The term “cloud automation” refers to a wide range of processes and tools that help provision and manage cloud computing workloads and services by reducing or eliminating the need for manual labor. In other words, automation controls the setup, configuration, and management of cloud services.
Any dynamic system that needs to respond to change or self-heal requires automation. For example, by deploying load balancers in the environment, you can automatically provision new servers as demand grows or scale down when capacity is no longer needed. Automation can provision a new virtual machine without the delays of human interaction if a virtual machine fails or needs to be replaced, ensuring that you have enough capacity when you need it.
Automation also enables you to quickly build and configure systems that are consistent and repeatable, resulting in immutable architecture and all of the benefits that come with it: stability, configuration drift prevention, advanced deployment methods, zero-downtime deployments, consistent environments, and efficient and effective Disaster Recovery options.
Using automation, you can quickly transition from physical infrastructure to deploying secure production environments in the cloud with the leading cloud service providers, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
Servers used to be physical, and automation was rare; provisioning times and processes were costly and could take months to complete. Server lifecycles were traditionally linked to warranty periods of 3 to 5 years. This resulted in mutable architecture, or systems that change or mutate over time to meet new requirements; such systems are frequently modified as new software updates and configuration changes are made.
Most administrators were left with unique ‘snowflake’ mission-critical systems where configuration drift was a major issue due to a lack of automation or configuration management. Restoration of such systems can be time-consuming and difficult, which is the opposite of what your business needs in a disaster recovery situation.
There are several business benefits to implementing cloud automation:
- Reduced management costs: Automation handles the day-to-day aspects of provisioning, configuration, security, and network monitoring, allowing your developers to focus on strategic work.
- Improved security: Because cloud services eliminate human error, you can rest assured that no matter how many machines you deploy, your servers will have a level of security that is automatically deployed. Every time, they’ll have the same level of security.
- Improved time to market: Instead of having your business units approach your IT team individually to request new servers, deployment can be pushed to business and non-technical users. This enables them to be up and running with their own servers in a fraction of the time, saving your company time and money.
- Higher confidence: Business users must have confidence in their data security, especially when working in the cloud. Monitoring, log analysis, configuration, and deployment, as well as capacity management of your environment, should all be automated. The combination of Automation services gives you peace of mind and the assurance that you’re doing your job correctly and that your environments are safe, secure, and performant.
- Reduced reputational risk: You will be aware of issues before they become business-threatening if you automate the monitoring of your systems. As a result, if any issues arise, your managed services provider will be able to quickly resolve any service or security incidents, reducing the risk to your reputation.
How does automation help with security?
There are several ways that automation helps keep your cloud systems secure:
- Machine states: With automation, you’ll be able to see what state your virtual machines are in, as well as a wealth of information about each one. This single source of truth is updated in real-time, giving your teams and administrators a complete picture of your estate, virtual machine configuration, and key metrics in a matter of seconds.
- Cloud provisioning: Automation also allows users with less technical skills to deploy new machines, which is a secondary security benefit. When some of the responsibility for application deployment has been delegated to other business units in an enterprise environment, these business units can spin up new machines and deploy them without the assistance of IT. Because of the auto-configuration you have in place; you can rest assured that these new servers will be safe and secure.
- Network monitoring: AlienVault is a cloud-based service that automates security management. AlienVault keeps track of all network traffic and prevents malicious traffic from entering. It can also automate log analysis and monitoring because you’re using a computer to do something you’d normally do, saving you time and money.
- Issue response: Issue response is built into automation monitoring systems, as well as AlienVault, so you can take immediate action when an issue arises. When an app server, for example, comes to a halt, you can have it automatically restarted. Previously, you’d receive an alert and then have to manually log in to the machine and restart it. This service can now be automated by triggering an event handler when an issue alert is received. We’ll create an event handler to respond to any future issues like this once we’ve identified the issue. The impact of these issues is reduced from a few hours to a few minutes when automation is implemented.