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Can it be Self Service without Automation?

Leading IT shops like to have a single pane of glass that is the IT storefront to all employees.  This is a very noble goal.  Having worked at a few large companies this is indeed a moving target as supporting the end user employee can mean a lot of different entry points, contexts and presentation technologies.  When it comes to have a central location for ordering services it is very important to on board all of the employee based and data center services in a consistent fashion.   Some of the key use cases include employee on boarding (and off boarding), virtual desktops, virtual machines and physical servers in the datacenter and access to applications.  Typical IT departments may have several hundred orderable services, many of which are bundled (think of employee on boarding).

Interestingly some organizations first drive towards a common catalog and then automate what they can afterwards.  At first you can take orders through the service catalog and then work the tasks to fulfill the request through manual process tracking.  Alternatively I have seen some shops say that they will only put services in the catalog that can be automated.  Then there are all the intermediate cases.  Organizations deploying automated request management have many issues to consider and standards to be set.

Can we declare victory when a process is mostly manual but yet orderable from a catalog in four clicks?  Perhaps…

Your end users are happy.  They can see where their request is in the process flow.  Kind of like going to fedex.com and seeing where that DVD is on its journey to your house.   But that package took 3 days to traverse its journey.

Considered an automated fulfillment or provisioning process.  In my above analogy, you are no longer dealing with DVDs shipping to your house but on demand video streaming.  A simple click sets into motion many automated processes that deliver the movie to your device.  For end user services this means your remote access is provisioned with a simple click, your Linux server and application stack is delivered in less than 15 minutes for use.  Key to making that happen is a full automated process.  Is that achievable in all cases?  Perhaps….

In most cases what we are provisioning requires a northbound API (an programming interface above the fulfillment system) to accomplish the instantiation of the service.  Oftentimes, in legacy environments the target system is so dated or under invested-in that an API does not exist.   It is pretty hard to automate a process that can only occur through a human interfacing with the system.

People ask me the question:  So What? We have found that by automating processes we can save on average 30% of the process cost.   Multiply that by tens of thousands of requests and it will really add up.

Investing in Self Service requires investing in automation and in some cases, wrapping an API around a legacy environment in order to get the desire result:  IT as a Service, delivered at the speeds needed by  our end users.

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Part 1: 10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management

This part 1 of the series “10 Things Vmware Server Admins Should Know About Self-Service Catalogs and Lifecycle Management” that I’ll be publishing over the next few weeks--I hope! (The boy is nothing if not ambitious).

1. The service catalog is a tool for driving users to standard configurations.

To get the operational efficiencies we hope to achieve from virtualization and / or cloud computing, we need to establish standard configurations. This is tough, for a couple of reasons.

First, the challenge is the gap between the language of the customer, and the detail needed by the operations group typically generates a lot of back and forth during the “server engineering” process.  Instead of having “pre-packaged” configurations, every thing is bespoke.

Instead of having useful abstraction layers and levels, the customer has to invent their own little bit of the data center. This made sense when the new app meant a whole new hardware stack to which the app would be fused to and the concrete poured on it. It doesn’t make sense now.

Second,  there’s resistance from customers to adopt standard VM builds.  Sometimes the reasons are valid, other times less so. The issue arises because the technical configurations have not been abstracted to a level the user can understand what they get and what’s available for configuration.  Nor can they compare one template to another in ways that are meaningful to them.

The service catalog is the tool to help deal with these two obstacles.  The service catalog is a useful tool to communicate, in the language of the customer, the different options available from IT for hosting environments.

A service catalog will support multiple views (customer, technical, financial, etc) so that when the customer selects “small Linux” for testing, this generates both a bill of materials and standard configuration options.  Once that base is selected, self-service configuration wizards provide both guidance and gutter-rails so the customer is both helped to the right thing and prevented from making errors.

From this customer configuration, the environment build sheet is generated which will drive provisioning and configuration activities or to execute any policy automation in place.

And the catalog allows the VM admins to figure out what their “market” is buying; which is very useful for capacity planning.

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The not so hidden war: Private versus Public Cloud…

The cloud battle lines have been drawn out over the past 2-3 years.  Is your company getting your CRM from the public cloud?  Most definitely!  Does your IT shop use one site Service Desk tools or are they using a public cloud provider?  Maybe.  Did you click the button and put your music in the cloud.  Probably.

Many 10’s of billions of enterprise CAPEX and OPEX dollars are spent on enterprise compute and the tools to manage and automate that.  IT shops have a very difficult question:  Do I invest in building my own private cloud, or do I leverage the public cloud?   Many say that a well run private cloud can be cheaper, more secure, and more in tune with internal requirements.   Private and Public clouds are vying for your spend and mind share.  Who will this battle?  How much of a war is this?

Let’s understand that management and automation software has become just as important as your hardware selection as the key ingredient in your compute strategy.  This is a war over close to 100B dollars of enterprise and service provide spend.

There is indeed a 3rd player in this war:  a company and a service offer that is both pragmatic and in a leadership position.   I personally spent close to 6 years in the managed services business earlier in my career and every lesson I learned in managing on-premise, hosted, and private infrastructure for clients all pointed to the most pragmatic approach for how to address client needs:   Customer Choice.

News Flash:  CSC has selected and is deploying Cisco’s Intelligent Automation for Cloud as the cloud automation engine behind their on-premise private and public cloud offering running on VCE vBlock technology.  This is a significant market statement about where infrastructure as a service is going and how to get there.  Leveraging the lessons from Cisco IT usage of Intelligent Automation for Cloud (self service, catalog and orchestration) for private cloud management and automation and all the knowledge based best practices that our business unit has harvested over the past 10+ years of experience in automation in public and private clouds, CSC and Cisco and have joined forces in the war.  Many other service providers are as well.

If you would like the benefit of a private cloud, but want someone else to operate it, give CSC a call.  It will be an intelligent choice for Intelligent Automation from Cisco.

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What makes Cisco’s Intelligent Automation so Intelligent?

This is a must read for those who want to deeply understand the philosophy behind Cisco’s automation product portfolio

It should not be news to you that Cisco has invested in software products to drive the management and automation of clouds, datacenters, and applications.  Intelligent Automation is the name that we have for the management and orchestration solutions in the Intelligent Automation Solutions Business Unit in Cisco’s Cloud and Systems Management Technology Group.

What is so intelligent about Cisco’s automation products?  Besides the official marketing and product management answers, I polled our Business Unit and Advanced Services teams and got the following responses (which I distilled a bit).  Oh and by the way, one constraint was that we cannot use Intelligent in the definition of Intelligent Automation (harder than you might think).

The top winners for the best contributions are:  Oleg Danilov (Solution Architect), Mynul Hoda (Technical Leader), Peter Charpentier (Solution Architect), Frank Contrepois (Network Consulting Engineer) and Devendran Rethinavelu (QA Engineer).

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Begin your Journey to the Cloud with Cisco’s Cloud Starter Edition

Please be aware that this product is no longer sold.

As Jason Schroedl  announced, http://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/announcing-the-new-cisco-intelligent-automation-for-cloud-starter-edition Cisco’s Intelligent Automation Solutions Business Unit, in conjunction with the Unified Computing System has just announced a solution for customers of UCS and vCenter that want a Cloud Automation system that can perform both Physical and Virtual server provisioning.  It is called the starter edition for a reason.  We find that many customers are not sure what they want from their cloud and are looking for a great place to start.   This is not what I call the “starship enterprise” of clouds.  It is the first step that a company will take on their cloud journey.

See my previous blog for some key concepts of success cloud deployments:  http://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/five-things-that-successful-cloud-deployments-have-in-common/ and on my cloud owner manifesto for successful cloud builders: http://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/cloud-owner-manifesto-12-habits-of-successful-cloud-builders/ .

Let’s look at typical cloud deployments.

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