How Runbooks Enhance Performance of NOCs, DevOps & Cloud Services Overall

While we’re all increasingly reliant on cloud services, most people don’t realize just how complex cloud infrastructure is – and the steps and resources needed to ensure that it works. Behind the scenes are teams working around the clock to make sure things stay up and running, and it’s no easy task. In their vast toolbox is a must-have tool to keep things running smoothly – the runbook.

What is a runbook?

For cloud services to run properly, a wide range of intricately detailed steps need to be taken – and in a specific order. Such steps can include upgrades and updates, maintenance procedures, or solving issues to prevent and/or reduce downtime. This is where a runbook comes in. Think of an instruction manual of sorts. Runbooks simplify and outline the order of the entire production cycle by breaking it down into a concrete action plan for each issue that may rise.

They can be physical or digital and many technology companies, and especially cloud service providers, have converted their physical runbooks into digital resources. But no matter the version, runbooks are used as a “playbook” to document and explain every step of a routine operation so that engineers, R&D, SRE, DevOps teams, system administrators, and other technical team members can successfully carry out each stage of a process in its proper order.

Who uses – and benefits from – a runbook?

Runbooks are especially valuable for engineers working in the network operations center (NOC), otherwise referred to as the heart of any cloud service’s overall production environment. Basically, a NOC is a centralized place for R&D, DevOps, SRE, IT, and NOC engineers and technicians to monitor and manage the activities of their network operations. They monitor the cloud infrastructure and applications, look at issues and/or problems, including handling alerts or incidents that may affect the product’s performance and availability, and solve them, manually, automatically, or a combination of both. All of this is done around the clock, 24/7 to ensure 100% uptime and top performance and availability. After all, in the cloud world, the end-goal is always to meet service level agreements (SLAs) and reduce downtime.

In an ideal world, cloud services are available 24/7 both for external and internal customers. Hence, taking care of all the complex scenarios demands a rigorous procedure which NOC engineers can’t reasonably follow without a clear framework or manual, such as the runbook.

Importance of NOCs

As we’ve established, NOC engineers and technicians are responsible for the availability of the cloud services provided. They are, in essence, the first responders if something goes wrong. The NOC ensures efficient and constant operations, monitoring, ongoing maintenance, and uptime of their solutions in the cloud. They not only know the process but know what needs to be done with all the information they receive from relevant sensors. Of course, to ensure the cloud product or service is available to customers 24 hours a day, the dedicated teams need to use automation and monitoring tools to handle issues and alerts, as well as a runbook to preserve institutional knowledge and streamline processes. They also use this runbook to automate processes wherever relevant, and to create a combination of automation and human interference where needed.

Importance of collaboration

As we’ve established, it’s not just NOC operators sitting in front of a screen 24 hours a day, getting alerts, and acting according to a runbook. DevOps teams execute advanced processes, customer success representatives check where an alert or issue with a customer stands by quickly logging into an easily accessible system, and R&D teams get insights into which parts of their code causes the most alerts so that they can improve it and get better at debugging.

To assure that cloud services are available to customers, teams must collaborate and a centralized place to store and maintain knowledge (i.e., the runbook) is critical. NOC technicians and engineers align various stakeholders such as R&D, DevOps, SRE, and management around a common culture of service ownership. They also nurture collaboration and communication between teams, so that everyone knows the impact on each other.

Why using a runbook matters to everyone – including DevOps

In an ideal world, cloud services are available 24/7 both for external and internal customers. Hence, taking care of all the complex scenarios demands a rigorous procedure which NOC engineers can’t reasonably follow without a clear framework.

For NOC engineers and DevOps teams to perform all tasks to their best abilities, they need a runbook. It helps with documenting critical steps and procedures and helps guarantee quality by preserving, documenting, streamlining, and sharing operations and critical knowledge. Another advantage is that by using a runbook, organizations won’t have to rely on any specific team member for much-needed knowledge since it will be accessible for and by everyone.

NOC engineers and DevOps can use a runbook to help manage the process of internal work. It can help them notify others of problems that may arise, issue updates to teammates and customers, send emails, and can be used for backup and remediation. With a runbook, everyone can be kept up to date and will therefore be able to respond in a timely manner.

Furthermore, creating and using a runbook enhances governance and accountability. For instance, you can create a set of policies and procedures that a runbook can send to everyone, so it will be widely known who is responsible for each particular task. Additionally, work progress can be measured.

A runbook allows an organization to stop relying on personal knowledge. It can benefit all teams and help streamline management of the entire work process. It also enables the sharing of statistics, which can quantify work hours and how much it costs to maintain the system. The bottom line is that a runbook enhances knowledge sharing and adds additional layers of value to the work of NOC and DevOp teams and everyone in between.

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