Are you tired of constantly fixing a recurring problem in your organization—often in the middle of the night? Do you find yourself frequently becoming a bottleneck for your SRE or DevOps team?
If the answer is 'yes' to either question, it's time to consider implementing runbook automation.
You've probably heard of runbooks before—those meticulous "how-to" guides for completing common, repeatable tasks. Well, runbook automation takes them to the next level by taking that documentation and turning it into executable code. It starts as “human-in-the-loop” automation and can eventually become fully automated.
So, if you're an SRE, developer, or manager who's ready to say goodbye to the interruptions and sleepless nights, read on to discover all you need to know about runbook automation.
First—a quick look at some basics.
A runbook is a step-by-step guide that shows developers, SREs, and other support staff how to resolve frequent, repeatable, and typically less creative tasks (also referred to as "toil"). Examples of toil include incident remediation, reviewing non-critical monitoring alerts, applying changes to a database schema, answering service requests, and resolving other operational work supporting business continuity. To help reduce this manual work, DevOps engineers usually write runbooks to share their knowledge with new team members and help enable the on-call group.
While runbooks seem like a good idea, in reality, they simply aren’t efficient. All too often, they're incredibly complex, lengthy, difficult to read, and equally challenging to write and keep up-to-date.
As a result of their intricacy and size, DevOps teams often ignore runbooks and do something simple that they can perform from memory (although it might be overkill for some problems).
Luckily, there's a better way of remediating common operations problems, and that's through runbook automation.
Runbook automation (RBA) is an operations process that enables DevOps and site reliability engineering (SRE) teams to turn manual solutions into automated processes.
When implementing RBA in your organization, there are two main types of processes you can use:
Whether you write the scripts or use a ready-made solution, runbook automation will allow your company to solve exponentially more issues in less time. You'll be able to resize, archive, or delete files from full disks, restart Java virtual machines (JVMs) that have central processing units (CPUs) maxed out due to runaway garbage collection, terminate stuck Kubernetes pods, and even remove unauthorized Bitcoin mining apps that suck system resources.
To help identify all unique runbook automation opportunities in your company, it helps to understand how it works.
There are a few basic steps to automating a runbook execution, and the first step is arguably the most critical for supporting your team.
With these five steps, you'll be able to automate debugging, node retirement, and reduce overall toil so you can avoid those late-night wake-up calls.
A huge part of implementing runbook automation relies on communicating its benefits clearly to your C-suite. After all, it won't be a priority without your executives on board.
With that in mind, here are the three significant ways RBA can improve your organization:
This point is crucial and may speak the most to your CTO.
Knowledge transfer is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive—particularly when DevOps constantly needs to update manual runbooks.
On top of that, incidents cause lost revenue and reputational damage. Remember when an Amazon employee made a typo while following an established playbook that cost companies in the S&P 500 index an estimated $150 million?
By incorporating runbook automation, you free up your developers and SREs from issues that don't require human judgment so they can spend more time on higher-value projects. You also don't have to hire as large of a team, can shorten incident response time, and decrease potential damages by having bots remediate issues in seconds rather than days or weeks.
Ultimately, people's time is a company's most expensive asset. Avoiding highly disruptive escalation chains can help save costs—especially for those putting in on-call hours.
Another benefit of runbook automation is that, by cutting down on interruptions, DevOps has more time to work on projects that move the needle for your business—like accelerating the adoption and deployment of new and innovative services.
By reducing toil and tasks that require the same solution over and over, your team can focus on innovative efforts that propel you ahead of your competition.
Additionally, by automating and removing repeatable tasks, you can expand business operations and manage a more extensive fleet with the same team.
Often, the recurring issues you eliminate through automation are the ones that affect just a few customers at a time. They also don't always take customers offline but rather degrade service.
But they happen a lot.
By eliminating these issues through RBA, you save your customers thousands of hours of degraded service—not just for buyers experiencing it now, but also for those who will have it in the future. The result is happier customers who know they can depend on your services to keep their customers satisfied, too.
Suppose you've assessed your team's current capacity and have determined that implementing runbook automation on your own may not be feasible due to limited resources. In that case, an RBA platform can simplify the effort by providing pre-built scripts that integrate with many of the technologies SREs use.
With an RBA platform, there are a few essential capabilities you'll want to ensure it has:
Bottom line—you want a solution that encourages agility and doesn't pigeonhole you into remediating only specific problems and only so far.
It's also important to note that, while most RBA platforms claim to support both human-in-the-loop and end-to-end automation, many are only practical for human-in-the-loop. Surprisingly, the big difference between these platforms and those that genuinely enable end-to-end isn’t in the automation—it’s in the alarm precision. Selecting an RBA platform that helps you create more precise alarms will allow you to have the confidence to transition to end-to-end automation down the road. Platforms that don't give you the option to construct exact alarms may not provide the certainty you need to move away from human-in-the-loop.
Armed with the learnings from this guide, you can confidently make the case to your CTO that it's time to transition away from laborious, manual runbooks and towards automation. Not only will your company be able to save costs, boost innovation, and improve customer satisfaction, but you'll also give your DevOps and SRE teams the support they need. No more late-night calls to fix the same old issues!
Ready to get started? Shoreline's RBA Platform supports human-in-the-loop and end-to-end automation with precise alarms, so you can ease your way into automating remediations in seconds, not weeks. Get started today with a free trial.