Automated help on horizon

Everyone has a dream. For most IT managers that dream involves automating the routine tasks associated with their jobs, namely the configuring and provisioning of servers.

Everyone has a dream. For most IT managers that dream involves automating the routine tasks associated with their jobs, namely the configuring and provisioning of servers.

For an industry that prides itself on automating repetitive tasks, the effort to automate the repetitive tasks IT people deal with every day has so far been spotty at best. In fact, most IT infrastructure today is held in place by sheer brute force and manual labour. This is why the costs of running an IT organisation never seem to go down. The bigger the infrastructure, the more manual labour that’s needed to support it, particularly in distributed environments where extended networks add to the complexity.

Fortunately, after years of being ignored, there may be some real tangible help on the way for beleaguered, overworked IT people.

For the immediate future, most of that help will come from start-up companies that promise to deliver new approaches for provisioning servers and automating application development. On the hardware side of the equation, companies such as Terraspring, ProTier and Virtuozzo have come up with innovative approaches that help automate the deployment and configuration of servers by creating a layer of software that allows multiple instances of an application to be deployed and replicated across many servers.

For a lot of IT organisations, this will reduce the size of the “shadow” IT infrastructure that they have put in place to support testing and application development, while making it easier to actually deploy and configure servers. Of course, these companies are not the only players thinking about this. IBM has a number of projects, including Oceania and Eliza, that are expected to provide many of the same types of capabilities across the entire line of IBM servers.

But things may get even more interesting on the applications front. A spin-off company of SAP called TeaLeaf Technology and another start-up company called Centeroom are offering a way to automate the distribution and management of enterprise applications.

Similarly, Sun is working on providing its own set of automated server provisioning and application deployment capabilities, but its efforts appear to be confined for the moment to Solaris and Linux environments. And BEA Systems has been hinting at delivering similar capabilities on top of its WebLogic application server.

In any event, all of these companies may be surprised by a company called Think Dynamics, which is promising to automate both the server and application deployment process under a single platform. The fact of the matter is that people tend to see the provisioning of servers and the deployment of applications as two sides of the same problem. So automating one part of the job may be a good thing, but it’s still only a job half done.

It’s too early to say which if any of these approaches will win out. But all of these companies have enough significant early adopters of their technologies to make one feel optimistic about taking the drudgery out of housework. Only time will tell whether this actually happens.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld.

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