The PRAP approach to the automated data center

newnormalBack during my time as Joe Virtualization and storage administrator, many of the daily tasks I performed were done by hand. Storage LUNs were created in an ad hoc fashion, virtual machines were built from scratch or deployed from simple base templates, the processes were tracked via paper forms, or email requests. The entire operation was inefficient, time consuming, and required far more complexity than it should have.

Furthermore, as my environment grew from a few host systems to dozens, and from a handful of virtual machines to hundreds, I quickly realized that doing things by hand was not going to cut it.

It has been several years since I had to deal with day-to-day IT operations, but I still speak to and visit numerous customers across many business spectrums who had or still have the same challenges I did. They are hampered by time consuming process that lends itself to human error, a lack of agility, requirements for custom ad hoc changes, and great difficulty in dealing with the sprawling nature of their environments.

All of this is one of the reasons I’ve been fairly fascinated with the rise of DevOps over the course of the last few years, as well as the strong push toward automation in nearly all aspects of the data center. As such, I’ve come up with an acronym that can help lay out some of the basic concepts I believe can help IT organizations of all size as they transition away from many of the challenges of the past.

I call it the PRAP approach for automated management.

PRAP stands for:

I use this to help outline the means of achieving greater efficiencies for IT operations. One of the benefits being that this approach can span the main pillars of IT systems from storage, to virtual machine management and creation, to network provisioning.

Let’s lay out the four concepts in a little more depth.

Programmatic: Today’s API ecosystem is rich and diverse. It requires the ability for IT operations to leverage multiple tools in order to achieve positive outcomes. It’s simply not enough to offer a CLI for a customer to leverage; there needs to be a concentrated effort on the part of the vendor to illustrate the benefit and value of code as a tool for everyday operations.

Going a step further, exposing APIs may not be enough for some organizations with the need to integrate into a bigger tool bag that can offer well documented SDKs, support for multiple language tools such as Python/Java, and task automation tools like PowerShell.

Repeatable: The ability to repeat a process or proof point within IT operations is paramount to moving forward with an automated management approach in the data center. While speed and agility are outcomes we wish to achieve, they require reliable and repeatable methods that validate that the job(s) are accomplished correctly. Without consistent and repeatable outcomes, we lose our ability to provide an auditable record of activity.

Automated: My IT organization would have benefited greatly from the move toward automation sooner rather than later, and yes, we did move toward automating of many of the pain points I outlined above. More than just a means to make things easier, automation frees up considerable time and removes many of the roadblocks to an automated management approach to IT operations.

An entire business ecosystem has appeared in the last few years that address automation: Chef, Puppet, Ansible, and Salt, just to name a few, are all part of a growing and diverse approach to automating as many processes and actions as possible for various IT teams.

Policy-driven: The final concept may seem difficult to fully implement, but is potentially the most rewarding. The ability to drive IT operations via a flexible policy-driven approach will allow for speed and agility to be fully realized. By allowing IT operations and administration personnel the ability to manage the full spectrum of their IT solutions via policies that govern behavior, we pull all the hard work we have done above into a cohesive and concise means of achieving positive outcomes that enable truly automated management in the data center.

Watch my recent whiteboard video on automated management and PRAP, or read more of our blog posts on the Next Generation Data Center.

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