Labor is one of the largest costs enterprises face when setting up and managing infrastructure, especially servers and storage. Today, IT administrators can spend hours, if not days, configuring servers and storage to support applications. From the present through 2004, a new generation of tools will assist customers in automating change management for both servers and storage systems.Provisioning is not a new concept. The telecommunications industry has long used the term to refer to initiating and activating a service. Today, server and storage management provisioning tools automate setup, configuration, and change management for systems. In the future, storage and server automation tools will become the forebears of broader utility computing and storage management architectures that will emerge by 2004.Enterprises must streamline data center operations. Storage provisioning will be one of the core building blocks for automated storage management that promises to improve the efficiencies of storage. Server provisioning will be more important as server designs continue to shift to more modular platforms such as blade servers, making rapid deployment and application integration an imperative. Provisioning will grow in importance in 2003, as new data center complexities require enterprises to automate tasks in order to conserve labor resources for bigger issues. Although server and storage provisioning address somewhat different enterprise requirements, they do share important attributes of allowing enterprises the ability to accomplish more tasks with fewer resources. The danger is automating too quickly without fully understanding the ramifications for the process.The shift to automation in the data center means customers must consider staged plans for offering infrastructure as a service. Both server and storage provisioning are the first steps in shifting to the utility computing and storage models that vendors have been clamoring about over the last year. Understanding the pros and cons, as well as putting processes in place early, will assist IT in planning its migration to the utility model.Recommendations to EnterprisesEvaluate server and storage provisioning products as part of your buying plans in 2003. Automating the mundane tasks of provisioning is a no-brainer. However, any provisioning tools purchase needs to be an educated one. IT executives should have done strategic planning as well to determine specific needs and longer-term requirements.Weave provisioning products into a broader corporate management strategy. A number of large enterprises have already stated their intentions to shift to a service model for offering infrastructure as a service (both computing and storage). Provisioning these elements will be a crucial step to this level of automation and service. Set milestones for accomplishing each layer of automation for server and storage infrastructure.Select server vendors based on their ability to deliver on the provisioning promise. All large server vendors have delivered new generations of servers over the last year that should be able to be provisioned. Customers need to make sure they understand vendor plans for providing their own server provisioning tools or working with third parties. This understanding will be essential as the blade server market grows in 2004 and 2005.Determine the best route for storage provisioning. The large number of vendors claiming to provide storage provisioning tools increases the likelihood enterprise customers will invest in products that do not meet their long-term needs. The fundamental questions include: How does storage provisioning fit into my storage strategic plan? What is more important, adopting leading technology or fewer vendors?Set a date to move to a utility model. It no longer makes sense to ignore this trend. As more intelligent management tools come to market, enterprise customers must be prepared with a game plan for migrating to the utility model. Selecting vendors will largely determine the long-term direction for both computing and storage as utilities. Choosing the wrong vendors when planning for this process will have costly consequences.