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How to Deliver Self-Service Through an IT Vending Machine

Posted by Ryan Geyer   Ι   October 21, 2013

If you're responsible for your organization's IT operations, you're always looking for ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency. What if you could give your end users and business units the tools they need to perform many IT tasks themselves? That's the promise of an IT self-service portal — and RightScale can provide the tools to help you build such a portal, or IT vending machine.

Companies benefit in many ways by offering IT self-service. Empowering users increases productivity because users get their needs met more quickly. At the same time, user self-service enhances IT efficiency because skilled operations staff members no longer have to service every request manually. And with a well-architected self-service portal, organizations can track costs for chargeback and for management reporting.

IT Vending MachineBy adopting an IT vending machine, IT can transform itself into a cloud services provider, but one whose offerings are tailored precisely to the needs of its organization and its users. This makes IT more valuable to the organization and can forestall the rise of shadow IT efforts by other departments that may be tempted to take on IT tasks themselves.

Many organizations have constraints on their processes because of governance or compliance issues. By creating a standardized process and incorporating it into an IT vending machine, organizations can be sure they're performing tasks in an approved fashion and addressing compliance issues. They can also apply security policies so that only approved users with the proper permissions can perform specific operations.

Because the cloud can provide elastic capacity, IT may not have to limit what users can do because they're constrained by limited hardware or bandwidth resources in the data center — and it still can guide users by applying best practices for cost management and security.

An IT vending machine can be useful to IT staffers for prototyping and QA. Sales can use it to spin up a live demo. Marketing can use it to test new campaigns. In all these cases, users only pay for the resources they use.

Don't confuse a self-service portal with IT service management (ITSM) or IT service support management (ITSSM) software, which encompass a broad range of IT needs rather than focusing on application provisioning and operations. By creating an IT vending machine, you can empower users to actually perform tasks that formerly only operations staff could handle — and in a standardized, compliant fashion with access to cost and efficiency reporting.

Even if you already use an IT service catalog application, building an IT vending machine using RightScale Cloud Management can be cost-effective. On top of the flexibility you gain from self-service, the process of creating an IT vending machine helps organizations document their service processes and identify process bottlenecks. And by using the cloud to satisfy IT service requests, an organization gains the benefits of instant-on, high scalability, and cost-effectiveness.

Cost Benefits

IT self-service implies a pay-as-you-go model. Users launch cloud instances to start the services they need, making them available only when they need them. This enables internal users to be more agile, and it allows IT to precisely charge back its costs for computing resources. RightScale allows IT to manage resources that are paid from both capital and operating budgets, mixing and matching public and private clouds to balance application characteristics with the expense model that best suits an organization's business strategy.

Pay-as-you-go implies a need for IT departments to publish their costs, so that business units can budget properly for their use of IT services. In some organizations, high internal IT costs may tempt business unit users to look at alternative service providers. IT self-service enables IT to decide where to compete on cost and where to offer value-added services such as high availability and integration with existing resources that shadow IT efforts typically can't provide.

How RightScale Helps

Automation and orchestration are key ways IT can control costs. For automation, IT processes have to be standardized and scripted. RightScale offers a cloud management solution that includes automation and orchestration capabilities. RightScale ServerTemplates™ and RightScripts™ are among the tools RightScale provides to standardize cloud configuration management, and RightScale also integrates with Puppet and Chef configuration management tools. By using RightScale Cloud Management for server monitoring, organizations can orchestrate the management of assets and processes while taking into account constraints such as business policies and service levels. This means, for example, organizations can set deployments to scale up or down automatically based on usage, demand, and policies.

Another benefit of RightScale is its ability to manage multiple cloud vendors' platforms. Organizations want to avoid locking their IT services into a single cloud provider, because different providers have unique strengths that can be effective for different use cases. Because RightScale abstracts each provider's implementation details, it can manage clouds from multiple providers, allowing organizations to use the best platform for the job or migrate from one provider to another.

Tips for Building an IT Vending Machine

If all of these benefits sound useful for your organization, consider doing a proof of concept for an IT vending machine. Before you start the process of implementing an IT vending machine, think about what services you want to offer, and make sure you have a manual IT services management process in place for those services. It's this manual process that you can automate.

Don't make a fully formed IT vending machine the goal of your initial project. Plan to start small, and from the lessons you learn as you go along, add enhancements and offerings. As your infrastructure evolves, make sure you maintain a consistent user experience. To make your life easier, standardize as many components as you can.

The IT vending machine paradigm requires IT to take on some tasks that might be outside of its traditional comfort zone. For example, it will need a process for defining and accepting new services to be added to the portal.

OK, you say, all of that sounds good in concept, but what does it look like? You can see a video demonstration of what an IT vending machine looks like and what happens behind the scenes to automate operations by viewing the webinar Operationalize Your Enterprise AWS Usage Through an IT Vending Machine beginning at 30:44. The code to make it happen is open source and available for download. Best of all, if you're attending AWS re:Invent, attend our session How to Say Yes to Self-Service in the Cloud and Become an IT Hero.

An IT vending machine won't make all your user requests go away — you needn't worry about your job security. But properly done, offering IT self-service can increase your department's efficiency and your users' satisfaction.

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