Is My Automation Your Automation?

Last week we discussed whether automation is expected in today’s IT environment. Many of you agreed that it’s definitely not a new thing, with SysAdmins scripting things years ago (hello, Kix32!). We could even argue that it was much easier to script things in the old days when DOS and Windows 3.1 relied on .ini files for configuration, and there was no pesky registry.

Like other technology buzzwords, automation may prompt a different mental picture for you than it does for me. To online entrepreneurs, automation is about lead magnets feeding into sales funnels, auto responders and content delivery systems – that’s the magic behind the “make money while you sleep” crowd (or so they say). To a manufacturer, automation might mean robotics. To a customer services manager, automation can be customer support self-service or chatbots.

So let’s discuss what SysAdmins are actually automating.

Builds – Gone are the days of inserting 6 x 3.5” disks to install an operating system, or being able to copy it from one machine to another (totally showing my age here). After that, you were lucky if someone had taken screenshots or written down what settings to select as you stepped through the setup screens of NT4.0. We’ve always wanted our server and desktop builds to be consistent, but the need to document got in the way for some of us. Microsoft Small Business Server gave us wizards, and image cloning technology and Sysprep became normal for desktops. Ignoring cloud services for now, how are your current server and desktop builds automated? Have you gone fully "Infrastructure as Code" with Puppet, Chef, or Ansible?

Standard desktop settings – After a while in the small business space your memory fades of locked down Standard Operating Environments, but the reasons for them remain strong. In a Microsoft world, it seems Group Policy settings still rule here. Am I right?

Server reboots and service restarts – While I’d love to see us progress further with autonomous computing (computer, heal thyself), we’re not quite there yet. In reality, you can have a few workhorse servers that just need a scheduled reboot every now and again. My other favorite remediation step is automatically starting services that shouldn’t have stopped. What automation do you have in place to prevent things from dying or for trying to revive them?

User provisioning – When used for the occasional staff member, the GUI isn’t that bad a place to create new accounts, as long as you remember to add the required group memberships, mailboxes etc. Even then, it’s probably quicker to update their details on a spreadsheet and run a PowerShell command. Has PowerShell become our new favorite thing for user adds, changes, and deletes?

This is a very brief overview, so what have I missed? Do you live on GitHub, searching for new scripts?

Jump into the comments and share what SysAdmin tasks you’ve automated and how. Maybe together we can automate us out of some work!