Automating Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for Readily Available, On-Premises Solutions

The Rewards of Engaging your People in the Automation Process

By Matt Brown, Senior Program Manager, NetApp on NetApp


This is the second blog in a four-part series on automation (you can read Part 1 of this blog series here). It focuses on the human element in NetApp’s journey toward innovation in IT services delivery. Subsequent blogs will discuss process and technology.


Today, NetApp’s® IT team can provision a holistic compute environment (HCE) to our business units in less than four hours, and automation was a key factor in achieving this. However, when most of us hear the word “automation” we think machines and technology, not people. Being technicians at heart, we often overlook the human side of our efforts.


Automation in infrastructure delivery is a necessity to remain relevant and competitive in today’s IT climate. Let’s face it: The role of IT is changing. IT is becoming more of a “broker” of IT services and the delivery of infrastructure services must be on par with readily available cloud services, especially in terms of quality and time to deliver.


With a goal of decreasing our delivery time for an HCE from weeks to a few hours, the team was instructed to begin automating manual tasks and processes. After several false starts, we realized that the people required to complete this effort were the same individuals whose duties were being eliminated via automation. Fear of losing their jobs had paralyzed our talented, hardworking team and had compounded the perception that our goal was unachievable.


To move forward, it was imperative that we openly discuss what would happen to those employees affected by this change. We worked with the team to identify areas where we needed to be proactive such as gathering systems requirements, providing better capacity and performance management, and installing tools to better control and analyze our infrastructure. Once we had identified strategic, value-add job responsibilities, the team began to embrace the idea of automation.


Our discussions also revealed that while the team was using the same acronyms and words in relation to their work, each person had a different interpretation. While the terms “server delivery” and “HCE delivery” seemed to mean the same thing to some, agreeing on the differences was critical. Our goal was to deliver more than a server with a running operating system (OS); we needed to deliver a holistic compute environment that included not only the OS, but app storage, user access, and monitoring. Output and product usability would be measured from the customer’s perspective, and application-readiness would be the true measure of “complete.” Once we clarified specifics and acknowledged that the “devil is in the details,” our team then embraced the standard terminology, scope, and measurement.


As we started down the path of automation, we discovered that various elements of the process were broken or did not work as documented. The individuals involved were spending unnecessary time treating each transaction as unique instead of fixing the broken parts of the process and enabling repeatability. To move forward, the team created a comprehensive list of gaps found in the process, and we solicited volunteers from the team to help resolve the issues. Taking these steps enabled team members to “own” certain processes and also resulted in an increase in job satisfaction. We learned a valuable lesson here: involve the team early in the process to help them see how automation actually creates further career opportunities and skills development.


Finally, we took steps to elevate the skill sets of our storage admins who previously had traditional IT back-office support roles and converted them to service-line owners. The service lines they support are shown to the left. These individuals exhibited a high willingness to learn and were provided training to enhance their customer-facing skill sets such as listening, negotiating, and communicating. The service-line owners are now fully accountable for the end-to-end process and service – metrics and reporting, new-service introductions, and strategic planning – setting them on a future career path within NetApp IT. As innovation in IT evolves, so too will the roles of our service-line owners.


Involving our team early to clarify misperceptions and create transparency resulted in a number of benefits, including:

  • Known, predictable deliverables replaced ad hoc, reactionary activities thereby elevating our reputation among the business units as a quality, responsive service provider.
  • A more proactive, empowered team that takes pride in their ability to deliver fast, cloud-like compute services to business users in less than four hours, while continuing to further reduce delivery times from hours to minutes.

  • Increased customer satisfaction as service line owners proactively work to ensure the HCEs are properly tuned, protected, and sized to exceed business requirements.


By fully collaborating on the vision and roadmap, we solidified the team and completed the key steps necessary for automating the delivery of our Holistic Compute Environments.


Read Part 1 of this blog series “Automating the Delivery of Holistic Compute Environments for Business Applications within NetApp” to learn how NetApp automated its HCE via a self-service catalog that eliminates manual tasks and improves delivery.


The NetApp-on-NetApp blog series features advice from subject matter experts from NetApp IT who share their real-world experiences using NetApp’s industry-leading storage solutions to support business goals. Want to view learn more about the program? Visit