Let’s stick our heads in the cloud for a moment. With your very first test account to play with a SaaS product or an Infrastructure as a Service environment, it’s natural to set up users and servers manually. That’s how we learn. That’s not sustainable on an ongoing basis for a production environment unless you want to screenshot every box you ticked and you know that the next tech will follow that documentation to the letter.


Decisions, decisions
Server builds and user account creation are two SysAdmin processes that are perfect for automating, even when they’re in the cloud. Your biggest challenge will be deciding what tool to use. Do you have a single vendor approach, so a native tool from that vendor will suffice? Are you splitting your risk between AWS and Azure, and looking for one tool that supports both environments? Are you running a hybrid model where there’s still a requirement for internal user accounts that you want to integrate with cloud SaaS products?


The single vendor approach
I’m going to pick on Azure and AWS because they are the two I’m most familiar with and I also have a word count to (roughly) stick to. If you’re a Rackspace or Google Cloud fan, or prefer some other IaaS flavor, add your thoughts in the comments.


Azure: It will be no surprise that Azure’s own automation service is based on PowerShell. PowerShell scripts and workflows (known as runbooks) to be exact. Learn more about Azure Automation here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/documentation/learning-paths/automation/


AWS: AWS Cloud Formation uses JSON or YAML text files. You can choose from a library of templates or you the designer to create your own. https://aws.amazon.com/cloudformation/details/


The multi-vendor approach
I’ve briefly mentioned before the powerhouses of Chef and Ansible. Both have tools that integrate with both Azure and AWS.


Chef and Azure: https://www.chef.io/implementations/azure/


Chef and AWS: https://www.chef.io/implementations/aws/


Ansible and Azure: https://www.ansible.com/microsoft-azure


Ansible and AWS: https://www.ansible.com/aws


DevOps also caught my eye, but it integrates with AWS, Digital Ocean, and Linode: http://devo.ps/


Usage and Billing
The "pay as you use" subscription model for SaaS products can lead to some large, unexpected bills. If the business loads a ton of new content (data) or places a significant amount of new traffic on one particular cloud server, you won’t see it until you get the monthly invoice. There are a few vendors jumping on board to help solve this problem.


Cloud Ctrl shows usage trends, compares spending between business units and allows you to set usage thresholds and alerts. It is compatible with Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, Soft Layer, and Office 365. http://cloudctrl.com.au/


Startup Meta SaaS has just come out of stealth mode after a seed investment of around $1.5 million. Their product helps you analyze your spend and usage of SaaS products, including alerting on renewal dates. It will also tell you when accounts are being left dormant, which is handy if people have left your organization and their SaaS accounts haven’t been canceled. Meta SaaS currently supports 224 SaaS vendors and is adding new integrations at a rate of 20 per week. https://www.metasaas.com/


Over to you!

I've offered just a taste of what you can automate in the cloud. We haven’t covered the automation of account provisioning when you run a hybrid environment (with tools like Azure AD Connect in the Microsoft world), but see my previous comment regarding word count.

Would a move to the cloud make you more open to investigating automation tools? Are they a necessity in the cloud world, or just another thing that will sit on your to-do list? Do you find it easy or hard to wrap your head around things like JSON scripts, to move to a world of cloud infrastructure as code?  Let me know what you think.