When your company actively applies the functionality of cloud platforms to solve specific business tasks, at some stage of the cloud transformation, you may find that some resources aren’t used to the fullest, and some processes require additional optimization—both in costs and performance. In this case, cloud automation can help you.
Indeed, given that modern companies’ cloud infrastructures can become increasingly complex, it becomes only possible to manage them with specialized tools and methods. Therefore, those who want to retain all the benefits of cloud platforms while scaling must resort to cloud automation as part of IT system integration services.
In particular, the independent web resource Mordor Intelligence claims that over 80% of organizations use cloud infrastructure automation for their IT operations. At the same time, the global cloud infrastructure automation market is expected to reach $11 billion by 2025.
Given the popularity of this solution, we’ve written this article as an analysis of its advantages and risks, and consider cloud automation use cases in which it will become indispensable.
Let’s start with a definition. In a nutshell, cloud automation allows IT professionals to automate manual processes and accelerate the provisioning of cloud resources according to the current needs of a company. Cloud automation is also often used in software development for testing, as well as network diagnostics, data protection, software-defined networking (SDN), and version control in DevOps practices.
It brings benefits to companies regardless of the complexity of their digital infrastructure, but, due to their complexity, heterogeneity, and scale, these benefits are especially noticeable for companies with hybrid or multi-cloud infrastructures. In these two cases, cloud automation allows IT departments to speed up the processes of connecting, configuring, testing, and disconnecting resources in the cloud, ensuring the most significant time and cost savings.
Along with the concept of automation in the cloud, you may also come across the term “cloud orchestration.” In general, these two cloud trends sound quite similar. However, unlike cloud automation, cloud orchestration is a broader concept which is a combination of application automation, workloads, supporting resources, and infrastructure across one or more cloud platforms (both public and private). Thus, we can conclude that cloud automation is just a part of cloud orchestration responsible for performing repetitive tasks. On the other hand, cloud orchestration involves the management of multiple interconnected automation processes.
If we delve into the differences between cloud orchestration and automation, we’ll notice that orchestration is a process higher in the hierarchy, as it coordinates automated processes with each other to achieve specific business goals. As for the role of the human in automation and orchestration—in the first case, tasks are completed faster than in the case of the manual work of one specialist. In the case of orchestration, the tasks that it performs are more comprehensive and thus ensure the most efficient use of cloud resources.
Since cloud automation is a rather complex process and requires both an expert approach and resource expenses, it’s important to understand what benefits you’ll receive after its implementation.
The concept of automation has always been synonymous with speeding up workflows, and in the case of managing complex and ever-expanding cloud infrastructures, this may be the only option to effectively maintain its viability in real time.
Autoscaling for cloud platforms is defined as the ability to instantly increase or decrease the capacity of used resources as needed. While vertical scaling by adding/disabling additional resources is typically used to respond quickly to performance issues, scaling out may also be needed when there aren’t enough resources for workloads, even at the highest performance levels. A similar situation occurs for reverse scaling, when a company doesn’t need to use so much server capacity. As it’s almost impossible to manually determine and launch the optimal scenario for scaling in time, this is where cloud automation comes to the rescue.
Cloud automation provides adjustment to the required resources, optimizes the digitized processes, and also checks for resources that are duplicated for the same tasks or unused for a certain period to disable them. Thus, companies that have implemented it achieve a reduction in the cost of maintaining their cloud infrastructures.
Instant and appropriate reactions to abnormal activity in the network perimeter cannot be done manually, especially when it comes to complex, large-scale cloud-based infrastructures. As for automation in the cloud, it provides an instant response to threats and thereby increases the reliability of such infrastructures.
Automation in cloud allows companies to delegate backup processes to cloud tools and, thus, regularly (or in the case of a certain trigger) carry out this procedure without any human intervention.
Even with all the benefits of a cloud native architecture, companies may lack resources for its proper monitoring and control. In turn, automation can be responsible for instantly delivering network infrastructure settings to remote sites.
Companies can use automation in the cloud to reduce risk and eliminate the human factor from vital processes. In particular, automation allows them to provide complete and continuous visibility into cloud deployments, responding instantly to changes that wouldn’t be possible with manual management tools.
Along with the benefits of migrating to the cloud and cloud automation, it’s equally important to assess the possible risks. Here, we emphasize the word “possible” because, with the support of a team of professionals with extensive experience, their probability will tend to be zero.
Cloud migration automation allows companies to minimize downtime by developing adaptable data migration and load-balancing scenarios. At the same time, the desire to speed up and optimize the tasks associated with migration sometimes doesn’t allow specialists to consider the nuances specific to a particular case. Thus, data can be lost in transit. On the other hand, the implementation of migration test scenarios eliminates this problem.
Automated transferring of company operations and resources to the cloud means transferring responsibility for their management and storage to a specific provider(s) of cloud services. Because of this, companies lose full control over some of their operations and the policies applied to them. The solution to this problem can be the introduction of additional tools and protocols for cloud security configuration.
Integrations and APIs allow companies to quickly expand their capabilities and synchronize data across individual services and applications. At the same time, not all of them can provide proper access control and data sanitization to guarantee security against cyber attacks. This situation may worsen with the introduction of automation tools. To mitigate these risks, companies can adopt the practice of only using APIs that have industry-standard encryption and user authentication/authorization protocols.
Since cloud service providers use physically distributed data centers (necessary for fault tolerance and faster delivery of data to end users), they follow data sovereignty policies relevant to the region where they are located. In turn, companies may not know where these data centers are located and, thus, inadvertently violate these policies. In particular, companies that have automated most of the cloud processes and practically do not control them with human resources are at the greatest risk. That’s why, to comply with all regulatory requirements (for example, GDPR for EU countries), they must ensure that the data centers they use also follow them.
Along with the problems of possible non-compliance with regional data policies on the data center side, companies may face similar issues on their side. Indeed, when everything is automated, compliance with widely accepted policies such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS in internal processes and services can be overlooked.
While cloud vendors provide companies with robust automated tools to secure user data by default, users can still be exposed to phishing attacks due to not following common web security practices. For example, attackers can create a form for entering access data, similar to one the user normally uses, and thus hack into a system. This is why companies must develop their own set of cybersecurity rules to counter threats due to inattention.
Hackers may perceive incorrect configurations of automation tools as potential network vulnerabilities. Thus, if configured incorrectly, your automation solutions can expose unwanted individuals to accessing your digital resources. You can avoid this problem by entrusting this task to professionals.
You should keep in mind that cloud automation isn’t built into the cloud and, therefore, requires the use of narrowly-focused, proprietary third-party tools. We will talk about the most popular of them below.
Let’s start with an overview of proprietary tools that the most popular cloud vendors provide:
Now let’s find out what vendor-independent tools can help you with cloud automation:
Finally, let’s move from theory to practice and look at the seven common cloud automation use cases.
Cloud computing and the ability to quickly launch new virtual machine instances have brought companies not only value but additional difficulties. They needed to keep an eye on the maintained servers, the number of which was constantly growing. That’s why, to get the most out of possible cloud benefits, they needed to be able to use only the infrastructure they needed.
For this use case, the Infrastructure as Code model appeared, implying the management and provisioning of data centers and servers using machine-readable files. In essence, it’s an alternative to physical hardware configuration and human-operated tools. As for cloud automation, it’s an integral part of the implementation of this model.
Manual management of cloud environments, especially when they’re a combination of private and public clouds, is an extremely time-consuming process. At some point, as such infrastructure grows, it becomes impossible to apply the usual control and management tools.
On the one hand, containers and microservices simplify the deployment of applications and services, and on the other hand, they require solutions for centralized management. In turn, orchestration tools such as Kubernetes provide end-to-end control over containers, as well as automate deployment, application execution, data transfer, and deletion.
Automation implemented in the public cloud is one of the indispensable solutions for maintaining the viability of the continuous delivery pipelines and creating new environments for deploying applications and services. In this use case, automation tools can make creating realistic development/test environments easier.
As the number of services and applications migrated to the cloud grows, companies may sometimes need help with dozens or even hundreds of unnecessary instances and processes for which they must pay cloud providers. Of course, they can be deleted in bulk, but this approach can mean something might be deleted in vain. In turn, cloud automation will show project owners the idle processes and instances and disable them if they aren’t used after a specified period.
Automation simplifies workload management because, in addition to controlling costs, the tools that enable it turn off unused resources and thereby transform the infrastructure to new operational requirements. Thus, automation is a way out if you run into problems with load balancing and regular over-budgeting.
Cloud automation tools can instantly discover and classify data in the cloud. This can be an urgent need for use cases when companies are forced to comply with strict regulations from local laws (for example, with GDPR or HIPAA).
Let’s finish our list of cloud automation use cases with multi-cloud and hybrid environments. Indeed, with proprietary solutions that can be used to manage primitive cloud environments, complex architectures that combine multiple cloud types mean more complex tasks that must be delegated to vendor-independent tools. In particular, automation solutions for synchronizing processes and data between clouds can be useful here—this will allow you to instantly transfer workloads to a new cloud system when local resources are exceeded and run a disaster recovery process when necessary.
In general, cloud automation can be perceived as a stage preceding the full-fledged introduction of DevOps practices. At the same time, it’s crucial to understand that its implementation requires tremendous knowledge and, in particular, experience with specific cloud providers.
If you’re looking for a team to automate your cloud processes, feel free to contact us. We’ll conduct a comprehensive audit of your cloud infrastructure, assess possible risks, select the best tools, and only after that, implement automation. This way, you’ll get the most out of what your cloud providers offer.
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