Today's focus: The value of automation
By Mike Karp

This column often looks at the subject of storage automation. Today we will look at the question of what the current set of storage administrators hopes to get from their automated systems.

Our survey last month addressed this issue by asking readers where they looked to extract value from the process of automating their workplaces. Some of the results follow.

To understand what managers expect from an investment in automated tools, our survey listed seven benefits of automation. We then asked IT managers in two separate questions which of these they felt would give them the fastest payback, and which would offer their sites the greatest long-term benefit.

What do managers see as the most likely benefits of automation that will provide them with short-term payback? The first answer is probably predictable, but that makes it no less disturbing.

Seventy percent of the managers (the overwhelming leader) expected to get the fastest payback from an ability to manage increased resources with a smaller staff. The obvious inference
to be drawn from this is that in this time of flat budgets, storage-related IT jobs will be no more secure than the rest when it is time to reduce expenses. At the very least there is
cause for concern, so plan accordingly.

Managers saw the next most likely sources for rapid payback as coming from "maintaining/improving service levels" and from "performance optimization." "Improving business process continuity" came in a somewhat distant fourth. This at least provides the user community with the hope that IT is not looking merely to reduce costs. IT managers also plan at least to
maintain- and even in some cases improve- current levels of service.

Expectations for long-term value mapped closely to expectations for short-term benefits. Managing more resources with fewer personnel, maintaining/improving service levels, and ensuring continuity of business process were seen as long-term value leaders, just as they were when quick payback was the issue.

Enhanced asset utilization scored fourth with the survey's respondents when they considered the long-term value of the automation investment. In fact, half the storage managers in the
survey identified enhanced asset utilization as the single most significant long-term advantage they could get from automating their storage management systems, although only 11% expected
short-term payback from this.

This inclination on the part of IT management to seek better value from asset utilization is all about provisioning, and should be a wakeup call for the vendors. Whether a vendor's
marketing initiative is called a "utility model," "on-demand computing," "adaptive enterprise" or "autonomic computing," it is quite clear that it will have to provide dynamic, agile
provisioning capability. That is where today's managers will get long-term value from today's storage investment.

Copyright Network World, Inc., 2003

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008