Reducing the Cost of IT Operations -- Is Automation Always the Answer?

The high cost of IT operations has led to an intense focus on the automation of processes for IT service delivery. We take the heretical position that automation does not necessarily reduce the cost of operations since: (1) additional effort is required to deploy and maintain the automation infrastructure; (2) using the automation infrastructure requires the development of structured inputs that have up-front costs for design, implementation, and testing that are not required for a manual process; and (3) detecting and recovering from errors in an automated process is considerably more complicated than for a manual process. Our studies of several data centers suggest that the up-front costs mentioned in (2) are of particular concern since many processes have a limited lifetime (e.g., 25% of the packages constructed for software distribution were installed on fewer than 15 servers). We describe a process-based cost-benefit analysis that aids in determining if automation will indeed reduce costs. Our analysis indicates that automating a process is beneficial if the process has a sufficiently long lifetime, if it is relatively easy to automate (i.e., can readily be generalized from a manual process), and if there is a large cost reduction (or leverage) provided by each automated execution of the process compared to a manual invocation.

By: Aaron B. Brown; Joseph L. Hellerstein

Published in: RC23512 in 2005


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