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Automating the IT production line

Article Type: Opinion          Published: 03-2017         Views: 6214      



David Grimes, CTO at Navisite, discusses the growing role of APIs in reducing costs and developing tomorrow's businesses

Finding ways to reduce costs while continuing to offer excellent products and services is the eternal business challenge. To help businesses do this, IT teams and service providers are increasingly looking to APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). APIs are sets of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications that enable automation, which supports increased efficiency, consistency and cost savings for businesses. How exactly are organisations using APIs to do this, and how is this likely to develop in the future?

One important outcome of the automation enabled by APIs is consistency. Through automation, businesses remove human error (and human expense) from operational processes. Even when a repeatable task is well-documented with a clear procedure, when human workers perform the task it is likely that you will end up with varied outcomes.

On the other hand, if that repeatable task is automated, it will be performed in the same way every time, improving operational reliability and in turn operational efficiency. API enabled platforms are driving a true re-think in how we manage IT; we are moving quickly from a process-driven, reactive world to an automation-driven, proactive world.

APIs allow for more dynamic systems that can scale up and down to deliver just the right amount of infrastructure to the application at all times. For example, instrumentation in your application that provides visibility to an orchestration layer can tell when more capacity is required in the web or app tier. The orchestration layer can then come back to the APIs provided by the infrastructure and begin spinning up new web servers and adding them to the load balancer pool to increase capacity.

Likewise, systems built on APIs will then have the instrumentation to tell when they are overbuilt, for example at night and can then use the APIs to wind down unnecessary servers in order to reduce costs.

Indeed, through the ability to script the powering-on of development and testing environments at the start of the business day and automatically powering-off at the end of the business day, businesses can realise huge cost savings on their hosting - up to 50-60 per cent in some cases.

Overall, leveraging APIs in support of a DevOps strategy is always a blend of optimising for cost, for performance and the ability to have deep app-level visibility.

APIs are also highly useful in reporting procedures, as many applications are now producing vast amounts of data that are often an untapped asset. IT teams therefore need to think about how to make those datasets available efficiently in order to build a dynamic reporting engine that can potentially be configured by the end user, who will be the person that understands the nature of the information that he or she needs to extract from the data.

This is frequently accomplished through APIs. IT teams and application services providers can use APIs to build systems that process data and make it accessible to end users immediately, so that they do not have to go through a reporting team and do not lose any of the real-time value of their data.

The benefits of automation through APIs make them a crucial part of modern disaster recovery approaches. The assumption that you'll be able to access all of the tools that you would need during a disaster through the typical user interfaces is not always true. In the modern world of highly virtualised infrastructure, APIs are the enabler for the core building blocks of disaster recovery, in particular replication, which is driven from the APIs exposed by the virtualisation platforms. The final act of orchestrating DR, failover, is also often highly API dependent, for these reasons.

In essence, disaster recovery is one specific use case of the way that APIs enable efficiency and operations automation. Humans make mistakes and processes become very difficult to maintain and update. Therefore a DR plan based on processes and humans executing processes is not an ideal option to ensure the safety of your business in the event of a disaster. Kicking off DR can be likened to "pressing the big red button".

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