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Run Book Orchestration

Automate any data center IT workflow with PlateSpin Orchestrate

Written by Adam Spiers, Till Franke and Bill Tobey

First, a brief disclaimer; this is not exactly an article about run book automation. Within Novell and the industry at large, that term has taken on the sense of workflow-driven IT automation in a management environment that includes centralized process definition, monitoring and compliance. Today, we'll be talking about automation in the data center, but at a lower level, using the workflow execution and job scripting features of PlateSpin Orchestrate. It’s an approach that can be very powerful and flexible for anyone who has a specific problem to solve and is comfortable with a little scripting. It can be ideal for consultants, and can provide the first step in an incremental approach to more complete process automation and governance functions.

Our main purpose here is to show off the automation features of PlateSpin Orchestrate that tend to be overlooked as we emphasize its capabilities as a virtual machine manager within a larger solution for intelligent workload management.

The Run Book: A Coping Mechanism for Data Center Complexity

For the uninitiated, a run book is an IT staff’s hard copy collection of system management cheat sheets. Data centers, of course, are like snowflakes—no two alike. Massive diversity of platforms, hardware and applications is the norm, as is some degree of specialization in the IT staff that manages systems, storage, network and front-line operations. Knowledge management is a chronic problem. How do you document dozens or hundreds of sequence-sensitive, dependency-ridden procedures for startup, maintenance, problem diagnosis and recovery so each instance can be executed successfully?

The traditional answer is the run book, a hard-copy collection of rough workflows, hints, approximations and warnings—invariably incomplete, with gaps guaranteed to occur at the most critical location. Today’s version is more apt to be a wiki repository than a loose-leaf binder, but the core challenges are unchanged. Run books are hard to write, hard to maintain and usually even harder to read.

The Answer Is Automation

One obvious option is to automate as many procedures as is feasible and sensible. Given the choice between reading a lengthy instruction set of questionable reliability or running a script, most of us will instantly choose the latter, usually with better results. Automation can improve productivity, cut reaction times and reduce errors in many areas of IT operations. Various analysts have called out data center automation as an important strategy for meeting SLA commitments within tightening budgets and headcount constraints. IT decision makers have been advised to look for run book automation, process automation and orchestration tools that can be implemented incrementally, with the caveat that such tools must support all the diverse elements of the typically heterogeneous data center—physical and virtual machines, network devices, middleware, applications and data bases. They must also integrate with all the existing management tools and processes already in place.

Orchestrate to Automate

PlateSpin Orchestrate makes an ideal candidate for these types of automation applications, wherever in the data center they occur. Sometimes perceived as a virtual machine manager chiefly notable for its hypervisor-agnostic backend, PlateSpin Orchestrate is actually an advanced data center management product that originated in the high-performance computing space as a grid management tool. (See Figure 1.) It’s a Java-based, multi-platform, distributed automation tool designed to manage all network resources in environments that scale from tens to thousands of physical or virtual resources.

PlateSpin Orchestrate provides front-end integration through a Java API, and automation through an embedded Python engine. It manages any physical resource with a JVM, and virtual resources running under any of the leading hypervisors, including VMware ESX, VMware ESXi, Xen and Microsoft Hyper-V. It uses constraints and rule-based execution policies to manage resource allocation dynamically, and integrates with identity management solutions to provide authentication and policy-based authorization.

In short, PlateSpin Orchestrate is a general-purpose IT workflow automation product whose applications are in no way limited to run book automation. But run book offers an appealing entry-level automation target with short implementation cycles, fast ROI, limited integration complexity and the opportunity to incrementally address workload optimization and other more complex implementations.

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