One of the first jobs I had when I started in IT was as the IT administrator for a dot.com startup. IT admin at a smaller company like that was typically an umbrella term used to describe a one-man IT department, which is essentially what I was.
The company was growing exponentially—both in terms of customers and revenue, as well as traffic to our website. What that meant for me was a steady stream of UPS shipments from Dell, and a virtually full-time job of mounting servers on racks in the data center, getting them properly configured, and deploying them to the network.
Dealing with 50 or 100 hundred servers in 2000 was a daunting task, but dealing with hundreds or thousands of virtual servers in 2014 is—for all practical purposes—impossible. That is, it would be all but impossible doing things the old-fashioned way. However, the DevOps revolution changes the rules of the game because it uses code to do the heavy lifting, and automate those tasks which can be automated so the IT admins of today are free to engage in more productive tasks.
If we were still dealing in physical servers, the benefits of automation that you get in a DevOps environment would still not be possible. What allows so much of the traditional “racking and stacking” today to be automated is that we are dealing primarily with virtual servers. Although a virtual server may act like a server, and fulfill the same duties as a physical server, it is essentially just a software program. The fact that a virtual server is comprised of nothing more than code means that virtual servers can be created, configured, and deployed automatically through code as well.
It’s a good thing, too. The fast pace of a DevOps culture would be challenging to maintain without the efficiency of automation. The ability to create, provision, destroy, or move virtual servers around on a whim is part of what facilitates agile development and accelerated execution by DevOps teams.
There are also some adverse consequences of automation. People have lost their jobs in manufacturing plants as machines have come along to automate tasks they once performed. There is a risk that automating many of the routine tasks normally delegated to IT personnel could result in fewer people being necessary, but that is not a reason to not embrace automation. Automation enables people to develop more advanced skills and focus on more important tasks—those functions that can’t be easily automated.
One of the primary aspects of functioning in a DevOps environment is a faster development cycle, and more frequent deployments. Traditional organizations might deploy updates once a quarter, or once a month, but DevOps teams often deploy updates at least daily—sometimes multiple times per day. Automation reduces the possibility of error—it is a simple, repeatable process that works reliably and predictably.
A survey of DevOps Conference attendees published by JumpCloud and SoftLayer found that about 75 percent of the respondents use a configuration automation tool such as Puppet or Chef. More than half use scripts of some sort to execute tasks, and about one-third reported using a patching tool of some sort. Many of those surveyed admitted that they have the tools they need, but there simply isn’t enough time to get things done.
Perhaps that explains why 82 percent of survey respondents plan to automate more. Breaking the data down a little farther, nearly a third are looking to increase automation of configuration and deployment, and about 10 percent want to automate user management, and a variety of tasks like log management, scripting, testing, patching, and monitoring all came in around five percent or below.
It’s still possible to create virtual servers, and configure them manually one at a time. That may work if you’re bored, or nostalgic for the “good ole days” of IT, but it’s impractical, and frankly just dumb. It’s also possible to cut your lawn with a pair of scissors, or paint your walls with a Q-tip, but it is highly inefficient and ill-advised.
Don’t waste time and resources performing tasks that can be automated. Identify the functions you routinely perform that are consistent and repeatable, and embrace automation to take care of those things for you so you can focus on more important things.