Overcoming the 4 Critical Challenges of IT Operations

Why Isn't IT Operations Getting Any Easier?

Over the years, IT has become a major time and money investment for businesses. Some analysts trace the increased interest back to the recession and the enduring need to rein in IT expenditures. Others see it as a sign of the critical importance of IT to today's businesses. And still others see IT Operations as playing a central role in effectively leveraging cloud computing.

In some business sectors — telecommunications, transportation/logistics, communications, financial services — IT Operations has, in effect, become the business. In these sectors, a company's products or services are marketed, sold, delivered, and serviced/supported through the use of IT. Today, just about every organization relies on software for their business processes - software that must be created or acquired, tested, deployed, maintained, and regularly updated.

Recently, businesses have focused on streamlining and simplifying IT Operations through the cloud, as well as with new tools to quickly test and deploy applications. But despite these efforts, IT Operations is held back with labor intensive manual tasks, making it slow to react, inflexible, and costly. Gartner believes the persistence of inefficient IT Operations due to people and process failures results in more than 40% of all mission-critical IT service outages. More specifically, over 50% of these are IT Operations problems that can be attributed to the lack of coordination amongst change, release, and configuration management.

For Gartner, this becomes clear in something as central as deployment of a business critical application. Here, production testing can easily become a complicated and lengthy process, sometimes taking months to cycle through the various aspects of testing. Even a patch to an OS would need to be tested against the applications and databases that might be running on that system. Subsequently, that change would then need to be tested against the broader business process or service. This delay is exacerbated by the complexity of scripts that are run to manage the installation. As Gartner notes, the scripts are often one-offs, and are not managed in a centralized fashion to ensure script integrity. Every developer has his or her own approach to scripting, which results in a lack of consistency. Trying to adjust one script for different installation activities can result in a broken script or a script that doesn't scale.

The consequence is that even as companies increasingly rely on IT Operations as the very heartbeat of their business, IT is struggling to meet its new and ever-more critical missions.

In short, IT Operations is not getting any easier or more efficient.

4 Drivers of IT Cost and Complexity

It should be no secret as to what is behind the challenges organizations face in trying to bolster and streamline IT Operations. The big four- cloud, analytics, mobile, and social - have emerged as the most pivotal game-changing technology trends that are significantly changing the way businesses operate.

Regardless of the priority businesses assign to these trends, they are compelling organizations to address the increasing complexity of IT Operations.

Massive Scalability Requirements

Traffic volumes are surging, the number of transactions being handled is escalating. In response, organizations are throwing more networking and processing at the demand in a desperate attempt to keep up with the growth. They are virtualizing resources wherever they can, spinning up more resources to meet the increasing demand.

New and Different Demands

IT operations is facing more new and different demands almost everywhere it turns. High volumes of systems/apps, users, and data, as well as more applications and different types of applications, more and different users (mobile users initiating transactions that draw on multiple servers in multiple locations), and more and different data (transaction data, unstructured social data, mobile data, machine-to-machine data, metering).

Multiple and Diverse Platforms, Tools, Devices

Not just Windows or Linux, but smartphones and tablets, iOS, Android, and a variety of devices (appliances, each with its own tools and management models). And with the emergence of BYOD, there is no letup in sight.

Continuous Operations, Unrelenting and Frequent Changes

Release cycles are as short as a few weeks. Organizations can't wait months to enhance capabilities because by the time they make the change, their competitors will already have put out something new. Agile methodologies almost seem antiquated; DevOps is the way organizations have to respond or risk being left behind.

The combination of cloud, analytics, mobile, and social movements ensures that the role of IT Operations will keep getting harder, not easier … unless something is done.

Four Critical Challenges Continue to Complicate IT Operations

Internally Developed and Platform-Specific Management Tools

  • Multiple tools are deployed for a specific system at a certain point in time and prove inadequate when things change or scale.
  • Homegrown scripts, often undocumented, and platform-specific tools are designed to manage specific server management issues and result in forcing organizations to deploy and maintain multiple solutions.
  • Without a comprehensive automation solution, administrators spend too much time on configuration and management of multiple tools, rather than attending to higher level tasks.

IT Automation

  • Teams are charged with a broad range of processes requiring automation:
  • from system administration, updates, and user account management to provisioning of virtualized systems and managing employee desktop and collaboration systems.
  • Solutions typically tackle a select group of these processes, making it difficult to efficiently automate all of the operational processes.

Server Proliferation

  • Heterogeneous combinations of multiple on-premise, virtual, and cloud computing environments complicate the automating and monitoring of cross-platform workloads.
  • Virtual and cloud computing platforms may come equipped with their own native job schedulers and administrator tools, resulting in inefficient silos of automation that impede the dynamic management of datacenter-wide workloads.

DevOps and Application Release Automation (ARA)

  • Multiple teams leverage scripting for the automation and management of build and release processes.
  • Separate IT Operations and datacenter teams handle the provisioning and management of the underlying infrastructure resources on which these applications reside.
  • Disparate automation tools represent silos of automation that erect barriers to the core concepts of DevOps resulting in delayed deployment.

These four challenges ultimately represent one problem - the automated solutions don't cover enough of the problem. The tools currently in place by IT operations don't play well with other applications and systems, and are costly and inefficient to deploy, maintain, learn, and use.

As a result, organizations wind up with a myriad of ineffective tools that require patching and manual workarounds in an attempt to make them work together.

What's more problematic is that as soon as you get things to work with these multiple point solutions, it all has to change due to the dynamic and changing nature of the modern IT environment.

Redefining IT Automation

The forces that are driving IT Operations today and the challenges IT faces are inexorably pushing organizations into some form of continuous dev and deploy approach. Organizations like Fieldglass and Ignite are already experiencing the pressures of having to change and deploy their systems more quickly and with greater efficiency.

Many organizations, however, still try to follow the more traditional build and deploy processes, but find they don't work. As Gartner notes, IT organizations have quarterly or semi-annual release cycles for major applications due largely to application constraints limiting the potential for downtime.

In addition, testing limitations play a role in the regulation of rollouts. For complex, businesscritical applications, production testing sometimes takes months to cycle through. Delays are common, often exacerbated by the mostly manual build, test, and deploy process involving multiple tools that don't work well together. However, integrated release automation solutions, starting with an automated scheduler, can eliminate many delays and automate the build and deploy (DevOps) processes.

ActiveBatch provides just the solution. ActiveBatch allows IT organizations to automate existing operations and develop and deploy new workflows faster and more reliably without having to depend on scripts or platform-specific-scheduling tools. What separates ActiveBatch from other IT automation solutions is its ability to remove the need for custom scripting with its innovative Integrated Jobs Library. The Integrated Jobs Library provides hundreds of production-ready templated Job Steps designed to simplify key business and IT operational processes. These templated Job Steps simplify the integration of various applications, databases, and technologies, and also include loading web services, stored procedures, .Net Assemblies, managed file transfers, and more by minimizing or eliminating the use of custom scripts.

This level of integration goes far beyond job scheduling per se. It delivers a fully architectural approach to traditional batch job scheduling, as well as the more robust workload automation solution. The architectural approach enables organizations to consolidate a variety of diverse task and platform-specific tools, eliminating barriers to automating cross-platform and crossdepartmental processes.

That is what drove Fieldglass to ActiveBatch. Over the years, the number of environments had grown alongside the company.

Where once the Fieldglass team relied on a mix of point tools, scripting, and manual intervention to execute tasks, it now relies on automated processes controlled by ActiveBatch. This removes uncertainty from the environment.

Ignite Technologies turned to ActiveBatch to automate and run its data center and other key processes. Between monitoring critical business processes and managing the upkeep of the datacenter, ActiveBatch has become a mission-critical automation solution for Ignite; so much so that the company invested in the ActiveBatch Non-Cluster Failover, which keeps a secondary job scheduler in standby mode so that jobs are executed and completed on schedule in the event of a failure of the primary job scheduler.

ActiveBatch's Integrated Jobs Library interface is the key. It allows users to drag-and-drop Job Steps into organized workflows that integrate business and IT operational processes without the need for scripting. It also extends this functionality through production-ready Job Steps for numerous third-party applications and databases, allowing organizations to tailor their ActiveBatch implementation to their IT environment, while lowering the overall total cost of operations (TCO).

Businesses are using ActiveBatch to handle a wide variety of automated processes including:

  • Build and automate business and IT processes into unified workflows
  • Automate processes and manage resources based on SLAs and other business requirements
  • Deliver self-service automation to better align IT and business
  • Manage virtual and cloud environments with new levels of automation
  • Automate build and deploy (DevOps) processes to eliminate delays

And ActiveBatch does all this through a solution that can have you up and running from day one, giving you immediate cost savings.

Compelling Case for Modern IT Automation Tools

ActiveBatch provides the kind of automation organizations need as they increasingly follow a combination of DevOps concepts and rapid deployment. As it turns out, both roles today are blurring and organizations need to churn out builds and deploy them fast.

Mucahit Yavuz, release and patch manager, IT Operations at Turkiye Finans, a leading Middle East bank, reached the same conclusion: "Each time we had to make an update, a single mistake could block the execution of all other scheduled operations." As the job list grew and the jobs became more complex, the workload became increasingly risky. The company turned to ActiveBatch. Today, Turkiye Finans even uses ActiveBatch to schedule server maintenance, replacing many manual steps with a few automated steps from ActiveBatch's Integrated Jobs Library.

The four challenges to IT Operations are not going away. But a solution is available - flexible automation like that provided by ActiveBatch.