Don’t try to do it yourself. It may be tempting to embark on a plan to internally develop autonomics for your infrastructure, but both the costs and risks are high. Service providers gain from economies of scale and experience that a buy-side organization cannot approach; they focus on use cases for highly repeatable infrastructure processes that can be reused across customers. While traditional automation, like scripting, is worth pursuing internally or via service providers, do-it-yourself autonomics would be like writing your own server operating system.

3. Standardize and homogenize your infrastructure. Simplification has been and continues to be the Holy Grail. Move your businesses off their legacy platforms. Even if you can only focus on a subset of your environment (one geography or one business unit), keep on your path or accelerate it. This will give you a platform when autonomics is ready for prime time and, in the short term, it will lower support costs and increase reliability. As we’ve learned over the last several years, standardization increases agility and accelerates the adoption of other emerging technology.

4. Continue IT service management process deployment and maturation. Robust, well-documented processes are the starting point for automation and subsequent autonomics. Focus on development of “light” processes that enable consistency and agility. Autonomics will help you deal with regional and business unit variations, though more process homogeneity is better than less.

5. Develop and implement an intellectual property (IP) strategy. A key automation risk is getting locked into one provider if it owns the automation IP, the automation systems and/or the instructions put into those systems. Your IP strategy and legal approach has to account for your outsourcing arrangements as well as your practices regarding ownership of software licenses and other IP.

Stay abreast of news about products and services so you can decide when the time is right for your organization to begin to adopt autonomic IT infrastructure solutions. Not all processes are equally amenable to autonomics, and many factors come into play. ISG can help your enterprise evaluate the potential benefits of automation and autonomics. Contact me to discuss further.

About the author

Steve has more than 25 years of experience in IT sourcing, solution design and strategy. His recent work includes helping a media company consolidate its global infrastructure and renegotiating existing infrastructure services agreements for two manufacturing clients. With Steve’s guidance, both manufacturing clients were able to cut monthly costs by more than 20 percent and add cloud-based services. Time and again, Steve has demonstrated his ability to lead sourcing initiatives for infrastructure, cloud and data center services, and data center consolidations. He has experience across a wide range of industries, including the public sector.