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Automation Runbook for Site Reliability Engineering

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Overview of Runbook Automation

Organizations are transforming their IT infrastructure to distributed systems, which constantly pressure them to do more with less. With the increase in quantity and complexity of systems, the reliability, risk, and chance of failure increases. SRE teams handle the engineering work with the best practices to manage and improve the critical systems' reliability, scalability, and performance.

What are the responsibilities of SRE team?

SRE teams are responsible for maintaining SLOs (Service Level Objectives), monitoring, alerting SLOs, eliminating toil, incident management, and response. Digital incidents are inevitable, so how quickly teams can fix an issue and minimize the impact on both the bottom line and the customer experience becomes the key differentiator. To reduce the cognitive load and solve the issues in less time, Runbooks are created.

A discipline that includes aspects of software engineering and implements them to IT operation obstacles. Click to explore about, Site Reliability Engineering

What is Runbook?

Runbooks are detailed "how-to" guides on completing repetitive and routine procedures within a company's IT operations process. It provides detailed instructions for completing a specific task quickly and efficiently based on previous experiences with resolving the issue. But still, teams rely on manual and reactive incident response processes. Runbooks provide on-call responders with the context and instructions they need to lead rapid incident response and remediation efforts. So clearly, runbook automation can lead to even more efficient workflows.

By harnessing the power of automation, automated runbooks can be built to help the SRE team by surfacing the helpful information to responders immediately and reducing the response lifecycle.

What is Runbook Automation?

Runbook Automation is the process of creating automated workflows in the runbook. These workflows include scripts, commands, tools, and API calls that complete the repetitive tasks and resolve incidents. It gives anyone self-service operation capabilities that only a few experts previously could perform. Automated runbooks reduce the toil by triggering the software in certain situations minimizing human intervention.

With Runbook Automation, automated workflows can be run for diagnostic and remediation activities. The known issues can be resolved in no time, reducing the number of escalations. By automated incident response workflows, SREs can spend more time on post-incident reviews, optimizing IT processes, and designing reliable services.

A practice that applies both software development skills and mindset to IT operations. Click to explore about, Site Reliability Engineering Best Practices

Why Runbook Automation is important to IT operations?

  • IT operations are getting more complex. It involves multi-step procedures, long scripts, and complex tools which require more SMEs.
  • Knowledge transfer is difficult and expensive. Educating every individual on how to do things in a given sequence and how to evaluate the output at each step is very difficult.
  • It provides a centralized interface to manage the scheduled work.
  • The pace of digital transformation is increasing exponentially.

What are the Challenges faced before Runbook Automation?

Whenever a digital incident happens, it must be resolved by following SLOs (Service Level Objective) and SLAs (Service Level Agreement). An SRE team member is tasked with bringing the service back online or resolving the errors. The team member has to follow certain procedures to resolve the incident. The traditional approach has a few challenges associated with it:

  • Going through the manual runbook to find that procedure and decipher it could resolve the issue.
  • Search for the location of the scripts and tools to operate with.
  • The incident could escalate if the required operation is not performed in time.
A buzz these days in the industry; it’s growing at a speed of light due to its potential to produce quality products at a lightning pace. Click to explore about, Best Automation Tools for DevOps

How Runbook Automation helps SRE teams?

There are two cases where Runbook Automation help SRE teams :

  • Incident Response
  • Service Requests

Incident Response

Incident Response helps SRE team in following ways:

Reduced MTTR

Runbook Automation enables teams to reduce Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) and increase the Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) by centralizing the information and providing a simple UI to respond to incidents.

Fewer Escalations

The automated runbooks automatically serve helpful instructions and provide helpful information to the responder at the right time. The workflow can be triggered by any responder with less experience or knowledge. Thus, reducing the load on SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) leads to fewer escalations.

More Engineering Work

With less human involvement in incident handling, more time is spent on value-adding engineering work such as conducting postmortems, creating configuration designs, and more automation.

Service Requests

Service Requests have the following benefits for SRE team:

Decreased Waiting Time

RBA reduces the amount of time spent on resolving tickets. It also removes the dependency on specific individuals.

Fewer Interruptions

SMEs are disturbed only when there is a high-priority service request which responders can't resolve through runbooks.

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What is the Runbook Template?

Automation Runbooks can be very powerful and time-saving if appropriately structured. There are a few design patterns that should be considered while designing runbooks.

Map your System Architecture

Architecture Diagram shows how nodes and services form the application environment. It should consist of the description of nodes, network ports, and a list of services running in each node.

Direct Links to Log and Metrics Monitoring Interface

The monitoring section should define all services and resources that need to be monitored and include direct links to monitoring dashboards for easy access.

Categorize commands and scripts

Configured jobs taking advantage of different toolsets and serving different purposes must be categorized and centralized in an interface.

Maintenance and Backup Jobs

To ensure that system or data can be recovered in an unexpected failure, it should contain automated backup procedures. It should also include the disaster recovery plan.

The SRE team is responsible for resolving incidents, automating operational tasks, using the software to manage systems. Click to explore about, Managed SRE Challenges and Solutions

What are the best tools for Runbook Automation?

The best Runbook Automation tools are listed below:

Rundeck

Rundeck is a web-based console to issue commands and run scripts on target nodes. With Rundeck, jobs can be created and triggered on schedule or demand, dispatching the scripts or just simple user-defined commands to the nodes. Rundeck can be used for IT operations and also for deployments. Rundeck is open source, but it also comes with its enterprise-class version, Rundeck Enterprise, ready for production and enterprise scaling. The features of Rundeck are:

  • It can create multi-step workflows.
  • It provides end-to-end orchestration across local or remote servers.
  • Jobs can be executed using the graphical web console or CLI through API calls in the code.
  • Integrates with many DevOps and SRE tools. No need to change the IT infrastructure.

Squadcast

It is an incident management platform built on top of DevOps and SRE best practices. It uses next-generation Reliability Orchestration Engine based on Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), taking incident management to the next level. It helps us achieve a better incident management lifecycle, notifications and alerts, and faster incident response time—Squadcast Runbooks support shell scripts, python scripts, ansible configuration, and many more.

Ansible

It is one of the best configuration management tools. It uses playbooks to deploy, manage and configure single or multi-server environments. Ansible uses an imperative approach to define workflows which are then incorporated with the runbook.
Features of Ansible include:

  • It follows agentless architecture. It means there is no need to install any software or agent on your target nodes.
  • It uses SSH to authenticate with nodes, making communication more secure.
  • Configurations are updated and pushed directly to the node by the central server.
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Conclusion

SRE teams sometimes face incidents that fall outside of expectations, so it's impossible to have a runbook that could solve every problem. But having RBA is worth spending time and resources if you have complex distributed systems and want to reduce the team members' cognitive load, which will refine and optimize the incident response lifecycle. It creates a new organizational model by taking out those escalations, removing that extra delay, and resolving coordination issues between teams.

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