Automation: Not at the cost of core expertise

by admin on May 22, 2006 12:47pm

We had a great week here because we all got to spend a lot of time out of the office meeting people from all over the world who came here to attend an event in Seattle. A lot of people I ran into had specific and pinpointed questions on various technologically perplexing scenarios they had encountered or were at the forefront of some hard questions from their customers on technology management. Something in these conversations always sticks in my head and today, I learnt some very surprising details on the "push" for automation, process as well as technology based. What I heard in these discussions reinforced the core fundamentals of Technology Management such as “never replace an expert with what you think is a good application”. Let me explain what I mean:

Let’s start by discussing the role of automation, in general, be it scripting or process based and the role it plays in the life of an IT Operations Professional. I uncovered two scenarios, the first where automation was a key in driving efficiencies, increasing reliability, predictability and lowering TCO. The second scenario elicits a situation where unnecessary automation was implemented instead of the need of genuine expertise, with an undesirable outcome of course.
Scenario 1 – Successful implementation of Automation: The need for automation is almost always driven by a business need mapping back to a simple, repeatable process. Let’s say one of the tasks you’re responsible in a large environment is maintaining and updating DNS records. Take something as simple as changing a DNS record and assigning a new address to the entry. This would be a perfectly simple AND repeatable process that screams the need to automate. To put a simple script or a comprehensive tool around such a scenario would be prudent and wise as it takes the repetition out of the job, and making the overall process less error-prone, more automated and dependable

Scenario 2 – Unnecessary use of automation: The same process can only be automated only to a certain extent, after which human expertise becomes critical. Continuing the path of the process in Scenario 1, once the DNS records get changed, it’s very easy to setup an additional script or automation around “validation”. By validation I mean double-checking the change to make sure that the prior and successive entries are accurate leaving no room for any error. Why is validation necessary – well, because once the DNS records are changed and are propagated through the environment, an incorrect entry can wreak havoc and make the busiest server unresponsive to any name resolution request. However, having a resident analyst who can validate all entries of the request, check the addresses manually before entering them into the script/tool and doing post-change validation only helps eliminates the scope of an “outage” , the one word every Operations Professional dreads

In conclusion, I’d like to say that our goal as contributors to Port25 is to always try to put forward instances and knowledge that help the IT Community run their environment/s. Therefore, if there is something specific, be it technology or operations methodology that you'd like us to dig deeper into, your ideas are ALWAYS most welcome.

Thank you all, have a great week ahead !!

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