You Gotta Keep ‘Em Automated!

melissa • November 20, 2014 • 1 Comment

As part of #vDM30in30 Eric Wright wrote a great article on reducing technical debt, which got me thinking quite a bit.  Mainly about automation, and the journey it takes to get there.  Here’s a couple more ideas on how to get you started on the journey if you haven’t already begun.

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(Mission Control at NASA Wallops.)
Do it for Yourself
Is there something you’re doing in your environment on a daily basis?  Maybe multiple times a day?  Maybe you only do it once a month or once a week, but you’ve got to do it a bunch of times when you do do it.  Or maybe, there’s something that you don’t do that often, but you hate doing it when it comes down to it.  These are all good candidates for something to start with as you build your case for automation.  The first few things you do should be quick wins, not overly complicated workflows and solutions.  It will build your confidence on how to go about the process of automating these tasks, and you’ll see results fast.

Do it for Others
Maybe you’ve got a handle on what you’re doing.  But what about other members of your team?  Other teams in your organization?  As you’ve learned by automating your first tasks, a little work can go a long way in giving you some time back to your day, and reducing your technical debt.  Start at the water cooler, and try to get a sense of where some of your coworkers are struggling.
This is How We Do It
For our purposes, I’m going to pretend that I’m a storage administrator in a NetApp environment.  I’ve been thinking about going the automated route for a while now, but I’m really not sure where to begin.  I take a while to think about my time and how it is spent.  Much if it is spent deploying some sort of storage to some sort of team.  I’m so glad that I started using the NetApp Virtual Storage console though, I just pretty much let the VMware team do their thing now, after I’ve created their Storage Virtual Machine on Clustered Data ONTAP and associated their resources with it.  This has given me back a ton of time!  You know what, I took some of the first steps to automation here, and I didn’t even realize it.  This seems like a great idea, so let me think of something else to work on.

You know what?  Setting up file shares is a bit of a pain.  Not that it’s hard or anything, or takes too long, but whenever I get a request I need to stop what I’m doing and go deploy a file share.  It kind of interrupts me, and makes me lose a bit of my technical mojo on my other projects.  I think this would be a good starting point for me.

My NetApp SE mentioned something about automation, and if I google “NetApp automation” the first hit I get is for something called OnCommand Workflow Automation (WFA).  Yeah, that sounds about right, and you know what, it looks like a lot of the work has been done for me already.  There’s also some great information on the NetApp Communities site!  I’ll bet I can have this up and running in a few hours.

With that, I’ve automated one of the tasks that was really getting to me – creating file shares.  I think I’m going to hit up my VMware team and see where else we can go with this.  I know they’re starting to play with vRealize Orchestrator, previously known as vCenter Orchestrator (vCO), and there’s there’s a NetApp OnCommand WFA package for vRealize Orchestrator! http://practical-admin.com/blog/?p=1601  I think I’m going to see if we can all grab a conference from for lunch this week, and try to whiteboard some things out.  I think we should focus on:
•    Things we do the most
•    Our biggest pain points
•    Things we don’t like doing
•    Things we depend on other teams for.
If we look at all these things, especially the things we depend on others for, I think we can really go a long way here.  We can reduce our Technical Debt, and get some time back for working on our new projects.  We’ve been talking cloud strategy lately, but honestly, no one has had the time to sit down and do anything about it.  I think once we get a few more tasks under our belt we should sit down try to put this in prospective for our business.  We should keep track of how much money we saved on the resource level by automating these tasks, and what value we were able to add to the business now that we’ve automated these common tasks.

The Bigger Picture
Perhaps you have your first couple of quick wins under your belt, and you’re ready to try something bigger and more complicated.  The trick here is to break down the task you’re about to undertake into smaller pieces, think of  it as a bunch of quick wins, instead of one big task.  Besides many workflow tools integrating with each other, a tool such as vRealize Orchestrator, you can build a workflow which contains smaller, easier to manage workflows.  Let’s take deploying Application XYZ as an example.  Application XYZ has the following components.
•    Application Server
•    Web Server
•    Database Server
•    Each server has a dedicated storage volume accessed via a NFS mount
•    There is a NFS share that must be accessed by all servers
In this case, it is useful to refer to the run book you may already have for this application deployment to use as a basis to get a handle on the tasks you need to examine.  First, you may want to have the workflow be approved by someone.  Then, you may want to start by deploying all of the NFS volumes.  After deploying the NFS volumes, you can deploy your virtual servers.  After the servers have been successfully deployed, you will want to mount each of the individual volumes to the server they belong to, and the shared volume to all servers.  Finally, you may want to do one final reboot of the severs in a timed manner to ensure the servers come online in the proper order.  When you break down the tasks, getting your head around your automation requirements can become a lot easier.

You Gotta Keep Em Automated!
These are just a few examples I came up with.  I’m sure if you think of your day to day activities, whatever they may be on the network, storage, server, or desktop side, you can come up with a couple of quick wins to get started with.  Remember, every step you take, even by automating the smallest tasks, is a step in the right direction!

Song of the Day – The Offspring – Come Out and Play (Keep ‘em Separated)

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