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It’s Time to Focus on Automation

By Lisa Klemens posted Wed January 25, 2023 03:37 PM


When people think about automation, robotics, AI, and science fiction that has become science fact, they often think about Isaac Asimov and his predictions for the future.   In his 1977 essay ‘Whatever You Wish’, Asimov wrote “In a properly automated and educated world, then, machines may prove to be the true humanizing influence. It may be that machines will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile.”  What a utopia that would be, right?  Unfortunately, we’ve not taken advantage of all the technology available to us to get closer to realizing that vision.

There are numerous opportunities available today to advance how much we automate in our IT environments, especially on the mainframe.  Despite dire predictions to the contrary, the use of the mainframe is continuing to grow and confidence in the platform is at a record high.  61% of the respondents in the ‘2022 BMC Mainframe Survey’ have increased their investment in the mainframe and 95% view it as a long-term platform to grow new workloads.  This growth, and the slower than expected pace of customers ‘moving everything to the cloud’, while all good news, presents its own challenges.  The environments are becoming increasingly complex, with more threats, and fewer experienced staff to manage it all.  It’s overwhelming - things will fall through the cracks, mistakes will be made, and things will break.  So, what can IT organizations do to prevent it?

The zSystems environment is extremely well-suited to using the wealth of data already available from z/OS, quickly analyzing the information, and enabling the machine to perform the types of repetitive tasks that allow humans to focus on the higher-value work for which we are best suited.  z/OS also excels at sifting through massive amounts of data to recognize patterns and anomalies, correlating them into insights that would take humans years to analyze on their own.  This is the same data you’ve relied on for many years to capture in-depth statistics on the performance and utilization of your critical systems.  Why not use that trusted data to strengthen the automation of those same systems?

Leveraging ways to automate through analytics is the key.  Tools such as IBM Z® System Automation that use a policy-based, self-healing approach optimize the efficiency and availability of critical systems and applications. The automation of administrative and operational tasks allows companies to capture and manage what humans can’t.  One of the leading causes of service interruptions and outages is missed messages.  The systems we run alert us to problems and even warn us that ‘something isn’t quite right’, predicting that there are problems ahead if we don’t act to address them.  The challenge is that with the tens of thousands of messages generated by the system, which are the ones that need attention?  How do we correlate warnings from disparate systems to recognize looming issues?  Training the system through automation, analytics, and machine learning/AI takes the impossible task out of human hands.  Once the analytics are trusted, automation becomes our eyes, ears, and hands to manage our systems.

Another critical ability businesses need for today’s systems is the means to recover data from applications or systems as quickly and accurately as possible.  This is an area where zSystems excel.  The hardware itself is the most reliable server in the industry.  According to the recent ITIC Server Reliability Survey[1], “Some 96% of IBM Z mainframes and LinuxONE III server customers recorded seven nines (99.99999%) of true fault tolerant reliability and availability. The IBM Z and LinuxONE III recorded a near-imperceptible 3.15 seconds of unplanned per server downtime annually”. Software automation further enhances the overall system reliability and redundancy with offerings like Parallel Sysplex and GDPS.  These tools work exceptionally well to maintain continuous system availability, but the key capability that many companies lack is automation through analytics for ensuring the resiliency of application data.  How can that be when the application data is the lifeblood of the business?

Not so long ago, before cyber resiliency became a necessity, companies worried about recovering from operational problems or disasters – like abends, human errors, hardware failures, or data center outages.  Application backups were run, full-volume system backups were taken, and disaster recovery tests at providers like Comdisco and Sungard were performed regularly.  Although the process was largely manual, it was a focus for every large IT organization.  The advent of replication, multiple sites, and fault-tolerant hardware led companies to believe that they no longer needed something as old-fashioned as backups and disaster recovery testing.  But the tide is turning, and companies and regulators are once again realizing the value and necessity of being prepared for operational failures.  Recently enacted regulations such as DORA (Digital Operational Resiliency Act) by the EU in 2022[2] are being put in place to ensure the financial sector in Europe can stay resilient through a severe operational disruption, and others are sure to follow.

An important tool in the arsenal to address the challenge of operational resiliency is IBM® Z® Batch Resiliency.  The sheer volume of data to manage is overwhelming and manual recovery processes don’t scale to meet the demand, or the need for speed to get businesses up and running after an incident.  The skills and application knowledge gaps are real, making it difficult to understand the complex relationships between data and applications.  IBM Z Batch Resiliency offers real-time analysis of application data usage and resiliency status - ensuring critical application data is backed up and recoverable - and an automated means to identify and recover from the most viable backup.  This is the missing piece of the resiliency puzzle, another tool strengthened by analytics with automation.

Only a few tools to help automate your IT infrastructure are mentioned here, but there are many more available – they’re smarter today and continue to get even smarter with more analytics, machine learning, and automation.  We still need to do the same things we’ve been doing but make them easier with better tools. The journey of maturity to automating with analytics is exactly that, a journey of many steps.  You can’t expect to become fully automated with one tool or in one fell swoop.  Starting today will bring you incremental improvements over time, allowing you to build on your progress.  Continue your journey of automation with these words from Isaac Asimov in mind - “We are reaching the stage where the problems we must solve are going to become insoluble without computers. I do not fear computers, I fear the lack of them.” (Asimov, 1978)[3].  Allow computers to solve the unsolvable problems, and let human beings do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile.

[1] ITIC 2022 Global Server Reliability Survey Finds IBM Z, IBM Power Systems, Lenovo ThinkSystem deliver top reliability by Laura DiDio November 30, 2022

[2] Digital finance: Council adopts Digital Operational Resilience Act – Council of the EU press release November 28, 2022

[3] ‘The Computer Society: The Age of Miracle Chips’ Isaac Asimov - Time (February 20, 1978)