We’re Automating! What to do?

I am delighted, you have decided to automate your “applications|process|infrastructure”. I’ve been automating since the mid-90’s.

Your cloud is already automated ….. of course. ( It is, isn’t it? )

So where do you start?

Do you choose to use Chef, Puppet or even HP CSA and get writing some code. Or shall we pause for breath and consider what to do carefully?

Don’t stop but I recommend pausing, pausing is a good option.

There are many ways to tackle the task at hand so I will share some of the options.

Note: automation and standardisation go hand in hand. Work out the common patterns, valid and illegal configurations and address those. It is not necessary or desirable to solve every problem when automating but focus on your needs and application landscape.

And it really doesn’t matter which tool you use – make a selection based on your use case and your organisations ability to adopt. A domain specific language (DSL), script or PowerShell or a packaged solution – it doesn’t matter provided it fits with your organisation. You will ultimately end up with policy setters who are highly skilled in the tooling and users who consume the policies.

Anyway – onto approaches.

1) Take a vertical approach and iterate to ensure you deliver 100% of one product. Bear in mind that with most applications you will need to choreograph actions i.e. build one server followed by another or start process B after A. So automating 100% of a n-tier application will need orchestration – and to do this you will need more than Chef.

2) Take a horizontal approach and cover one aspect of your operation – historically this would have been something you may have done to address a patch management problem or perhaps deploying an agent technology like backup. Again, consider carefully whether patching (OS) is core or whether containers or images can help you to solve this problem in another manner.

3) Go passive. This will very much depend on the technology you have chosen to automate with. You may have an option to deploy an agent in a read only mode. This can be invaluable but emerging ‘convergence-centric’ tools like Chef are not appropriate for this approach. You need something that does discovery AND probably compliance.

Passive allows you to gather data on your estate in order to gather metrics or identify problems (think compliance) so that you can tackle your problems systematically. Metrics are crucial so this has some real merit.

4) Look at operational metrics and….
– automate the task that you do most often and which already has a ‘run-book’
– automate the task that costs most time|effort
– automate the task that only Joe knows how to do
– take on the issue that costs most downtime or is the highest revenue

(separate blog on this)

5) Tackle one task and automate every single aspect of it. The ports, virtual hosts, primary and secondary controllers for a specific agent. Or perhaps automate until you have achieved 80% of the use cases.

Consider automating Oracle deployments as an example. Should you extend this to include RAC, all of the RAC pre-requisites, every conceivable RAC configuration option?

6) Bite it all off and get everyone automating!
Please don’t do this, at-east not until you have thought long and hard.

So know you have some ideas you really need to start thinking about the metrics; they are core to your success. Actually the only way you will know you have been successful is by gathering and using metrics.

Post script:

Other thoughts you must consider:

– How to upgrade a service and keep within your SLA
– How to upgrade a service
– incremental change (does my tool replace or update my configs)
– hard cases (schema, brokers) XML
– giving users access to your tooling; as a user, to set policy

– can you treat infrastructure and apps the same

– do you create a team specifically focused on automating, configuration management or DevOps


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