What the Five Levels of Vehicle Autonomy Tell us About Adoption of Infrastructure Automation Tools

On our first day as Turbonomic employees, our team had some great discussions with CTO Charles Crouchman about Turbonomic, ParkMyCloud, and the market for infrastructure automation tools. Charles explained his vision of the future of infrastructure automation, which parallels the automation trajectory that cars and other vehicles have been following for decades. It’s a comparison that’s useful in order to understand the goals of fully-automated cloud infrastructure — and the mindset of cloud users adopting this paradigm. (And of course, given our name, we’re all in on driving analogies!)

The Five Levels of Vehicle Autonomy

The idea of the five levels of vehicle autonomy — or six, if you include level 0 — is an idea that comes from the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The levels are as follows:

  • Level 0 — No Automation. The driver performs all driving tasks with no tools or assistance.

How These Levels Apply to Infrastructure Automation Tools

Now let’s take a look at how these levels apply to infrastructure automation tools and infrastructure:

  • Level 0 — No Automation. No tools in place.

So where are most cloud users in the process right now? There are cloud users and organizations all over this spectrum, which makes sense when you think about vehicle automation: there are early adopters who are perfectly willing to buy a Tesla, turn on auto-pilot, and let the car drive them to their destination. But, there are also plenty of laggards who are not ready to take their hands off the wheel, or even turn on cruise control.

Most public cloud users have at least elements of levels 1 and 2 via scripts and monitoring solutions. Many are at level 3, and with the most advanced platforms, organizations reach level 4. However, there is a barrier between levels 4 and 5: you will need an integrated hardware/software solution. The companies that are closest to full automation are the hyperscale cloud companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Google who have basically built their own proprietary stack including the hardware. This is where Kubernetes comes from and things like Netflix Scryer.

In our conversation, Charles said: “The thing getting in the way is heterogeneity, which is to say, most customers buy their hardware from one vendor, application software from another company, storage from another, cloud capacity from another, layer third-party software applications in there, use different development tools — and none of these things were effectively built to be automated. So right now, automation needs to happen from outside the system, with adaptors into the systems. To get to level 5, the automation needs to be baked in from the system software through the application all the way up the stack.”

What Defines Early Adopters of Infrastructure Automation Tools

While there’s a wide scale of adoption in the market right now, there are a few indicators that can predict whether an organization or an individual will be open to infrastructure automation tools.

The first is a DevOps approach. If an organization using DevOps, they have already agreed to let software automate deployments, which means they’re accepting of automation in general — and likely to be open to more.

Another is whether resource management is centralized within the organization or not. If it is centralized, the team or department doing the management tends to be more open to automation and software solutions. If ownership is distributed throughout the organization, it’s naturally more difficult to make unified change.

Ultimately, the goal we should all be striving for is to use infrastructure automation tools to step up the levels of automated resource configuration and cost control. Through automation, we can reduce management time and room for human error to achieve optimized environments.

Originally published at www.parkmycloud.com on July 9, 2019.

CEO of ParkMyCloud

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