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Podcast: How intelligent automation is transforming IT systems management

Machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities are moving traditional IT systems management into a new era of automation and optimization, bringing more control to complex multiplatform environments.

[Editor's note: This podcast was originally published Sept. 11, 2019.]

With IT environments growing more and more complex and demanding, traditional IT systems management is moving into a new era of intelligence-driven automation and optimization. New machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities, combined with a common management framework, are changing the face of how IT operations are bringing all the pieces together―with automation being key.

“The foundation of it begins with automation, because if you can automate, you become repeatable, consistent, and reliable, and those are all good in your data center,” says Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Doug de Werd. Automation also supports greater innovation and creativity, he says, because it frees organizations to focus on the business, enabling quicker releases and time to market, among other competitive advantages.

Looking forward, organizations will move toward autonomous computing, he adds, where new technologies will adjust compute, storage, and network capacity on the fly in a continuous optimization model.

Where is your company on its systems management journey? Join de Werd and host Dana Gardner for this HPE Voice of the Innovator podcast on how IT systems management is evolving, the technologies behind that, and what you can expect in the future.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of the Voice of the Innovator podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing discussion on the latest insights into hybrid IT management.

IT operators have for decades been playing catch-up to managing their systems amid successive waves of heterogeneity, complexity, and changing deployment models. IT management technologies and methods have evolved right along with the challenge, culminating in the capability to optimize and automate workloads to exacting performance and cost requirements.

Automation is about to get an AIOps boost from new machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities―just as multicloud deployments become more demanding.

Stay with us as we explore the past, present, and future of IT management innovation with a 30-year veteran of IT management, Doug de Werd, senior product manager for infrastructure management at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). Welcome, Doug.

Doug de Werd: Thanks, Dana. I’m glad to be here.

Gardner: Management in enterprise IT has for me been about taking heterogeneity and taming it, bringing varied and dynamic systems to a place where people can operate over more, using less. And that’s been a 30-year journey.

Yet heterogeneity these days, Doug, includes so much more than it used to. We’re not just talking about platforms and frameworks—we’re talking about hybrid cloud, multicloud, and many software-as-a-service applications. It includes working securely across organizational boundaries with partners and integrating business processes in ways that never have happened before.

With all of that new complexity, with an emphasis on intelligent automation, where do you see IT management going next?

Support DevOps, automation and IT management initiatives with a composable infrastructure ecosystem

Managing management 

Heterogeneity is known by another term, and that’s chaos. In trying to move from the traditional silos and tools to more agile, flexible things, IT management is all about your applications―human resources and finance, for example―that run the core of your business. There’s also software development and other internal things. The models for those can be very different, and trying to do that in a single manner is difficult because you have widely varying endpoints.

Doug de Werd, HPE

Gardner: Sounds like we are now about managing the management.

de Werd: Exactly. Trying to figure out how to do that in an efficient and economically feasible way is a big challenge.

Gardner: I have been watching the IT management space for 20-plus years, and every time you think you get to the point where you have managed everything that needs to be managed something new comes along. It’s a continuous journey and process.

But now we are bringing intelligence and automation to the problem. Will we ever get to the point where management becomes subsumed or invisible?

de Werd: You can automate tasks, but you can’t automate people. And you can’t automate internal politics and budgets and things like that. What you do is automate to provide flexibility.

But it’s not just the technology; it’s the economics and it’s the people. By putting that all together, it becomes a balancing act to make sure you have the right people in the right places in the right organizations. You can automate, but it’s still within the context of that broader picture. 

Gardner: When it comes to IT management, you need a common framework. For HPE, HPE OneView has been core. Where does HPE OneView go from here? How should people think about the technology of management that also helps with those political and economic issues?

de Werd: HPE OneView is just an outstanding core infrastructure management solution, but it’s kind of like a car. You can have a great engine, but you still have to have all the other pieces.

And so part of what we are trying to do with HPE OneView, and we have been very successful, is extending that capability out into other tools that people use. This can be into more traditional tools like with our Microsoft or VMware partnerships and exposing and bringing HPE OneView functionality into traditional things.

But it also has a lot to do with DevOps and the continuous integration development types of things with DockerChef, and Puppet―the whole slew of at least 30 partners we have.

That integration allows the confidence of using HPE OneView as a core engine. All those other pieces can still be customized to do what you need to do, yet you still have that underlying core foundation of HPE OneView.

Gardner: And now with HPE increasingly going to an as-a-service orientation across many products, how does management-as-a-service work?

Creativity in the cloud 

de Werd: It’s an interesting question, because part of management in the traditional sense―where you have a data center full of servers with fault management or break/fix such as a hard-drive failure detection―is you want to be close, you want to have that notification immediately.

As you start going up in the cloud with deployments, you have connectivity issues, you have latency issues, so it becomes a little bit trickier. When you have more up levels, up the stack, where you have software that can be more flexible, you can do more coordination. Then the cloud makes a lot of sense.  

Management in the cloud can mean a lot of things. If it’s the infrastructure, you tend to want to be closer to the infrastructure but not exclusively. So, there’s a lot of room for creativity.

Gardner: Speaking of creativity, how do you see people innovating both within HPE and within your installed base of users? How do people innovate with management now that it’s both on and off premises? It seems to me that there is an awful lot you could do with management beyond red light, green light, and seek out those optimization and efficiency goals. Where is the innovation happening now with IT management?

de Werd: The foundation of it begins with automation, because if you can automate you become repeatable, consistent, and reliable, and those are all good in your data center.

You can free up your IT staff to do other things. The truth is if you can do that reliably, you can spend more time innovating and looking at your problems from a different angle. You gain the confidence that the automation is giving you.

Automation drives creativity in a lot of different ways. You can be faster to market, have quicker releases, those types of things. I think automation is the key.

Gardner: Any examples? I know sometimes you can’t name customers, but can you think of instances where people are innovating with management in ways that would illustrate its potential?

Automation innovation

de Werd: There’s a large biotech genome sequencing company, with an IT group that is very innovative. They can change their configuration on the fly based on what they want to do. They can flex their capacity up and down based on a task―how much compute and storage they need. They have a very flexible way of doing that. They have it all automated, all scripted. They can turn on a dime, even as a very large IT organization.

And they have had some pretty impressive ways of repurposing their IT. Today, we are doing X and tonight we are doing Y. They can repurpose that literally in minutes versus days for traditional tasks.

Gardner: Are your customers also innovating in ways that allow them to get a common view across the entire lifecycle of IT? I’m thinking from requirements, through development, deployment, test, and continuous redeployment.

de Werd: Yes, they can string all of these processes together using different partner tools, yet at the core, they use HPE OneView and HPE Synergy underneath the covers to provide that real, raw engine.

By using the HPE partner ecosystem integrated with HPE OneView, they have that visibility. Then they can get into things like Docker Swarm. It may not be HPE OneView providing that total visibility. At the hardware and infrastructure level it is, but because we are feeding into upper-level and broader applications, they can see what’s going on and determine how to adjust to meet the needs across the entire business process.

Gardner: In terms of HPE Synergy and composability, what’s the relationship between composability and IT management? Are people making the whole greater than the sum of the parts with those?

de Werd: They are trying to. I think there is still a learning curve. Traditional IT has been around a long time. It just takes a while to change the mentality, skills sets, and internal politics. It takes a while to get to that point of saying, “Yeah, this is a good way to go.”

But once they dip their toes into the water and see the benefits―the power, flexibility, and ease of it―they are like, “Wow, this is really good.” One step leads to the next, and pretty soon they are well on their way on their composable journey.

Gardner: We now see more intelligence brought to management products. I am thinking about how HPE InfoSight is being extended across more storage and server products.

We used to access log feeds from different IT products and servers. Then we had agents and agent-less analysis for IT management. But now we have intelligence as a service, if you will, and new levels of insight. How will HPE OneView evolve with this new level of increasingly pervasive intelligence?

de Werd: HPE InfoSight is a great example. You see it being used in multiple ways, things like taking the human element out, things like customer advisories coming out and saying, “Such-and-such product has a problem,” and how that affects other products.

If you are sitting there looking at 1,000 or 5,000 servers in your data center, you’re wondering how I am affected by this? There are still a lot of manual spreadsheets out there, and you may find yourself pouring through a list.

Today, you have the capability of getting an [intelligent alert] that says, “These are the ones that are affected. Here is what you should do. Do you want us to go fix it right now?” That’s just an example of what you can do.

It makes you more efficient. You begin to understand how you are using your resources, where your utilization is, and how you can then optimize that. Depending on how flexible you want to be, you can design your systems to respond to those inputs and automatically flex [deployments] to the places that you want to be.

This leads to autonomous computing. We are not quite there yet, but we are certainly going in that direction. You will be able to respond to different compute, storage, and network requirements and adjust on the fly. There will also be self-healing and self-morphing into a continuous optimization model.

Gardner: And, of course, that is a big challenge these days … hybrid cloud, hybrid IT, and deploying across on-premises cloud, public cloud, and multicloud models. People know where they want to go with that, but they don’t know how to get there.

How does modern IT management help them achieve what you’ve described across an increasingly hybrid environment?

Manage from the cloud down 

de Werd: They need to understand what their goals are first. Just running virtual machines (VMs) in the cloud isn’t really where they want to be. That was the initial thing. There are economic considerations involved in the cloud, CapEx and OpEx arguments.

Simply moving your infrastructure from on premises up into the cloud isn’t going to get you where you really need to be. You need to look at it from a cloud-native-application perspective, where you are using microservices, containers, and cloud-enabled programming languages―your Javas and .NETs and all the other stateless types of things, all of which give you new flexibility to flex performance-wise.

From the management side, you have to look at different ways to do your development and different ways to do delivery. That’s where the management comes in. To do DevOps and exploit the DevOps tools, you have to flip the way you are thinking―to go from the cloud down.

Cloud application development on premises, that’s one of the great things about containers and cloud-native, stateless types of applications. There are no hardware dependencies, so you can develop the apps and services on premises, and then run them in the cloud, run them on premises, and/or use your hybrid cloud vendor’s capabilities to burst up into a cloud if you need it. That’s the joy of having those types of applications. They can run anywhere. They are not dependent on anything―on any particular underlying operating system.

But you have to shift and get into that development mode. And the automation helps you get there, and then helps you respond quickly once you do.

Gardner: Now that hybrid deployment continuum extends to the edge. There will be increasing data analytics, measurement, and making deployment changes dynamically from that analysis at the edge.

It seems to me that the way you have designed and architected HPE IT management is ready-made for such extensibility out to the edge. You could have systems run there that can integrate as needed, when appropriate, with a core cloud. Tell me how management as you have architected it over the years helps manage the edge, too.

de Werd: Businesses need to move their processing further out to the edge, and gain the instant response, instant gratification. You can’t wait to have an input analyzed on the edge, to have it go all the way back to a data source or all the way up to a cloud. You want to have the processing further and further toward the edge so you can get that instantaneous response that customers are coming to expect.

But again, being able to automate how to do that, and having the flexibility to respond to differing workloads and moving those toward the edge, I think, is key to getting there.

Gardner: And Doug, for you, personally, do you have some takeaways from your years of experience about innovation and how to make innovation a part of your daily routine?

de Werd: One of the big impacts on the team that I work with is in our quality assurance (QA) testing. It’s a very complex thing to test various configurations; that’s a lot of work. In the old days, we had to manually reconfigure things. Now, as we use an agile development process, testing is a continuous part of it.

We can now respond very quickly and keep up with the agile process. It used to be that testing was always the tail-end and the longest thing. Development testing took forever. Now, because we can automate that, it just makes that part of the process easier, and it has taken a lot of stress off of the teams. We are now much quicker and nimbler in responses, and it keeps people happy, too.

Gardner: As we close out, looking to the future, where do you see management going, particularly how to innovate using management techniques, tools, and processes? Where is the next big green light coming from?

Set goals 

de Werd: First, get your house in order in terms of taking advantage of the automation available today. Really think about how not to just use the technology as the end state. It’s more of a means to get to where you want to be.

Define where your organization wants to be. Where you want to be can have a lot of different aspects; it could be about how the culture evolves or what you want your customers’ experience to be. Look beyond just, “I want this or that feature.”

Then, design your full IT and development processes. Get to that goal, rather than just saying, “Oh, I have 100 VMs running on a server—isn’t that great?” Well, if it’s not achieving the ultimate goal of what you want, it’s just a technology feat. Don’t use technology just for technology’s sake. Use it to get to the larger goals, and define those goals and how you are going to get there.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. We have been exploring how IT management technologies and methods have evolved, culminating in the ability to optimize and automate workloads to exacting performance and cost requirements.

And we have learned that automation is about to get an AIOps boost from new ML and AI capabilities just as multicloud deployments become more demanding.

So please join me in thanking our guest, Doug de Werd, senior product manager for infrastructure management at HPE.

And a big thank you as well to our audience for joining us for this BriefingsDirect Voice of the Innovator interview. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of Hewlett Packard Enterprise-sponsored discussions.

Thanks again for listening. Please pass this along to your IT community, and do come back next time.

How intelligent automation is transforming IT systems management: Lessons for leaders

  • IT operations are turning to new machine learning and AI capabilities to automate and optimize workloads and systems management.
  • A core management framework is key in tying all the pieces together.
  • Autonomous computing will be the next step, where new technologies will adjust compute, storage, and network capacity on the fly in a continuous optimization model.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.