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Build StaaS with micro-services: Storage automation (Part 1)

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Tony Johnson
Guest Author: Tony Johnson, SRE Automation Lead, IBM
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The objectives of the storage automation program were to decrease time to market for requests, improve quality, and build reputation by leading IT in automation capabilities. Johnson shares his storage automation experiences here as part of a series to help other professionals avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities to deliver value to their organizations.

Professionally, I lead teams and organizations in agile infrastructure design and management. Personally, I am a dog lover and trainer. I enjoy working with dogs as they mature from puppies to lifelong companions. Teaching a puppy to become a loyal member of your pack is about setting expectations, leading by example, and being committed to a long-term outcome. I mean this as a sincere compliment—leading projects and programs for infrastructure teams and leading dogs are similar in many ways.

I’m proud of my team’s journey to automating all things storage. Like our three dogs, this program started with us not knowing how it would turn out. We decided to run an experiment and discover where it would take us.

Automation for storage is no longer something that’s nice to have; it’s imperative if a storage team wants to remain relevant in a cloud-first, innovative landscape. Responding to the pace of business, anticipating emerging technologies, and delivering with quality—all these are mandatory today.

In this series of blog posts, I’ll share the lessons learned from our program, the success we’ve had, and how an automation initiative in support of DevOps and containers positioned us as leaders in our organization.

What’s first

Before the engineers start creating playbooks and recipes, we establish the objectives we want to achieve. Here are a few objectives that are probably familiar to you:

  • Decrease time to market
  • Increase staff efficiency
  • Reduce error rate and Increase quality
  • Improve team reputation
  • Reduce and contain costs
  • Respond quickly to business demands

In my experience, addressing these objectives requires thinking about collaboration and the tools you need to start on the path.

Simply put, how do we communicate, and how do we work together?

Are other teams aware of your undertaking? Do you have their support and time as required? Are the tools in place, or do you need to make a case for bringing them on board?

Also, in my experience, you need to understand where you are on the path, how you will display progress, and what criteria determine success. How will you know when you’re finished? How will you capture the baseline of your objectives? It’s suitable to use subjective metrics if you don’t currently measure things, but be sure to put processes in place to capture the critical measures of success. 

Where we started

In 2018, I was working with a team of 6 people to provide storage for IT, with approximately 7PB of storage usage. We were in scramble mode with the looming pressure of figuring out solutions for persistent container storage. The manual work was overwhelming the team, and we knew that we needed to do something different. We concluded that the only way to scale was to automate our storage platform to gain efficiency. The road to storage automation was coming into view.

My team had three main objectives:

  1. Increase staff efficiency and decrease time spent on manual tasks. Staff members were working on ad hoc requests without a standardized automation platform to free up their time. This was not strategic work, and our company was embarking on a hybrid cloud and container roadmap. My staff needed to solve the problem of persistent storage for containers and all the complexities therein. Storage companies were still introducing persistent storage solutions, and we needed to vet, test, and produce a service catalog for teams to adopt.
  2. Decrease time to market for our customers. The median time for storage requests was a full week to resolution. Our automation initiative was intended to shorten resolution time and was tied into our DevOps initiative to move faster and decentralize operations without sacrificing quality.
  3. Provide standardized operations for the company. We couldn’t answer simple questions about an application’s data protection policy and capability. Data protection needs were completed ad hoc by my team differently for each application, based on the application owners’ perceived needs.

We worked with our partners to standardize the company’s data protection needs as determined by the criticality of the application. Then we automated data protection configuration as part of the provisioning process.

In upcoming posts, I will detail how we tackled these objectives. I’ll talk about the metrics and the successes. I’ll also describe some of the challenges we faced along the way. I hope you find this series informative, and that it will inspire or help you with your storage automation projects.

Learn more

To learn more, check out this video that we made at NetApp INSIGHT® 2021, Build Storage as a Service (STaaS) with Micro-Services.

Guest Author: Tony Johnson, SRE Automation Lead, IBM

Tony Johnson is the SRE Automation Lead for IBM. He is responsible for the automation of hybrid cloud services and platforms for the IBM CIO team. Previously he was Storage Manager at Red Hat, from 2014 to 2020, leading a group of 6 engineers responsible for IT storage.

View all Posts by Guest Author: Tony Johnson, SRE Automation Lead, IBM

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