Why IT Professionals Need to Embrace Low/No Code Automation

Automation has been eliminating manual, repetitive processes since the beginning of the machine age. Now, advanced user interfaces and machine learning are helping software developers and other IT professionals build applications with little or no code, bringing the benefits of automation into their working lives.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan June 17, 2020

Low/no-code automation will likely help IT pros succeed across a spectrum of high-tech careers in the years ahead. Indeed, the IT pros who adopt this new generation of automation will hold a substantial competitive advantage over those who don’t. 

That’s the view of two Nutanix technologists who have spent decades in the trenches of software development. In interviews with The Forecast, Mark Lavi, Principal DevOps Advocate, and Harry Yang, Senior Director, Product Management, at Nutanix, explained why low/no-code apps will play an ever-larger role in the working lives of IT people.

“Normally in IT, we're used to setting up things by hand, tuning them by hand and maintaining them by hand,” said Lavi. “The whole point of low code and no code is to automate more and more of these processes.”

Automation makes organizations more efficient, boosting their value in the marketplace. The same concept applies to IT people, Lavi said.

Yang, Senior Director of Product Manager for Prism Pro, Nutanix’s operations management platform, said more automation is a welcome advance for most IT pros.

“It lets them focus more on the interesting things they want to do, versus just the tedious code they actually don't like to write.”

Lavi and Yang direct programs that help Nutanix deliver hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), which uses software to virtualize storage, computing and networking in a single application that runs on commodity servers. Building uptime and change management on top of HCI creates a wealth of configuration challenges that must be implemented and monitored. Alerts can call in the IT cavalry when something goes wrong. 

Low/no-code apps are crucial to helping Nutanix clients optimize and automate these processes, according to Lavi.  

“I like to call these automated procedures ‘continuous operations’ for always-on business,” said Lavi.

Rise of Low/No-Code Apps

Conventional software requires developers to painstakingly craft syntax and logic to tell computers what to do. Code must be written, compiled, tested, deployed and updated with extreme attention to detail. A few botched keystrokes can undo countless hours of toil.

This has been true since the first computer languages emerged in the 1940s. In the 1970s, developers started designing graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to make code invisible to the user. Over the next 40 years, user interfaces would evolve from pointing and clicking to swiping and speaking.

Most GUIs were designed to make life easier for consumers using PCs and mobile devices. Developers designed and deployed GUIs, but they didn’t necessarily benefit from them. Large swaths of their work remained manual, time-consuming and prone to human error.  

Low/no-code software shifts this paradigm — combining GUIs with machine learning algorithms to give IT people applications that can quickly and easily automate repetitive work, reduce errors and become more productive. Some apps use no code at all. Instead, they rely on symbols like flow charts to map out the steps in an automation. Others require small amounts of code. Together, they democratize application development for beginners and experts alike.    

“My backlog of work is always growing,” Lavi said. “I always have more things to do by hand. Automation is the only way out of this. Low/no-code is essential to everybody’s skillsets, whether you're a business analyst, a brand-new IT worker or a 50-year veteran.”

 Low/No-Code in Action at Nutanix

IT experts can create scripts to automate many of their day-to-day tasks, but things get trickier in enterprise-scale IT operations.

“The more diverse the environment you manage, the more scripts and programs you need to manage by yourself,” Yang said. “It becomes a nightmare to do all this.”

Automation can help any company or organization — if they can afford custom-coded solutions.

“This automation requires a sophisticated design,” Yang said. “Automation for lifecycle management, such as provisioning apps, requires a sophisticated design and skilled automation knowledge that can be expensive to acquire.” 

Not every automation is the same and learning curves can be very steep, said Yang. In their day-to-day operations, IT teams need to quickly create new automation procedures to solve new problems and meet new business requirements. 

“They need to turn those tasks into automation quickly,” he said.

He said companies could turn to third-party developers to automate, but the cost would be steep. That’s why Nutanix added a feature called X-Play to its Prism Pro operations management suite: to help IT managers create step-by-step processes to automate complicated technology processes. X-Play relies on machine learning to model the behavior of users and find faster solutions to their automation needs.

For instance, Nutanix clients often deploy virtual machines (VMs) to run IT workloads and store data. Provisioning a VM might mean assigning a specific amount of storage or network bandwidth demand. If a spike in demand causes the VM’s provisioning to fall short, an IT manager would probably have to reconfigure the VM to provision more capacity manually.

X-Play can trigger an alert when capacity starts to run short. And it can put processes in place to automatically generate more computing resources. This prevents the 4 a.m. calls to an IT pro who would have to make the fix manually.

“We want to automate more things so that people don't have to wake up in the middle of the night to save the world or, correspondingly, so they won’t make a mistake at four in the morning because they are busy saving the world,” Lavi said.  

Yang notes that trust is the key to building successful low/no-code apps. Sometimes a company will hire a vendor to build what he calls a “black box” automation — whose internal operations are not well understood to anybody but the developer.

Customers are extremely leery of bugs in automated sequences, especially with mission-critical workloads. Yang recalled: “A client once told me: ‘If a bug in an automation deletes my VM, who is going to be fired? It’s not the person who wrote the automation. It’s me, the person who manages the VM.’ So, they don't trust those so-called black-box automations.”

Yang said Nutanix lets IT people assemble their own automations in simple, transparent steps in a point-and-click GUI, with guardrails built in to prevent meltdowns.

“When they build it by themselves, they know exactly what they put into the automation,” he said.


Creating a Resilient and Scalable IT Team with Automation

Why Automation Will Come to Define IT Careers

Yang explained that more IT people will have to evolve from specialists into generalists.

“We used to have a network specialist, a database specialist, a storage specialist and a virtualization specialist,” Yang said. “The trend in the industry is: that's not efficient and it creates a lot of silos.” 

With companies like Nutanix converging vast swaths of infrastructure into a single application, deep specialization becomes less important.

“IT admins will need lots of different knowledge because their scope of understanding has to be bigger while their knowledge will become shallower,” Yang added. “That's the balance we have to make.”

Lavi, the DevOps advocate, notes that agile principles are moving toward a goal of continuous deployment of software. That equals no rest for IT people who are writing, testing and updating software.

“DevOps and low/no code will help us get the most advanced programmers and the least advanced programmers working as a community to help contribute towards increasing business value, driving out inefficiencies, driving up automation and driving down the human error,” Lavi said.  

Ultimately, everything in IT will become more challenging as the demands on technology experts expand. Big data, edge computing, 5G bandwidth, machine learning and virtualization all will add power and complexity. These challenges will overwhelm manual processes and the people who maintain them.  

“The reality is we can't work harder – we only have 24 hours a day,” Lavi concluded. “So, how do we work smarter? Automation is the best lever that we can pull on.”  

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

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