The Stack Archive Expert View

Automation a critical part of your cloud strategy

Tue 25 Jul 2017 | Malgorzata Zabieglinska–Lupa | Piotr Kopeć

Where there is IT, there is automation, and it affects everything including infrastructure, platforms and services. There’s no way to turn back the tide of “automate everything”, as it’s a process that helps to simplify the management of private, public and hybrid cloud environments. Piotr Kopeć, Cloud Engineer at Comarch ICT, shared his views and tips about ongoing cloud automation trends.

Małgorzata Zabieglińska-Lupa: As someone who keeps a close eye on developments, I would like to ask about your findings, conclusions, and the trends that will influence the industry in the coming months. What role does automation play in cloud management today? How do you see that changing in the next few years?

Piotr Kopeć: Efficient cloud management without good automation tools is impossible. In order to meet customer requirements, cloud configuration, updates and troubleshooting needs to happen fast. To do that, a good automation framework needs to be developed and, to some degree, integrated with monitoring systems. Ansible and Puppet are currently the most popular automation tools used to manage distributed cloud environments by both private cloud operators and DevOps engineers. I think that Kubernetes will change the way we manage clouds. From the cloud operator’s point of view, running the cloud’s control plane on top of Kubernetes can speed up cloud upgrades and minimize downtime For DevOps engineers, Kubernetes will provide a common API to run and maintain applications on multiple cloud environments with the same set of tools.

Małgorzata Zabieglińska-Lupa: Constant innovation is one of the keys to any successful business operation, and automation is the best example of innovation in business. Until now, IT automation has been used rather opportunistically, but in the next five years implementation will become proactively systemic implementation. What will the future of cloud automation bring? How do you think cloud automation will evolve?

Piotr Kopeć: I think that much development of cloud automation tools will be focused around containers. Kubernetes, supported by Google, has a chance to become the de facto IT standard for managing both private cloud control planes and customers applications running in containers.

Małgorzata Zabieglińska-Lupa: Automation can help to improve and manage your IT systems, and optimize cloud usage from start to finish. We can see that automation is the next revolution in IT. Do you see a future for automation as a service? Why or why not?

Piotr Kopeć: Automation as a service is an interesting part of cloud computing ecosystems, and will, in my opinion, continue to grow. Software development teams have been using automation services offered by cloud computing providers to automate the testing, building and deployment of applications in clouds. Utilizing those services minimizes time to market and increases overall productivity of software development teams. However, automation services are not only for automating IT processes. Technologies such as Microsoft’s Flow or IFTTT (If This Than That) allows business process to be automated, and, as cloud adoption continues, I think, we will see the growth of such ICT services that will be accessible for small and medium-sized enterprises. IoT is another rapidly growing trend that will drive the development of automation as a service. Distributed architecture of IoT environments will surely benefit from robust automation frameworks that allow the easy integration of various APIs and management of a large number of microservices. 

Małgorzata Zabieglińska-Lupa: IT automation delivers many benefits to busy IT teams, so it’s very easy to see the positive side of cloud automation. But what are main challenges of cloud automation today?

Piotr Kopeć: The main challenge is the diversity of cloud APIs, especially for companies that use both public and private clouds. The lack of common API makes development and maintenance of automation tools more expensive and time-consuming. Kubernetes partially solves the problem, but only for container workload. Very often, separate automation tools have to be developed to manage virtual machines on different platforms.

Małgorzata Zabieglińska-Lupa: With so many choices, it’s an extremely difficult task to identify the best opportunities for automation, and to implement automation tools correctly in order to achieve goals. What are the biggest mistakes companies make during automation implementation?

Piotr Kopeć: Problems with automation are often related with cloud adoption. According to Thomas J. Bittman, Garner analyst, 95% of his respondents’ various problems are with their private clouds deployments. Among the most important were automation problems (doing too little) and choosing the wrong technologies. I think that these problems are also encountered when migrating to public clouds. Clouds are more than just virtualization, and it is very important to automate both business and IT processes. This is a very difficult task, but the growing presence of microservice architecture in enterprise software facilitates it to a great extent. Choosing the correct technologies is another important factor. An automation framework needs to be easy to maintain, compatible with various cloud APIs, and open to extensions.

Małgorzata Zabieglińska-Lupa: To close, I would like to ask you which single breakthrough or technology you believe will dominate on the automation market? 

Piotr Kopeć: That would be a container orchestrator. We have seen the rapid adoption of containers thanks to Docker, so growing interest in tools like Kubernetes is a natural follow-up. We should remember that a large number of applications are still running on virtual machines, so we need a common API layer for public and private clouds. However, I don’t think we’ll see this anytime soon.

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