Thursday, August 09, 2007

Huge Disparity Between Generic IT Automation Trends and Database Automation Initiatives

Let me start out with an apology for having been somewhat of an irregular blogger over the last few months. The good thing is, I haven’t been slacking off (at least not the entire time). Stratavia’s sustained growth has kept me on my toes. We just closed our Series B round and brought in several more customers. I have been working to set up an internal automation task force (ATF) within some of the larger customers to target areas and activities that would yield the most efficiencies via standardization and automation. This ATF effort has been received well as it is helping larger organizations gain value more rapidly from Data Palette and their overall automation efforts (in weeks rather than months). Also, I was fortunate enough to be able to present two papers at Collaborate 2007 in Vegas (If you attended one of those sessions – thank you!) and helped with Stratavia’s sponsorship of the recent Gartner Symposium in San Francisco.

At the symposium, I was rather surprised to see the space reserved for “data center operations” bustling with several new vendors and their automation offerings. Having focused on database automation for a while and being only too familiar with the typical DBA shop’s lukewarmness in embracing process automation, I thought the overall IT automation space was still nascent. Boy, was I mistaken!

As I compare generic IT automation trends and the prevailing action (or lack thereof) in the database automation arena, I’m literally filled with despair for the latter. At the Collaborate 2007 event, the sessions that drew the most attendees seemed to be either on Oracle RAC (real application clusters) or performance tuning – which tells me, the typical DBA is still enamored with learning how to configure clustered databases and/or turning performance knobs. She is in unchartered territory when it comes to process and decision automation – in fact, most DBAs still seem to be unfamiliar with the term run book automation (a sad statistic… especially in this day and age). Their knowledge of automation seem largely limited to “lights out” monitoring and patching – the kind provided by toys… oops! I mean tools like Oracle’s Enterprise Manager/Grid Control and Microsoft MOM. (Hello wake up, it’s not the 1990s anymore!)

On the other hand, there’s been a ton of interesting events in the generic IT automation space, as evidenced with the recent $1.65 Billion purchase of Opsware by HP and the acquisition of RealOps by BMC. The only downside to these transactions is that some of these products or rather, the capabilities in these product portfolios will likely die a premature death as the considerably larger acquirers lumber along, without knowing how to properly position and market these new-found competencies. (I just can’t see the larger vendors spending the requisite time and effort to evangelize and market these offerings effectively. Maybe I’m wrong and with these 800-pound entities entering this space, they will bring more legitimacy and avoid the need for an “evangelical sale” altogether. That would be a nice position for the IT automation industry to be in.) Hopefully the data management and database administration spaces will catch up with the rest of the IT automation industry soon.

Anyway, generic IT automation is not without its share of problems. The biggest one I see is that many CIOs continue to equate IT automation to just provisioning and patching. Heck, there’s so much more and by limiting the scope of automation, companies are not gaining the full value of automation. When you limit your scope, you inherently begin to seek and attract point solutions. No doubt, you need to start somewhere, and provisioning is as good an area as any to get started, but try not to be too narrowly focused and also, don’t just sit there basking in the results of a provisioning deployment for months and years. Get your Phase 1 scoped and deployed, measure results, make the appropriate tweaks and then move on to the next phase and the next set of “high-bar” tasks. And most importantly, make sure the automation platform you select has the capability to accommodate these all of these high-bar activities, without the need to acquire more tools.

The advent of run book automation (which BTW, is a nice descriptive name for process automation coined by Gartner) has really taken overall IT automation to the next level. Readers of my prior blog entries have heard me rave about decision automation. I personally see decision automation as being the next evolution of run book automation. It is akin to “run book automation on steroids” – the latter referring to capabilities such as auto-discovery, metadata injection, root cause analysis and predictive analytics – things that are rather essential for truly automating decisions. Decision automation takes run book automation beyond vanilla process orchestration or being merely the glue for carrying out ITIL-based activities in a specific sequence by incorporating a model for extracting and leveraging collective intelligence across processes.

Over the last year, Stratavia has been marrying run book automation with decision automation capabilities, especially in and around the database. That is proving to be a real game changer for many customers because a huge gap has existed in this area. Interestingly, many of Stratavia’s customers tend to be companies that already have provisioning and run book automation tools such as Opsware and RealOps, but have used them in limited/isolated areas such as server patching, software releases, and so on. By augmenting run book automation with root cause analysis capabilities (which is beyond the typical provisioning and run book automation tools’ competency), companies can better relate to recurring and disruptive problem patterns and reduce the number of incidents by converting reactive alerts to proactive maintenance processes. That effects typical SLA metrics like on-time-delivery and first-time-right, and makes the business more agile via speedier project deployments and enhanced time-to-market. The CIOs of these organizations are not content with merely rolling out an enterprise monitoring and ticketing solution, but are relentless in wanting to see themselves better aligned with the Service-Oriented or Value-Driven levels of Gartner’s operational maturity model and the advantages it brings their customers and employees.

Unfortunately this is not a universal trend yet. Many companies have yet to look at IT automation in a holistic way. The right way to go about it is not to jump directly into automation and address a point area or task and then basking in your laurels. I respectfully suggest the right way to automate comprises 15 distinct steps. And these steps have to be implemented in exactly the right order. Companies and products that try to short-cut the process (for example, by going directly to automation without first building standard and centralize operating procedures) end up not realizing the value they aimed for. (What is this “15-step” business, you ask? Well, more on that in a future blog entry...)

So what are the vendor/product choices for companies looking to implement IT automation the “right way”? I would urge you to consider Stratavia’s Data Palette without the slightest hesitation. A recent article in TheDeal (available at; the site requires a subscription to view content) has Gartner’s David Williams describing Stratavia as the only company he knows of, that brings run book automation capability to databases. (The exact statement in the article is “Stratavia makes run book automation software for an IT database, or software that enables a user to define a set of processes and integrate the necessary components to execute it automatically, according to Gartner Inc. analyst David Williams. The six-year-old company is one of the only companies Williams said he knows of to focus specifically on the underlying database.”; If you are interested in the entire article, drop me a line.) I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a revealing statement from a well-respected analyst. And BTW, that’s what some of my customers are telling me as well - after evaluating other monitoring tools and database automation point solutions such as the Oracle Enterprise Managers and Grid Controls of the world, they are choosing to move ahead with a Data Palette deployment.

Do you know of any other process automation or decision automation products for databases? If so, please point me towards them; I would love to learn more and write about them.


trodelpost said...

Thanks for the informative post. I happened to find your blog while researching Data Palette. I confess until today I was ignorant of the term "run book automation." Working primarily with DB2 (LUW), my experience in this area has been limited to IBM's autonomic enhancements.

I like what I see so far but agree that RBA is not just a drop-in solution. You must first understand your internal processes and existing tools.

I'd really be interested in reading the Williams article. Also look forward to seeing your 15-step automation process.

modelz said...

Venkat - thanks for that very helpful blog. I was looking for details on Run Book Automation and stumbled on this. You mentioned about an article on Run Book Automation and I was wondering if you could help me get that. Thanks again!

Venkat Devraj said...

Trodelpost, Modelz - Thanks to both of you for your comments. I would be glad to send you the David Williams/Gartner article, as well as other relevant content. However I do not have your contact info. Please send me a note at vdevraj "at" stratavia .com (ignore quotes and spaces, that's just to avoid spam) and I will respond with the info.

Thanks again!