Automation Tiers

The term “auto-mation” comes from “(ε)αυτός“, the Greek word for “self“. Automating the IT infrastructure means making it capable of fulfilling its purpose without human involvement.

In a 2015 report, Gartner talks about 3 IT automation tiers: IT tasks, IT services and IT processes. Gartner implies a linear progress from tasks to services and finally to processes. However, these 3 tiers are never static in real-life; they continuously evolve and align to each other. We will amend Gartner’s classification towards a continuous improvement model for automation in IT infrastructure:

  • Tier #1 – Automated IT Infrastructure Tasks. Automation targets specific tasks on infrastructure components, such as network, server, and storage. The components can differ from environment to environment. Automation is done through scripts or runbooks, and is siloed across components. Examples are scripts to create VMs, assign IP addresses, add IP address to DNS etc.
  • Tier #2 – Automated IT Infrastructure Services. Automation targets the coordination (orchestration) of multiple tasks to deliver and operate IT infrastructure services relying on multiple components. Examples are scripts to operate platform services, such as creating a new DB, which usually includes multiple tasks such as adding storage, giving access to users, configuring backup etc.
  • Tier #3 – Automated IT Infrastructure Processes. Processes refer to end-users of IT infrastructure. These are not necessarily IT or even technical people, and may have no knowledge of what is happening in IT for a specific business function. Process automation refers to the flow of actions required to fulfill a business purpose. For example, adding a new business partner means that network access should be configured, partner number assigned, applications and databases updated etc. Orchestrating these activities (some of which may be manual or not related to IT at all) in an automated process flow belongs to this tier.

automation-tiers

Automation Levels

There is no standard method of measuring the automation maturity in IT infrastructure. We can look for an analogue in simpler machines, such as cars, and follow the autonomous drive classification (see here). We can then talk about 5 automation maturity levels:

Level

Name

Description

0

No automation

Entirely manual operations

1

Sporadic uncontrolled scripts

Self-motivated system administrators write scripts to facilitate their work. No standards, no framework, escalating efforts to cope with unmanageable scripts.

2

Assisted Manual Operations

Operations are still manual, but operators are assisted by scripts and advanced tools for repetitive or complex infrastructure activities. The scripts are properly documented and maintained in a life-cycle management framework.

3

No direct human interaction

Operators do not manage the infrastructure directly. They don’t need to login to components (such as servers). All activities are scripted. There are IaC tools (Infrastructure as Code), which manage the configuration of all components.

4

System is controlled by automation

The infrastructure is fully virtualized and abstracted (see this post) and is operated by automation. Operators work only proactively. They may communicate with automation at a higher level, putting requests for the infrastructure. How, even if, the requests will be honored is decided by automation according to predefined laws and rules.

5

Fully Autonomous Operations

Human operators are not needed to operate the infrastructure! All activities related to the infrastructure are decided and executed by automation. Any modification to the infrastructure behavior is described with laws and rules.

Using these automation levels we can asses the automation maturity of a specific IT environment across all tiers described previously. In the end, we may use a radar diagram showing the complete automation maturity of IT infrastructure, as in the diagram below. The diagram refers to example processes, services and tasks – each environment has its own.

automation-maturity

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