The tools are viable and the payoff is real, but it's not happening because hardly anyone has the time or money to do it.
It's like exercising and eating better: You know you should do it, yet there's always something going on that prevents you from making it a priority. Data center automation has been on the minds of IT pros since the computer was invented, but as much as everyone knows it's needed, most of us never get around to implementing it.
What's remarkable is the degree to which we haven't implemented automation over the past two years, particularly given the deafening buzz about cloud this and cloud that. As we scrape off the marketing dross around cloud computing, what we're left with most of the time is outsourcing, and data center automation on top of virtualization.
However, we just reran our 2009 survey on data center automation, and the results are strikingly similar to what we got two years ago. In a nutshell, every IT organization does some automation; no one does as much as it would like. Both today and in 2009, 10% of survey respondents reported extensive use of automation. Today, 30% report significant use, down from 33% in 2009, while 42% report some use today, compared with 38% in 2009.
On the trended questions in our survey, it's hard to find responses that are significantly different today compared with two years ago. There was one, however. For those companies that weren't automating their data center operations, we offered a range of reasons and asked respondents to tell us the degree to which these factors affected their decision not to automate. At the top of the list: Other projects are a higher priority, and a lack of budget. Second to last on that list is a lack of ROI--the No. 2 reason not to automate in 2009--followed only by the technology not being mature enough.
So to paraphrase the results, it's now generally accepted that data center automation works, the tools are viable, and the payoff is real, but it's not happening because hardly anyone has the time or money to do it. This finding underscores a more general trend made worse by the recession: Tactical fire fighting has all but replaced strategic planning and implementation in many IT organizations. Where we do see new projects, they're often customer facing and intended to drive new business or improve customer engagement or data analysis.
There's no doubt that IT's job is ultimately to help drive the business forward. But if we just keep on adding functions and services to the same broken infrastructural management processes, sooner or later something will give, and when it does, it won't be pretty, and business and jobs will be lost because of it.
I'm not sure I have a viable solution. As resources get tight, one way top-priority projects get done is by an "all hands on deck" approach, particularly in midsize IT organizations. For some, it seems the only way they can move forward on anything.
For those groups, it's vital to carve out resources, budget, and people who are immune to the needs of the project of the day, and who can simply work to make IT function better. Unfortunately, it's not the sort of structure most CIOs can pull off by themselves. It takes line-of-business and CXO involvement and agreement that a team focused on operational excellence is in the long-term best interests of the company.