Case Study

IT Automation Speeds Process Management at Indiana U Center

Automating portions of IT management tasks can tighten security, reduce risk, and make the flow of files and data more transparent, manageable, and compliant with regulations. Users can also benefit through fresher data and more timely updates.

The Auxiliary IT Operation center at Indiana University manages some 150 servers, many of them vendor-specific computers with a single purpose. Some are database or front-end servers that interact with backend systems running Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle databases. The center is the IT group responsible for a wide range of for-profit entities on campus, including the residential services, parking, the student union, campus card, dining facilities, campus transportation and more. By necessity, data is often shared with the central university's IT department, according to Senior Systems Administrator Aaron Sudduth.

Lots of data sharing and movement and a wide range of users in different groups and departments pointed to the need for a better IT process management solution. The center wanted a system that could automate overall management and control of the department's information. It also needed a centralized and reliable process to back up sensitive data regularly for disaster recovery purposes.

To address those needs, the center is now using software from Network Automation that has helped to automate a range of important data transfer and backup processes in a single tool.

Before AutoMate, IT tasks involving data transfers or file access were often handled by hand. Moving data from one server to another, for example--a fairly routine request--meant someone on the IT staff had to create a job with the needed information, put that information into a folder, and send it to Sudduth, who would then copy it to another folder and send it on.

For standard security reasons, developers no longer routinely have rights to production data on servers, Sudduth explained. He can set a trigger in AutoMate that watches a specific folder or file. When a request for access from a developer occurs, a specified action is triggered: A SQL query might run, for example, or a file will be copied from point A to point B. By giving developers quick and direct access to the files and data they need, "it definitely has saved time," Sudduth said.

Another benefit occurs when a process in a chain of events fails. Before AutoMate, it was often the case that no one knew about a job failure for hours or even days. Now, Sudduth said, "I can set triggers [in AutoMate]" and be notified in the case of a failure.

AutoMate is also used to automate processes involving the central university computers. "There's a lot of sharing of data [in which] access permission is very slim, so we use these automated processes," Sudduth explained. Previously, some processes were done manually by a specific individual at the center.

One example of the use of AutoMate is the regular process of converting payroll files from one software system to another. If the job conversion fails, as it sometimes does, AutoMate is set to send an immediate email complete with an Excel attachment that includes identification of the items that failed. In the past, "we sometimes didn't know [about a failure] until days had passed," Sudduth said.

"Basically, [AutoMate provides] an easy way to get a file or some kind of data [or task] from one server to the next at a scheduled time without having to write little scripts here and there... or manually running them," Sudduth said. "It really lightens the administrative load."

One indication of the product's success at Indiana U.: whereas the center purchased AutoMate for a single function and began with a single stand-alone AutoMate license, Sudduth said, it now has some 15 licenses.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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