Creating a Runbook and Runbook Automation: Where to Start

Runbooks

Creating code is often a collaborative process, and when things go wrong (and things will go wrong) there is often a lot of information which has to be gathered from many different people to reach a solution. Even when the solution to an issue is seemingly clear, the necessary data is divided among several team members. If the issue comes up again, it’s important that everyone has access to its relevant data in order to solve it quickly without relying on specific personnel and knowledge silos. That’s where a runbook comes in.

A runbook essentially serves as a guide, providing any relevant team members with a protocol for the required actions to carry out in the event of an issue or multiple issues. Many times, issues are recurring and it is helpful to have the ability to look back and see how the problem was dealt with the last time it happened, allowing it to be resolved faster more efficiently.

A runbook also serves as a form of centralizing information, and makes it accessible to any team members who may need to use it in the future, relieving the engineers in charge of dealing with the crisis, the hassle of hunting down where and with whom the information is located.  It also saves other team members from having to rehash explanations of the issues and be distracted from their core duties.  In addition, allowing more people access to crucial information broadens the pool of potential problem solvers and can lead to brainstorming and innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

Writing a Runbook: How to Begin

When companies are smaller or just beginning a project, it’s difficult to know where to start. Generally, a good starting point is a programmer’s very own logs, and printing and collecting these logs into a text file in any format is a natural beginning for creating a more curated runbook in the future.

Luckily, although most people aren’t willing to sift through thousands of lines of log codes to hunt down the solution they’re looking for, there are plenty of programs available online which can compress the data and sift through it all, to then return the results which were searched for.

The primary starting point used most commonly when beginning to write a runbook are the myriad monitoring systems. A monitoring system can provide information such as what isn’t working and where. Once we know what is being monitored, alerts can be prepared in case of any issues.

As opposed to the alerts which are intended to preempt any issues, the runbook uses the same principles of identifying the environmental factors which led to the issue occurring, but as a way to solve the issue after it has occurred, rather than prevent it before it happens. Alerts when they happen are added to the runbook as they represent the occurrence of an issue.  Once issues are recurring or patterns are observed, the runbook can start to serve a preemptive function. 

Once you’ve begun to document any incidents and steps taken to solve them, creating a runbook becomes a much simpler task. There are programs and templates available online which can take simple documentation and make it into a coherent and easy to read runbook. The next time an issue resurfaces you can simply check the runbook to see how it was solved in the past.

With XiteiT, you can easily log guides and steps to create your runbook in one place for your entire team to access and update as needed.

The Importance of Runbook Automation:

Runbook automation is used to refer to the procedure of automating the task of creating and curating a runbook. While total automation of runbooks is still a thing of the future, runbooks can be automated to a degree, yet this still requires a “hybridization” of the automated work and human input.

Although it may seem like an unnecessary burden, automating runbooks relieves engineers from the unnecessary work of implementing repetitive and simple solutions, allowing them to focus on more important issues. In addition, automating tasks minimizes the risks of human mistakes and could even improve the overall quality of the program/product.

Runbook automation also allows engineers the opportunity of anticipating an issue preemptively, by identifying common conditions known to lead to an issue and alerting relevant engineers or activating automated steps before an issue actually arises. This allows engineers to solve problems before they take place and lessens the risk of potential fallout such as downtime, customer frustrations, and loss of revenue.

While automation can’t replace any of the tools, manual commands, or scripts already in use, it serves as a seam between the engineers and their tools to advance operating procedures, making the information more readily available to more members of the team.

Overall, automating runbooks can make the maintenance and implementation process much less arduous and more time efficient. With automation, you can both improve the overall quality of your program and save your team valuable time and energy. XiteiT enables you to manage your runbook and runbook automations easily from one place, taking into account the importance of the necessary human/machine hybrid for effective automation.

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