Why Start/Stop Automation is All-Go for System Maintenance

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No one in Technology today can argue that tech fabrics are changing. Organizations across all verticals are witnessing the reinvention of operating models that are necessitating new IT stacks and paving the way for innovators to capture and exploit the advantages of Cloud-native technologies. These modern, progressive approaches that are occurring in IT are also, as a result accelerating the use of automation.

But as advantageous as automation is, without a prudent and managed approach to when, where and how it is applied, systems can start to perform in less-than-optimal ways – failing to contribute positively towards a business’ bottom line.

This is why we often discuss the concept of start/stop automation and its power to control when systems are running with autonomy versus when we – the humans – place holds on system automation for various reasons, such as updates and upgrades, maintenance, back-up procedures, new points of integration, or any other rational reason for needing to put a hold on the autopilots driving our IT stack operations.

Beyond start/stop combustion

Although most of us can grasp the notion of start/stop system control in the context of a car and its internal combustion engine, start/stop IT systems have a more complex selection of control vectors. Yes, car engines are like IT systems because both work to move us forward while operating and neither should be left idling for too long.

This, however, isn’t just like switching a television set on or off. Start/stop automation in IT means standing down a fairly complex enterprise software application, which is inherently embedded into complex infrastructures and operating systems.

If we want to be able to perform system maintenance in an effective, timely, accurate and productive way, then we need start/stop automation intelligence to be able to control the cadence of our own autonomous advantage.

When an enterprise uses start/stop automation in an intelligent way, it can augment and elevate elements of its IT stack without any disruptive impact on the wellbeing of all its other applications, tools and data flows happening in the wider system at any given time.

If this process is not done properly, then a monitoring and observant application performance management system or cybersecurity layer could create a false alert. Experiencing system downtime when your business should be experiencing uptime is never a good thing.

Classical theory, modern practice

If we take the classical architecture deployed in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and associated set of Cloud applications and services, these systems run on servers that communicate a complex set of datacenter pathways, channels, and conduits. But this isn’t a factory production line – there isn’t a large, red “STOP” button. Bringing these systems to a halt safely requires dedicated software tooling.

Using these tools is important because, as a business, we want to make sure we get past security barriers and cyber controls in an approved and validated manner. What this means in real life is that the last mile to the system itself is actually very hard. Although maybe a very good thing from a security perspective, from an operational perspective, it’s very, very bad.

What we need to be able to achieve is control through a single pane of glass that enables start/stop automation control with appropriate role-based access security. If we attempt to do this manually, we might conceivably be trying to shut down hundreds of system applications and endpoints concurrently, all of which will run with different shutdown times.

As in Cloud, so on Earth

It’s true that we very often talk about start/stop procedures in the context of Cloud computing. This is of course because of the implicit way that Cloud services work, as well as the pay-per-use infrastructure, platform, and services structure that it offers. But regardless of whether we are talking about Cloud or a ‘terrestrial’, on-premises technology, the most prominent use case of start/stop procedure is when we simply need to stop an application because it’s not used anymore – helping to reduce cost.

The shutdown action might be permanent, or it may just be temporary. If one area of an enterprise IT stack application tier is not used or accessed at all over the weekend (perhaps the human resources or payroll function for example), then it makes sense to use automated start/stop controls to power it down on Friday night and start that part of the IT engine again on Monday morning.

Taking humans out of the equation here is important. If we can automate for efficiency while also reducing the possibility of human error, then it’s a win-win. If we have a defined and recognized lack of system maintenance skills and knowledge to contend with in the first place, then we can reasonably suggest that it’s a triple win, or perhaps a win-win to the power of x. In addition, robust start/stop automation is a technical prerequisite for offering start/stop of applications in a self-service catalog to business users.

Let’s now translate these actions onward into a related area: maintenance preparation. In scenarios where manual actions with specialist knowledge are called for, we can still use start/stop automation so that all the systems are properly shut down. By doing so, operators don’t have to worry about the element of system mechanics; they can just log on to the servers and perform their tasks manually. And once they’re done, they know that there is a schedule that will bring up the systems automatically. Further, state-of-the-art start/stop automation as employed by Lemongrass allows operators to bring the systems down into a pre-defined run configuration which is tailored to the desired maintenance action.

What’s really important to remember here is that the journey to Cloud should not just be viewed as a cost-saving exercise.

Cloud computing is obviously based upon the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model of off-and-on control, but the Cloud’s primary advantage is its breadth of service, its controllability and observability advantage, its inherent level of flexibility and interoperability throughout – it’s special conduit as a key route to web-scale scope for enterprise organizations who aspire to follow a trajectory for growth.

Using start/stop automation for systems maintenance and IT stack management as a means of navigating the still rapidly developing Cloud landscape is a prime mover advantage.

Kieran Pierce, EVP Product Strategy, Lemongrass
SAP on Cloud Specialist