Most government IT managers grasp the concept of automation, the use of technology to perform a process or procedure without human assistance. However, do they really understand the role of automation, and how it can be applied to accelerate delivery and management of IT resources and applications, especially in this era of multi-clouds?

Cloud automation is a broad term that refers to the processes and tools an organization uses to reduce the manual efforts associated with provisioning and managing cloud computing workloads. But not all clouds, and for that matter automation tools, are the same. To be effective, cloud automation platforms must have a policy-based, governance model.

“The goal of automation is to accelerate the end-to-end delivery and the management of infrastructures and applications,” said Bill Rowan, vice president of Federal Sales with VMware.  At the same time, it is ensuring that users are getting the right size and resources, or applications, at the service levels they need to perform their job or mission.”

With policy-based automation, the automation process tells an application how much resource it needs and how much resource it will be given. If the server workload reaches a certain percentage, the automation process gives a user more compute, storage, or network resources, Rowan noted.

“It gives you [the agency manager] a governance model that is based on policy, not what Joe thinks he wants to buy,” Rowan continued. “That is going to ensure better security, compliance, and speed to mission to protect the data.” By rightsizing, or matching applications with the resources needed, agencies can also reduce operational costs and direct resources to other workloads.

Five to seven years ago, enterprise and government users of IT would overprovision for the computing and storage resources they needed for their applications. They would reason that they needed room for growth, and didn’t know if they would get more funding. So often, resources–computing, storage, and networking–were overprovisioned for what the application needed.

The trend toward the use of multiple clouds is increasing in both businesses and government, and cloud providers have their strengths in certain applications, including cloud automation.

To that end, Rowan advises agencies to look for cloud automation platforms that support multiple cloud providers, support a robust ecosystem of tools, and have extensible APIs to integrate with other products and platforms.

More government agencies are implementing automation as they transition to agile, IT infrastructures, noted Peter Kersten, regional vice president of Federal Sales with networking vendor F5. According to an F5 survey that included 287 government respondents worldwide, 73 percent said the use of automation in the operation of IT infrastructure is “somewhat” or “very” important. Sixty-two percent are using automation to realize leaner IT with the goal of reducing operation and maintenance expenses.

The key to implementing automation across an IT infrastructure is synchronization of the network operations and DevOps teams, Kersten noted. Organizations can automate and make things scale, but in doing so can weaken their security profile. “Any cloud is going to have tools to enable you to do things easily, but unless you do them thoughtfully, you are going to increase your risks,” Kersten said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs