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What is cloud automation?

Cloud automation is the implementation of tools and processes that reduce or eliminate the manual work that is associated with provisioning, configuring and managing cloud environments.

Cloud automation tools run on top of virtual environments and can be leveraged in public and private clouds, as well as hybrid and multicloud environments. In fact, automation is often used to standardize processes and policies across complex IT environments.

Cloud automation plays an important role in enabling organizations to take greater advantage of cloud computing’s benefits, like the ability to use cloud resources on demand. It is also a vital component of efficient DevOps workflows.

Like many other automation tools, cloud automation solutions generally automate tasks that are too inefficient or complex to perform manually. In terms of cloud, this includes tasks like provisioning resources for workload deployments and updates, setting up virtual machines (VMs), monitoring performance and more.

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Why is cloud automation important?

Cloud automation is important because it helps actualize the promise and value of cloud computing. Cloud computing’s appeal is that it grants organizations the flexibility to access the resources they need on demand. However, without automation, someone still needs to spin up resources, test them and tear them down in order to use cloud services. In modern workflows with many deployments each day, it’s difficult and laborious to consistently ship high-quality code under such circumstances. Automation helps fix this issue by enabling the automatic provisioning, configuration and optimization of cloud resources.

Cloud automation also helps address common pain points flagged by cloud platform adopters, namely runaway cloud bills and complex environments that can be difficult to manage and integrate (often driving said bills!). Cloud automation mitigates these issues by providing greater control and visibility across cloud environments, facilitating  efficient resourcing and management and alleviating the burden of repetitive tasks from IT teams, giving them more time to focus on higher-level innovative work.

Cloud automation use cases

There are numerous ways organizations can use cloud automation to improve their workflows and processes. The following are some of the most popular examples:

Establishing infrastructure as code (IaC)

Infrastructure as code is the process of provisioning and managing IT infrastructure automatically using code and templates rather than the manual configuration of hardware components. With IaC, IT infrastructure is defined in configuration files and automatically initiated in accordance with the codified configuration.

IaC allows for the automatic provisioning and management of IT resources at scale—a necessity for successful DevOps—and streamlines the code development and deployment process. It also helps support configuration management and prevent configuration drift through the provisioning of consistent environments.

IaC tools like the popular open-source options Terraform and Ansible® can be used in conjunction with container orchestration tools like Kubernetes to increase efficiency in microservices architectures and further align and optimize DevOps processes.

Workload management and autoscaling

Cloud automation tools can be used to track cloud resources in use and automatically scale resources up or down to match workload demand. Once scaling parameters have been set, resource allocation and load balancing can be automated, which helps both establish availability and performance and reduce waste.

Hybrid cloud setup and integration

Organizations often use hybrid clouds to take advantage of the benefits offered by both on-premises data centers and cloud deployment models. Yet, allocating workloads and managing resources across these different environments presents a challenge to IT teams. You can use automation to better integrate data centers and achieve greater consistency and orchestration across your entire environment.

For instance, automation can be used to provide a comprehensive view of resources and sync assets between local data centers and cloud infrastructure. It allows teams to apply the same code to on-site systems and cloud resources and set standardized policies for how workloads are allocated across a hybrid cloud environment.

Automation can also help bring consistency to multicloud environments, where public clouds from separate cloud providers may not easily interoperate with each other. Automation allows you to codify resources and use a single application programming interface (API) across all clouds.

Application development and deployment:

To achieve continuous delivery and continuous deployment you need to automate the application deployment pipeline, including the provisioning of realistic development and test environments. Infrastructure as code and the automatic configuration of consistent environments that use cloud resources makes this agile workflow possible.

Data backups

Manual backups are time consuming and prone to delay in the face of more pressing issues. Organizations often don’t realize there’s a data backup issue until it’s too late.

Automated backups don’t require your IT team’s time and remove decision-making from the process. You can reduce costly failures and data loss with a regularly scheduled automation process for environment-wide backups. 

Eliminating cloud waste

Trying to manually track cloud instances in modern IT environments is arduous, if not impossible. It’s all too easy to lose track of cloud assets that you aren’t fully utilizing but are still paying for. Automation can help you make the most efficient use of your cloud spend.

For example, you can use automation tools to match resources with workload demand in real time, eliminate overprovisioning and take utmost advantage of pricing discounts like reserved instances.

Version control

Automation can be used to set up version control for workflows and improve configuration management, which can be crucial for organizations that face intense scrutiny over things like the handling of user information. Automation makes it easier for you to demonstrate to regulators that users and applications followed a protected, identical process every time sensitive data was accessed.

Benefits of cloud automation

Like other automation solutions, cloud automation delivers the obvious benefit of reducing manual work and the redundant workload of IT teams. Cloud automation can be used to streamline processes, eliminate resource waste and ultimately reduce the time and money spent provisioning and managing cloud-based operations. It also imparts several more particular benefits:

  • Reduce errors: Automation enables the creation of predictable and dependable processes, which helps reduce the human error that inevitably accompanies manual cloud management.

  • Boost security: Organizations can use automation to monitor and log activity across an entire IT environment, configure security controls that scan for vulnerabilities and anomalies and define access levels to applications, data and more.
  • Centralize governance: A unified automation platform allows organizations to standardize governance across data centers, even in hybrid clouds. With this capability, organizations can improve business continuity, optimize resource and infrastructure usage, maximize performance and enhance compliance and security.

  • Increase innovation: When your IT operations teams are not busy with mundane manual work, they have more time for the valuable, higher-level innovations that propel your business.
Cloud automation and DevOps

DevOps is a software development process and organizational philosophy that aims to accelerate the software development lifecycle. It promotes continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous deployment through automation and the integration of efforts from development, IT operations and other previously siloed teams.

In fast-paced modern workflows, where new code is often shipped many times per day, DevOps would not be efficient if someone had to manually provision and configure IT environments for each new deployment. Automation helps allow the process to run as intended:

  • Automation enables IaC and the automatic configuration of fully versioned and documented infrastructure that can be spun up, modified and torn down on demand.

  • Automation tools can monitor for and detect issues and make necessary changes to resolve them in real time, preventing workflow slowdowns.

  • Automation can be used to create clear and consistent processes that can be modified as needed, increasing the stability and scalability of IT infrastructure.
What is the difference between cloud automation and cloud orchestration?

Cloud automation and cloud orchestration are complementary aspects of a successful cloud management strategy.

Cloud automation is about using cloud management tools to streamline individual tasks and lower-level processes, removing human involvement and making them more efficient. Cloud orchestration takes it to the next level.

Cloud orchestration organizes and sequences automated tasks and processes from across the entire infrastructure, often uniting multiple locations and systems, to create fully automated end-to-end workflows designed to achieve a specific objective. There are three main aspects of cloud orchestration: resource, workload and service orchestration.

You can think of automation as the building blocks or foundation of the strategy, while orchestration brings all the parts together into an integrated, functioning whole.

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