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One of the hottest emerging trends in IT these days is the shift toward increased reliance on automation. While the idea has been around, thanks to the rise of open-source tools from companies such as Chef and Puppet Labs, the adoption of IT automation tools has increased markedly.

Driving this trend is nothing short of a little self-preservation. As IT environments have become more complex, IT administrators are being asked to manage hundreds, sometimes thousands, of virtual servers and the application instances running on top of them. Because most organizations can’t afford to keep throwing additional administrators at this challenge, many are now embracing IT automation tools that allow them to rely on programming languages to automate the management of the entire data center.

As part of the effort to capitalize on that trend, Chef (formerly known as OpsCode) recently picked up $32 million in new funding. According to Jay Wampold, vice president of marketing for Chef, much of that funding will be used for product development that will extend the reach of Chef.

“We’re going to extend Chef across and up the stack,” said Wampold. “Programmable IT operations is the wave of future.”

Of course, Puppet Labs has similar ambitions. The company, for example, just inked an alliance with VMware under which integration between Puppet software and version 6.0 of the VMware vCloud Automation Center software is now much tighter. That alliance is a component of a much larger VMware strategy to build what the company bills as the software-defined data center.

“Managing IT is coming down to being able to use simple declarative statements,” said Puppet Labs CTO Nigel Kersten. “All you need to do is click on a button.”

That level of automation is creating opportunities for solution providers. The channel opportunities include helping IT organizations sort through automation products and leverage the technology to deliver managed services via the cloud.

“We’re moving into a second stage of virtualization that will be defined by policy-based orchestration,” said Peter ffoulkes, an industry analyst with 451 Research. “We’re really talking about being able to dynamically move the walls between applications.”

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.