Automation – How Vendors Use this Buzzword

For arago as a small vendor and as a company servicing larger providers it is always a good idea to keep track of the big players and add that extra innovation and quality that makes a difference to the customer. This post will share some of our insight on how the big four vendors of IT service management deal with “automation” in their product portfolio.

To keep you from thinking we are out of our minds going against vendors like HP or BMC I can safely say that we work together very well with e.g. IBM and that none of the big four has anything close to our IT autopilot. In fact the big vendors seem to aim more at building tools for technical staff. Following this sentiment most automation tools from these vendors take some tedious task and drastically reduce the number of keystrokes you need to perform it with their tools. This approach is commonly sold as automation. Rightfully so, because some manual effort is performed by the machine after the tools are properly implemented. Another main feature of such tools is guiding the actions performed by IT service management staff by enforcing policies or providing runbooks and thus reducing the margin of error. But with all these tools the brainwork is still done by the guys sitting in front of the screens. IT experts only get a park of instruments to play on, rather than something that will play the basic rhythm and the background music automatically, letting them focus on playing the lead instrument. The autopilot approach as used by us and as described before provides for the intelligence that plays the background music on all available instruments. The only larger vendor I have come across putting some of the brainwork into their tools is EMC with its intelligent root-cause analysis platform SMARTS (now EMC Ionix Operations Intelligence).

So let us take a look at the product portfolios of the big four vendors in IT service management – BMC, ca, HP and IBM – and how they deal with the “automation” buzzword:


Table 1: Big Four - Automation Tools

 The concept of automating a single “kind of task” at a time automatically leads to many facets of automation. So there are many different “kinds of automation” on the IT service management tool market right now and many of the ITSM experts keep talking about these different automation concepts as a kind of baseline. There are for example ff0000;">data center automation000000;">, runbook automation000000;">, process automation etc. 

 Table 1 shows what tools from the big four vendors support which kind of automation approach. I will not go into philosophic descriptions on the different kind of automation. You may follow the links and take a look at some of the blogs I read where intelligent guys have wrung out their brains to come up with a definition. You can however see that you will need quite a few tools when you are trying to automate everything possible. You can clearly see who is hunting which buzzword with their latest acquisition or newest product. Every vendor except CA has focused their efforts and put or is currently putting a lot of work towards integrating their solutions. ca has acquired a zoo of very good tools and thus has the ability to provide any kind of automation tool approach. It is viable to ask about the outstanding integration aspects however.

Big Four - ITIL Support

Table 2: Big Four - ITIL Support

 As looking at buzzwords usually makes my eyes hurt, let us take a look at the actual work that is done in IT operation from an ITIL point of view. The operational processes at the core of ITIL v3 (and V2) are Incident Management and Problem Management as reactive processes, Capacity Management and Availability Management as proactive processes and Change Management as the only way to modify the IT currently in service. As automation should focus on taking all or at least some of this operational workload we have looked at the same vendors and checked which tools you need to support each of these processes that make up the everyday life of IT service management staff – see table 2. You can see that in order to support all your operational processes with automation approaches you will need the whole park of instruments to play on. I have come across many companies trying to minimize the risk of vendor lock-in by supporting different parts of their operational processes with tools from different vendors. Well, this is replacing the risk of vendor lock-in b the risk of bad integration plus it is giving away all the thought some of the brightest engineers have put into integrating one vendor´s portfolio.

In my opinion, if you really just want the instruments to play your IT service management band all by hand, you should at least get the instruments that are delivered in tune. But if you want better results, you should only play the lead instruments and leave the background music to a machine – that itself plays the instruments available. If you have this machine (the autopilot and/or other more solutions that do some brainwork), integration becomes a 2nd tier problem and you can go along with a heterogenious toolset. As there is no legislation concerning the working conditions for machines, there is no problem in bothering such a machine with sub optimal inter-vendor integration. The reaction speed of the autopilot will make up for the few extra steps needed to bring tools from different vendors into tune.

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