The Right Set of Automation Skills Can Improve Data Center Management

Employees with knowledge of automation will have more time to focus on more exciting and higher value tasks that benefit your company.

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Ken Goetz is Vice President of Training and Certification at Red Hat.

The need to automate certain facets of the data center is indisputable, but does your team possess the skills required to drive and support your automation efforts? If the answer is “no,” you’re likely to run into trouble as you attempt to transform your data center into an agile environment ideal for accelerated application development and deployment.

Simply procuring a set of automation tools isn’t enough. You need a workforce with the proper skill set to manage those tools and effectively implement the automation process. With these skills in-hand, you’ll be in a better position to quickly ramp up and reap the benefits that automation provides.

The Benefits of Data Center Automation

Those benefits are significant and can have a direct impact on data center efficiency and security. Automation can supply consistency and the comfort in knowing that all servers have been configured once, and correctly. Automation can also make it easier for teams to manage their hybrid cloud environments by programmatically applying changes to all of their clouds. Remediation of issues can be simplified through automated checks, updates and patching.

Automation can also help you effectively implement cross-platform management of various aspects of your data center. A complete automation system can be used to manage all of your servers and applications, different operating systems, and more. Once you’ve automated the configuration and provisioning of these tools your teams will have the power to easily manage everything with a few key presses, rather than be saddled with the onerous task of manually making on/off changes.

Finally, automation helps teams develop repeatable processes that can save significant time, since there’s no need to duplicate efforts. No wonder Forrester predicts that in 2019, 40 percent of enterprises will have automation centers in place.

Automation Tools Aren’t Enough

If you’re one of the many people thinking about automation, your natural inclination might be to begin by looking at solutions designed to automate your systems. And while tools are obviously important, the people who operate them are, too.

Think of a construction site that has a plethora of backhoes, jackhammers, and other pieces of heavy equipment. They all serve a purpose, but without people who understand how to operate them, they’re simply dead weight. The same principle applies to data centers. You can have as many variations of Ansible, Puppet, and Chef as you want, but without the skills required to drive these tools, they’ll simply end up taking up space.

You need brains behind the brawn. Maybe you need a Linux system administrator with the ability to set up tooling to automate the administration of multiple machines.  Perhaps you need to be able to automate the management of traditional network devices, including firewalls, routers, and more, which have historically been difficult to configure. Or automate the management of operating systems like Linux or Windows. Today, just about anything can be automated--if you know how.

And it’s becoming increasingly important to know how, particularly when many data centers are moving to DevOps. Automation is a core facet of DevOps because it supports the ability to deploy often, fix bugs quickly, and push applications through to development. If organizations do not invest in hiring and training workers who are skilled in automation, they may not be adequately supporting their DevOps initiatives.

A Shift in Thinking Toward IT Automation

Just like DevOps, automation is really more about a mindshift than a technology shift. It can be hard for both individuals and teams to move away from tried-and-true manual implementation and management that offers a comforting sense of control.

The move can be particularly challenging for managers who may not fully understand how to successfully implement automation within their organizations. For them, the temptation may be to Google “automation best practices” or seek out online forums of like-minded individuals. This is often the simplest solution for people working under time and budget constraints.

While informal learning like this has its merits, it also has its perils. It may not be prescriptive, coherent, or accurate, and the source may not be reliable. We know that adults learn best when they can do it themselves, and informal learning often lacks reinforcement through actual hands-on practice.

Formal learning provides a viable answer to these drawbacks. Self-learning tools offer just-in-time and on-demand learning, catering to professionals looking for performance support and micro-learning on the latest versions of the software. Instructor-led training offers participants the ability to ask questions, discuss problems, and interact with trained professionals and peers. Combining the two can be powerful: a class in which participants can learn key concepts and a self-learning tool to facilitate continuous education.

In-class participants will be able to learn how to adjust to an automation mindset from experts who have lived through the process. Fear of IT modernization is common, but understanding what’s in store (and the benefits that follow) can help dispel that trepidation. These experts can illustrate how automation is different from what came before and make them comfortable with the shift so they are mentally prepared and ready to get up to speed quickly.

The Value of Automation Expertise

There’s great value in investing in training that builds fundamental automation skills or expands existing skill sets for your existing staff. A quick search on “IT automation jobs” on LinkedIn yields tens of thousands of results, signifying that companies are actively recruiting potential employees with the requisite background and knowledge. But many of those people may already be under your roof working as Linux or Windows administrators, or operating in some other capacity. Investing in the proper training can help them apply their current knowledge and incorporate automation into their everyday lives.

In fact, the more you invest in your people, the more value you add to your organization. Employees with knowledge of automation will have more time to focus on more exciting and higher value tasks that benefit your company. As a result, your data center will be better positioned to achieve greater efficiency, agility, and effectiveness.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating.

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