Using automation to free your mind
May 24, 2023
What is your automation strategy? Do you prefer a no/low code approach where the right toolset does the heavy lifting for you? Or have you built an all-star team of automation experts who spend their days buried in python and ansible?
There are strong benefits and drawbacks to both of those so a blended approach would be advisable. Ideally something that allows you to be vendor agnostic, while also minimising the burden of maintaining homegrown tools.
Planes, trains, and automobiles
I recently spent two weeks on the road meeting with some of our strategic customers. The intent was to put faces to names and deepen partnerships through open and candid conversations. You learn a lot about each other when you sit in a room (or restaurant) and just talk.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was realising just how deeply some of our customers are using our product. It’s always good to have a reminder of how important our customers are. Of course, no business could survive without customers paying for a product or service, but just as importantly a vendor cannot thrive without learning from their customers.
Back to the Future
Since joining BackBox in December I’ve been learning a lot about the network and security infrastructure automation space. Twenty something years ago while at Sun Microsystems I worked closely alongside teams of highly capable network engineers who managed our global network. We would often share coffee and pizza at 2 o’clock on a Saturday morning whilst upgrading various systems. Sometimes we would use cobbled together scripts to achieve our goals but mostly we would type out the same commands time and again, making sure nothing fell over.
I’ve been amazed to learn that a lot of teams are still executing the same tasks in the same manner, often on very similar infrastructure, as they were back then. I guess the old mantra of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” still holds true for both product and process. However the sheer size and scale of networks today, combined with the constant threat of malicious actors, means that a more proactive approach is required. Automation is key to this of course. Done properly it will provide you the ability to deliver quality at scale in a predictable, repeatable, cost effective manner.
Man versus Machine
So back to my original question and the reason for this post. I see three types of approach to automation at the customers I’m working with:
These teams are highly skilled and writing all of their own automation. Their work often needs to be tailored to specific requirements and the nuances of a highly complex environment. A lot of this is integration between other tools. There are two major drawbacks here:
- This complex homegrown automation needs to be maintained, which requires time and ongoing technical enablement.
- There is so much focus on the more complex work that the simpler tasks such as reliable backups, device upgrades, and compliance checks are still executed manually (if at all). Arguably these are at least as important as the more complex, and often more so, yet they are not treated as such.
For organisations such as this, BackBox can very quickly and easily pick up the tactical tasks that are critical to the business but that nobody really wants to do.
Using automation to augment manual work
These teams are very tactical and are often at the point where without automation things will start to break down. They generally don’t have teams writing homegrown automations as they simply don’t have the skills or the time to learn those skills. The downsides to this approach are:
- These teams and organisations tend to run very lean, meaning it is difficult for them to get the investment they need to hire, train, and retain enough people.
- With a strong bias towards tactical, reactive work the more complex automation tasks that could ultimately bring more efficiency and lower cost never get looked at.
For these teams, automation platforms such as BackBox give them a chance to breath and start to explore more complex work. This in turn provides employees growth opportunities that will help with retention.
The blended approach
Obviously almost everyone is taking a blended approach to a greater or lesser degree. Here I am referring to those that are doing this consciously. These tend to be the organisations that have been on an automation journey for longer and are thus more mature in this area. Quite often they are Service Providers who started these journeys earlier through a need driven by scale. They have NOC & SOC teams who use robust and mature automation tools such as BackBox for the day to day feeding and watering of the environments they are responsible for. They also have highly skilled automation engineers who are focussed on providing the NOC/SOC teams with what they need while building complex integration workflows with connected tools like CMDB, CRM, etc.
By using BackBox these organisations have accelerated their automation journey while bringing down operating costs and reducing risk.
From the horses mouth
During our trip we met with two customers who I would describe as very mature in their automation journey, and are heavily invested in the blended approach described above. They see BackBox as extremely complimentary to things like Python and confidently allow BackBox to take care of the simpler tasks like backups, upgrades, and compliance checks, while they focus on more demanding integration work.
When asked if there was anything that they do not use BackBox for the answer was simply no – there is nothing they have discovered yet that BackBox cannot or should not be able to handle. When asked how BackBox makes their lives easier, one of the senior DevOps engineers replied:
It optimizes the time it takes to implement changes at a customer and eventually frees up a lot of time that you can spend on other projects. It’s a very robust tool, with almost endless possibilities.
That’s a direct quote. I couldn’t have written it any better myself and it inspired me to write this whole blog post. I think it encapsulates very well the value that BackBox can bring to any organisation.
Give it a try
For those of you who are already using BackBox, don’t rest on your laurels. We’d love to hear about what you are doing and how we can help you do more. Our customer experience team can help you use any of the thousands of pre-built automations that come with the product, just log in and open a ticket to get started.
If you aren’t already using BackBox I would recommend you take a look. We support over 180 vendors out of the box, and can add others quickly and easily. We would be very happy to help you on your automation journey, and grateful for the opportunity to partner with you and learn together. Just request a demo or free evaluation to get started.