Whether you need to book a flight or map the route to your next meeting, you are immersed in a world of digital applications engineered to make life easier.
Today’s organizations are embracing the digital transformation to unleash new levels of business innovation and enhance the buying experience for their end-customers. However, in this paper we will focus on what the digital transformation means to a different audience – IT infrastructure teams.
If you work for an organization looking to make a mark on the digital world, your success ultimately depends on building and maintaining an agile IT infrastructure. As data centers become more complex—featuring applications, virtual and physical servers and networking devices —many IT organizations are implementing critical IT management systems. However, implementing and managing these disparate systems can result in manually coordinated hand-offs, which often increase operational costs, time-to-market, and the risk to service availability.
In today’s digital era, automation is key to IT agility. Its adoption is nothing new and is even becoming commonplace as many organizations have seen the benefits of automation firsthand. However, to operate as a truly digital enterprise, we must take things a step further. IT teams must rethink their values and move to a more holistic approach – automation of the entire deployment process. Creating a truly agile infrastructure requires a platform that allows users to create Automation Workflows for wiring together the automation of all network and application services.
This white paper examines the need to simplify complex business processes, the challenges posed by existing service management systems and the advantages of automation workflows. It provides more information on how the AppViewX Visual Workflow helps to comprehensively automate service delivery across multi-vendor and hybrid infrastructure, speeding things up in the process.
Beyond Automation: The Need for a Simplified Application Delivery Process
Organizations of all sizes face global competition forcing them to rapidly develop new products and services to stay afloat. To address these growing pressures, enterprises must constantly reconsider and optimize the way they manage corresponding changes to the network infrastructure. Many organizations are moving into the future with the help of automation. However, automating mundane tasks is no longer enough. Instead, they need a single platform that can do it all to truly keep pace with the digital revolution. Rather than follow existing manual workflows, IT teams must ensure the entire network’s orchestration is fully automated, event-driven, done in real-time and completely compliant.
Even when initiated with the best intentions, automation efforts tend to fail when complex networks lack holistic workflows and standards. Organizations must completely rethink their current approaches to service management to support better, business-driven outcomes. They must:
- Analyze existing processes by focusing in on the most common, repetitive tasks.
- Implement a governance charged with refining, vetting and validating automation efforts.
- Invest in tools that help to simplify complex manual processes, establish new ones, and delegate their maintenance.
Automation applied to only one particular task has limited value to the enterprise. Organizations must instead explore more comprehensive automation frameworks to truly reap the operational benefits.
Understanding the Challenges in Complex Service Delivery
Automation scripts for complex processes that involve multiple systems and applications are difficult to create. And, application deployments require a detailed plan to ensure multiple teams can work alongside each other to deliver a single deployment. So, regardless of the business case, in an ideal scenario, the application deployment would involve only basic tasks with a clear set of steps attributed to each team.
Whether it be a simple task like creating a virtual server on ADCs, or a complex one like deploying an application with various configurations, significant IT resources are devoted to managing repetitive change requests. That’s where automation comes in. Using a more traditional approach, it can take weeks or even months to deliver new services. By introducing automation, enterprises can operate much more efficiently.
However, IT teams must approach automation systematically or risk failure. They must combine multiple automation tasks to provision the network, firewalls, hypervisor, certificates, application, and so on. Without this level of strategic orchestration, enterprises could experience:
- Increased operational costs due to manual, repetitive and error-prone tasks.
- A lack of cross-team collaboration that increases the inefficiency, complexity and risk associated with manual hand-offs.
- A lack of business agility resulting in increased deployment and provisioning times.
To build an agile infrastructure, you need a platform that allows you to create both simple and complex workflows and that can be self-serviced by application and network teams. The best course of action is to invest in flexible tools that help you create your own unique automation story.
Automation Workflows: A Solution for Complex Business Processes
Most IT organizations are facing significant challenges in achieving true network agility, even once they’ve introduced automation. They are quickly realizing that only integrating automation in some areas and not others does not reap the benefits they may have expected. Instead, the entire process of how these tasks are executed must be transformed.
The most effective way to transform a holistic network management process is through a centralized automation approach. It must be strategic, business-driven and accessible to multiple teams to enable crucial collaboration. This calls for a workflow-centric automation solution that leverages various components of the network infrastructure.
An automation workflow defines a logical flow of activities or tasks from a Start event to an End event to execute a specific service. The activities in the workflow can either be executed in sequence or in parallel with interleaving decision points.
Creating an automation workflow is an easy way to streamline and standardize application deployment, which can often be a tedious, lengthy and convoluted process involving multiple technologies and teams. The next step is to combine multiple automation tasks to provision the network and application services and optimize the overall delivery.
Today, automation workflows are considered a best practice for automating application delivery. A workflow-based approach allows application teams to take ownership and self-service their applications. Ultimately approved by senior network teams, configuration is hardcoded, and the device names and other specifics can be added at the implementation. The biggest advantage to this approach is the time saved by the network team on typing entire configurations from scratch, reducing the effort required to make an application production-ready. Among the other advantages presented by automated workflows are:
- Rapid deployment of network and application services through pre-approved and defined workflows
- Reduced cost by reusing the workflows repeatedly and
- Error-free deployment by standardizing and streamlining the business process
Visual Workflow in AppViewX
The AppViewX Platform is a modular, low-code software application that enables the automation and orchestration of network infrastructure using an intuitive, context-aware, visual workflow. It is closed-loop and state-aware, capable of verifying that intent has been achieved and providing actionable insights and automated remediation.
The Visual Workflow tool in the AppViewX platform provides an intuitive system for designing self-serviceable, event-driven, intelligent, and automation workflows. It enables operational agility and service efficiency in various stages of network and application service delivery. It helps to accelerate time-to-value by providing everything needed for the complete out-of-the-box automation of application delivery network infrastructure.
Visual Workflow allows users to design both simple and complex automation workflows using a built-in task library. Users can also create and use custom tasks based on their own organizational needs. These workflows allow users to easily automate network services and validate the changes post-deployment, all while adhering to organization standards. This tool also enables the reuse of approved workflows to automate mundane tasks, which can drastically reduce operation costs.
Visual Workflow allows the user to execute intelligent workflows by defining custom rules based on specific business needs. Users can define multiple conditional rules to take decisions as a part of the workflow sequence. They can also dynamically provision a change request or perform any action at a specified stage of the workflow by leveraging Rule Builder.
Plug-and-Play Integrations into ITSM Systems
AppViewX integrates with the best-in-class IT service management solutions to govern and record service requests in the larger automation workflow. Thus, it provides simplified workflow management and automation by integrating with the existing ticketing system in your environment.
When a change or automation workflow is requested, the AppViewX platform talks to the relevant ITSM system via RESTful APIs to create a ticket with all the necessary information, triggering change implementation without any extra hassle.
Plug-and-Play Integrations into Third-Party Systems
Another major advantage to using Visual Workflow is the ability to integrate with any third-party system, such as DDI, an in-house tool, an open-source tools, etc. These plug-and-play integrations promote configuration agility by leveraging to the third party APIs to easily connect.
Enable Zero-Touch NetOps Automation
Visual Workflow helps to achieve IT agility by automating infrastructure services without manual intervention. The automation workflows can be executed on-demand or on a reoccurring schedule set by the user.
AppViewX supplies prepackaged automation workflows to address various application deployment scenarios faster and with more efficiency. Some standard automation workflows are available in the AppViewX GitHub community (note that you must have an AppViewX instance in your environment to try the templates).
Let’s take a look at two use cases to better understand how Visual Workflow simplifies application delivery processes.
Use Case 1: Automate Application Provisioning on ADCs
ADC infrastructure is very complex and dynamic. To overcome ADC service delivery delays, AppViewX offers three automation workflows that can be used to create, modify or delete a virtual server.
The “Create” automation workflow creates a virtual server and associates it with the appropriate profiles, monitors, pools, and pool members in F5 BIG-IP LTM, all using Infoblox and ServiceNow integration. This self-service workflow filters F5 ADC devices based on the user’s access permissions, defined using Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). The platform integrates the available address pools to create DNS binding for the new virtual server in with IPAM systems (like Infoblox), which allows users to reserve a free IP address. The workflow also includes an option to create or bind existing profiles and monitors to the virtual server and allows users to create change request tickets in ITSM systems (like ServiceNow) for approvals and tracking. The service request change ID is associated with the work order and is updated based on the implementation status.
The work order pre-validates ADC device performance metrics (CPU and memory utilization) and confirms that the new virtual server and associated objects are not present. On successful pre-validation, the configuration changes are approved through a two-step process: first by ServiceNow, then by AppViewX. After approval is received, the configuration changes are implemented on the ADC device. A post-validation script ensures the virtual server and the associated objects are created successfully.
Use Case 2: Zero-Touch Provisioning of a new F5 BIG-IP Virtual Edition
To host a new application, the network team must instantiate a new F5 BIG-IP hypervisor or cloud. Usually this request takes three weeks as the workload is spread across different teams. The Zero-Touch Provisioning of BIG-IP VE automation workflow is used to perform the complete automation of BIG-IP VE provisioning.
First, instantiation of BIG-IP Virtual Edition (VE) on a KVM hypervisor is initiated using a BIG-IQ or Bring Your Own License (BYOL) key. Integration with IPAM systems (like Infoblox) allows users to reserve a free IP address. Integration with an ITSM tool – such as ServiceNow – is leveraged for approvals and tracking of the workflow implementation. After the basic provisioning of the new BIG-IP, it is added to the AppViewX inventory. Email notifications regarding implementation status and other details are sent to a specified user. This will significantly improve service efficiency and reduce the amount of manual effort required.
Today’s tech landscape is requiring that IT leaders completely rethink existing processes and implementations to seize the opportunities digitalization presents to them. IT leaders are finding innovative ways to more efficiently support existing applications while also accelerating the delivery of brand new ones. However, in many cases, complex IT environments are constraining them.
It is becoming increasingly clear that an advanced automation solution is crucial to an enterprise’s success, and their ability to choose the right tool will ultimately determine their future in the organization. We challenge you to choose the tool that helps you achieve true IT agility, allowing you to make your mark on the business.
Try AppViewX today.