Solving Information Technology Challenges With Automation Enablement
In this case study
Twenty-first century network infrastructure has become critical to every aspect of our lives when managing an application, while at the same time becoming exponentially more complex. Information technology (IT) organizations responsible for designing and maintaining these key systems face many challenges, any one of which has the ability to interrupt key services that impact availability and performance.
Any changes made to such complex systems come with inherent risk in which can impede forward progress, limiting or eliminating the chance of success. These core areas of focus are key targets for what is known in the industry as "automation and orchestration of automation."
This group of technologies is not a cohesive product that can be purchased, plugged in and automatically run complex network systems. Rather, it is a design pattern aimed at specific problem domains within IT. Both automation and orchestration come with their own complexities and challenges, however, and companies often struggle with how to implement them effectively. It is not just the technology which has to change, it is the mindset of the IT practitioner as well.
As a result of the specialized skillsets needed at the highest levels of technology, insular responsibility domains have been a standard business practice. While teams organized in this manner are often necessary to deliver predictable business outcomes, it limits cross-team collaboration and distracts focus from the broader goals of the organization. This results in inefficiencies due to internal constraints that are difficult and costly to overcome.
Some of these constraints include extensive test and approval processes for open source software, complicated integrations with existing systems and unwieldy tools which are not modular enough to facilitate cooperation. Success in an environment full of such roadblocks is difficult to attain.
Lack of network infrastructure automation and orchestration skillsets present another challenge to organizations. It is critical that IT staff have the opportunity to learn, develop and practice these new skills in a transient environment, free from compliance constraints — an ephemeral environment that is safe and isolated from production.
In hopes of overcoming these challenges, organizations are trying to identify and automate those small and repetitive tasks which will provide immediate value, as well as gain confidence to move forward in the larger production environment. Small wins allow organizations to gain confidence in both the systems and the methodologies people use to train and run the new systems. Small steps completed successfully allow for larger strides as part of the automation journey.
How do organizations adapt to make efficient use of these newly developed automation workflows? How do people adapt to develop a collaborative culture across teams? Corporate culture and the shift that has to occur in the workflow process is a larger challenge than the technology itself and is often more difficult to address.
The success story
WWT has been collaborating with one of the world's largest aerospace companies to help define their automation strategy. Approaching the initiative from two different angles, top-down with the focus on people and processes and bottom-up with a focus on technology, and utilizing our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) is yielding significant success. The data obtained from both approaches has allowed this organization to insert automation into their current-state and scale based on relevant use cases to realize a future-state.
These disparate teams saw immediate success by selecting a use case that is easy to implement and highly impactful (as identified from value stream mapping data) to drive some success, but also included multiple groups to enable a common output. Standardization of configuration data managed and maintained in source control as an approach is revolutionizing the enablement of teams by abstracting the complexity of device configuration and allowing for better business alignment.
The multiple groups included in this first workflow realized the immediate value of cross-team communication and a focus on a common business-level goal. A weekly working meeting with experts from WWT and the client, as well as key technology providers, provided a forum to discuss, discover and decide the path forward collaboratively.
Leveraging the ATC and knowledge of implementing a scalable automation platform that extends into functional areas such as central management, application services, compute, storage and network infrastructure, an organization can evolve to deploy services with speed and agility.
WWT offers short-lived virtual topologies to augment internal lab environments while eliminating the frequent bureaucratic constraints which exist in larger organizations. We combine these labs with the services of a lab guide, a mentor and a shared central code repository to allow customers to take advantage of agile software development principles.
The ATC provided a delivery mechanism for the labs that offered a lower barrier to entry and an optimal lab access experience to this, as well as other, WWT clients. It also provided a non-production learning area for the teams to try out solutions to their real-world problems. Piloting this with cross-functional teams made up of industry experts in each technology area allowed us to demonstrate success in an environment separate from the customer's production network, increase the speed-to-value realization of the solution and ultimately package the solution for lift-and-shift production deployment.
While automation technology is complex, and the methods used to both implement and run it are themselves as complex as the problems they solve, using WWT's services allowed this company to move much faster, and with a higher success rate, than their peers without this level of support.
This solution required several key engineering teams from both WWT and the client to meet weekly, teaching, practicing and reinforcing key automation concepts using the ATC labs; educating engineers at a tactical level is critical to the success of any automation solution. Combining an advanced lab, a lab guide and an experienced mentor provided the ideal environment to build confidence and capabilities they can apply to production.
This enablement offering can assist all of our clients in building successful processes around automation with a "Fail Fast" mindset. Whether you are just starting out or are in the midst of a full lift-and-shift migration from legacy operations to fully automated and orchestrated workflows, utilizing the ATC labs will accelerate your time-to-value and guarantee successful outcomes for both your IT teams and the businesses they enable.