Automation: Why Laziness is a Good Trait in IT System Administrators



Written by Mark Farrugia, a Senior Microsoft Premier Field Engineer based in Canada.

AutomationI was once told that the best system administrators are usually the laziest people. I didn’t take that statement seriously until I gave it some thought and started taking into consideration that it does in fact hold some truth.

Provided you care for your job, but you are lazy, you will want to look for the most efficient ways of doing repetitive tasks, because why would you work when you can instead be enjoying this wonderful blog post!

Why Automate?

The main reason to automate IT operational tasks is to make the mundane day-to-day tasks of running an I.T. shop into a consistent, repeatable and predictable process which can be diagnosed, audited and reported on very quickly. By automating these tasks, you can then get focused on exciting project work within your organization to start implementing some new technology, training to better your skills, and/or investigate your department for other operational efficiencies to implement.

So What Are Some Ways An Operator Can Automate Tasks?

There are several methods of automation that you can consider, such as:

  • Scripting
  • Task Scheduler
  • Group Policy
  • Systems Management Software (System Center Configuration Manager R3 or other solutions)
  • Systems Monitoring Software (System Center Operations Manager R2 or other solutions)
  • Development of a Custom Solution

The above list is not exhaustive, but an example of what’s available. The last item, Development of a Custom Solution, is a last resort. While not highly recommended, it is an option for the creative administrator. However, you do not want to make your environment so unique that it becomes unsupportable. Chances are whatever task you are looking to accomplish can be done quite effectively with any of the other suggested methods.


Scripting

Windows 7 & Windows 2008 R2 support many scripting technologies out of the box.

In addition, as an operator you have the option of installing a third party scripting language interpreter.

Task Scheduler

The new Task Scheduler introduced in Windows Vista and available in Windows 7 has been improved over previous generations. Besides containing the same functionality as previous versions, the new Task Scheduler includes the ability to fire off jobs based on events on the Operating System.

More information around the Task Scheduler can be found here.

Group Policy

Group Policy allows an administrator to centrally manage common settings on Windows desktop and server operating systems to maintain consistency in your enterprise. Common settings such as security policies, computer and user settings, as well as application configurations for Firewall with Advanced Configuration and AppLocker make Group Policy invaluable to the System Administrator.

The Group Policy Documentation Survival Guide can be found here.

Systems Management Software

In today’s enterprise, desktop management can be a daunting task without some sort of systems management software. For the purpose of this example I’ll focus in on System Center Configuration Manager R3 (a.k.a. ConfigMgr), but there are third party solutions that have similar functionality, albeit typically not as robust as ConfigMgr for Microsoft Windows-based infrastructures.

ConfigMgr today is much more sophisticated than previous versions and it handles much more than software distribution. Tasks such as software and hardware inventory, operating system deployment, PXE boot services, patch management and centralized power management configurations are now possible with ConfigMgr R3. Additionally, a great set of reporting tools are included with ConfigMgr to allow you to gauge your environment accurately.

More information about ConfigMgr can be found here.

System Monitoring Software

Proactive monitoring can be the system administrator’s greatest asset. If an issue is re-occurring, but the fix is simply to restart the service, your monitoring solution can be set to trigger a service restart based on an event, or performance threshold that is set.

Reactive tasks can now be automated to become proactive tasks. System Center Operations Manager R2 (OpsMgr) provides this functionality.

More information on OpsMgr R2 can be found here.


In conclusion, it’s obvious that there are many technological avenues to make an operator more efficient in their job, but its people that make these technologies work for them. But automation technology is not the only piece of the jig-saw puzzle, documentation, proper release management, general operational efficiency, and investing in your skills through training and experience are all valuable assets to making your life as a system administrator that much easier.

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