Volume 11, Number 9 -- March 8, 2011

Q&A with UC4 on the Future of Workload Automation

Published: March 8, 2011

by Alex Woodie

Virtualization and cloud computing are making IT a very complicated place. Enterprises in the future will need to utilize these productivity-boosting technologies, but do so without losing their hold on existing processes. One vendor that's working on forward-looking workload automation tools is UC4. Recently, two UC4 executives, Fred Kohout, chief marketing officer, and product marketing executive Kerry Lebel briefed IT Jungle on UC4's work in this area.

IT Jungle How do companies know if they need workload automation software? Why should they be looking into this?

Fred Kohout We find our customers are looking to consolidate enterprise automation platforms. They have multiple tools for job scheduling, run book automation, and application provisioning. At this point the complexity and the delivery model has become so cumbersome that they're unable to meet their delivery requirements. They've reached the point where total cost of ownership is exceeding what they're prepared to carry. They're coming to us, and saying, 'Help me unify all these different silos of automation under one platform. Help me get that single view into my application infrastructure and business process that gives me a much more agile and responsive IT operation.

ITJ Are you seeing a big push from your customers for adopting software as a service (SaaS) applications and Web services?

FK Absolutely. I think the SaaS adoption has far outpaced platform or infrastructure as a services adoption. That's a business model that's well on its way. I think they [software vendors] figured out how to provide what their customers want instead of just shipping a whole wad of code to them with features they will never use. And they [the customers] can pay by the drink or the month, so it's a pricing model that fits their need.

Kerry Lebel One of the big benefits of a SaaS solution is you don't have to constantly roll out new versions and patches and everything else. All that's done for you. You're never really having to worry about security patches. ServiceNow, which provides things like help desk, service management, and change management functions, is catching on pretty quickly. I see those guys growing a lot. Between our automation platform and services group, we're seeing a lot of integration with those guys as well.

ITJ So you're not just hooking into core transactional systems, but other IT automation products that surround that?

FK With our Web services agent, it doesn't matter what the application is as long as it can integrate with that WSDL language or SOAP protocol.

KL People want to do more than just job scheduling. To really do true end-to-end powerful automation, you need to be touching the infrastructure layer, the application layer, as well as that business process layer. That's where we're really making a stand and having an impact--by having one central automation platform that is handling all of those transactions.

We're not just looking at performance counters on a box or we're not just waiting for a service desk ticket to come in. There are significantly more data points, which is why so much automation has stop points and human interaction. It's simply because a human has to go out and check multiple other data sources manually. But by centralizing your automation platform onto one piece that can touch into all those layers, you're removing more and more of that need for human interaction.

ITJ What kind of return on investment can you get by eliminating that need for human intervention?

FB There's a client that is one of the 10 largest banks in the world, which I cannot mention by name. They reduced the staff by three using our products to do automated application provisioning. What used to take a number of people all night long is now just done by one person in one hour. Another great example is a large national health services provider in Europe. They use Oracle to run month-end close. We reduced their staff by 90 percent. We took it from 25 people required to do month-end and run all the reconciliation processes, down to three.

ITJ How important to customers is the capability to anticipate increasing workloads and being able to quickly add processing resources?

KL When you have single automation platform that's handling all three layers from the business to the application to the infrastructure, who else is going to know better what's going on with that box and when to provision and de-provision? When you're getting close to month-end, why wait and blow through your SLA [service level agreement]? If you can see you're coming up on that time period, or see that processing is spiking up, we can do the automated provisioning of additional boxes to see that you actually maintain your SLA.

ITJ What's your view regarding how your tools will be used to manage internal, service-oriented clouds?

FK First, the organization is going to have to set up a service catalog of exactly what they're offering. You might say, for developers, we'll provide dual-core machines with so much processing capability. It's yours to use. Go hack at it. For production application groups, they might set up a service catalog that talks about having better response times, and about patching on certain days. They may also have metering and billing. Once they have that done, as they set up dynamic resource pools where they allow departments to run production workloads on a sustained basis, that's where we play a role in automating those processes whether they're in physical or virtual environments.

ITJ You have developed your own Web services API. Have cloud application vendors done enough work on their side to allow you to get in and manage that?

KL It's getting there. The cloud has been a buzz word that's been hyped for a couple of years now. Customer requirements are really driving what they're allowing to happen, as far as administrative tasks and configuration. Things that would traditionally have been done through administrative consoles or Web interfaces, more and more of that is being driving through Web services and publicly available APIs.

ITJ What kinds of technology will UC4 develop in the future to further eliminate the need for human intervention?

FK We are working on building out this singular automation platform for an enterprise. There are these silos of automation within the enterprise today, where they bought tools to do run book, to do application provisioning, job scheduling, MFT [managed file transfer], and application automation. None of these tools are working with each other, and/or they're creating a high degree of complexity within the enterprise from a maintenance and a management standpoint. What we're working on is unifying all those silos of automation under one platform and providing a single pane of glass, a single user interface--even a single API--that can allow enterprises to have a consistent view of their automation requirements and execution.

We give you the tools to make sense of these complex, interdependent, multi-variable events that are in-bound on your organization. We give you tools that allow you to make sense of that, identify patterns, and then build policies or rules against that, so that when those things occur in the future, you don't have to find out after the fact that you have blown though your SLA. We'll understand that it's going to happen before it happens. We'll let you know that, and we'll trigger the required action. And then when it's all over, we'll automate getting everything back into order, whether it's the job queuing or de-provisioning the resource.

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