More CIOs than ever are moving their data centers to the cloud. Some have decided to maintain their on-premises data centers and move cloud-first with all new deployments, while others are moving more aggressively to all-cloud and are retiring on-premises hardware and software as quickly as possible. Both types of enterprises also are working to automate as much as they can to not only cut costs, but also improve their user satisfaction and the productivity of their organization though higher efficiencies.
Aater Sulemen, co-founder and CEO of Flux7, a DevOps and cloud consulting firm, is an expert in hardware architecture and performance optimization, and has spent more than 10 years working with cloud. He calls that hyper-automation “self-driving IT.” This push-button IT works much the same way many expect self-driving cars to work in the not-so-distant future: Push a button, summon a car, instruct it where you want to go and it takes you there.
In this view, when business users wants an app, a database or even more infrastructure, they reach out and request it. They fill out a form, the system determines the proper security and governance policies that should control such systems and data, they push a button, and it’s delivered.
And rather than IT enforcing these rules manually, developers build the right tools to enable this, enabling developers to be autonomous. As the theory goes, technology gets deployed much more quickly, and when the systems are built properly, compliance and security are improved.
DevOps.com: What does “self-driving IT” mean to you?
Suleman: It’s about achieving successful DevOps through automation. It’s not about dictating rules, or what should be done, but making the processes associated with DevOps seamless.
Self-driving IT means that the business does not wait for developers or operations to get things done, and they don’t wait for each other. If someone needs something, from an application, to expanded infrastructure, to test and development environments, they should be able to push a button and get it done.
Self-Driving IT is a way of automating the repetitive events and all of the process overhead and the auditing and logging systems, when someone needs a new application or service they can just get it, and it’s ready. They don’t need to wait weeks, or longer, to provision the apps, storage, servers that they need. Just like a self-driving taxi, they call it and use it.
DevOps.com: What are some of the challenges that organizations face when moving to “self-driving IT?” themselves?
Suleman: There are known hiccups, and there are areas companies know how to smooth very well. Typically, the hiccups within enterprises are in terms of skills necessary to essentially provision infrastructure and make infrastructure provisioning very automated. Then there are the skills needed to create the tests that need to be created, and the automation that can be done around that. We don’t see such a fundamental issue there. Usually the issue that people have is a skill-set issue—They don’t have the skills or the right mindset and place for building self-driving IT themselves.
I think, generally, most organizations run into trouble when they have to make major changes to the infrastructure and how they will support that. There are a lot of changes that need to be made, and they may not be ready.
In most cases, if you’re making such a major change that there is going to be a brand new infrastructure designed and built, organizations are going to need some guidance and support through that.
Another aspect here is that the infrastructure isn’t always the highest priority. So the focus isn’t always there to automate it. But when you need a database, you need a database. There’s no getting around it. So it’s a higher priority and it actually gets done, and the underlying change to the infrastructure that needs to get done to automate doesn’t get done.
DevOps.com: Where do you see this heading in a year to 18 months? Do you see more companies moving down the path to self-driving IT?
Suleman: That is a very interesting question. We have been having a lot of discussion around this very subject lately. There are actually two kinds of customer perspectives. There’s the, what I call, IT view of automation. So IT cares about, “I can create a server with one click, backups happen automatically and I don’t care what’s run inside the server, because to me, these are just boxes. I have 80 boxes on-premises and now I have 80 boxes in the cloud. And this is self-driven IT because I can press a button and spin up a new server.” That’s a fair definition from an IT perspective.
This is where the continuous integration/continuous delivery and (CI/CD) becomes interesting. When you wear your DevOps hat is when you see that there’s a whole new world inside those boxes. Well, what IT likes to think as boxes. And self-driving IT now has a whole new meaning: code deploy, configuration management, patch management … the stuff that is inside the virtual machines becomes very different.
A new class of customers has started emerging. This is as recent as early this year. They used to think of virtual machines as boxes. “I don’t know and don’t care what’s in there. What I care about is I have a box in the cloud,” they’d think. And now they have evolved to just wanting to move huge segments of their enterprise to cloud.
We’re actually working with a lot of this right now. It’s not DevOps, because it’s automated Ops. This is a new level of discussion; this isn’t an app team moving to the cloud or modernizing. It’s CIOs calling and saying that they don’t want to build another data center, that they want 5,000 virtual machines migrated.
DevOps.com: That’s fascinating. This sounds like it’s the natural evolution of cloud and DevOps?
Suleman: Exactly. To us, self-driving IT has been synonymous like cloud, just like DevOps is. In fact, cloud has always been means to achieve DevOps, and CI/CD and configuration management follows. Now it’s a different mindset. They’re looking for a way to not deal with the servers. So, now what is happening is, when it’s time for a refresh, they are either going to call a hardware provider and ask for 5,000 boxes, or they’re going to decide to move to the cloud. And if they have a tight deadline, like under a year or six months, they don’t have enough time to “DevOpsify” 500 applications. They end up wanting a one-to-one migration, so that they don’t have to invest in a new data center or upgrade their current data center.
It’s a very interesting conversation, and it’s front and center with a lot of enterprises now.