The Shortcut Guide to Run Book Automation

by Ed Tittel


Today’s IT professional is charged with a multitude of wide-ranging responsibilities, including system administration, updates, user account management, compliance checks, and many more tasks involved in keeping systems sound, secure, and up-to-date. Run Book Automation (RBA) offers tools and techniques to address all of these duties, and helps to bring multiple systems and solutions together within a single, consistent, and coherent set of activities that can be automated, scheduled, tracked, and handled with much less muss and fuss.

In The Shortcut Guide to Run Book Automation, author Ed Tittel shows you how to use RBA to automate repetitive or regular tasks by creating basic task building blocks, dragging and dropping icons into a workflow, and supplying direction as needed. By offering a set of common use cases as well as a list of best practices for implementing RBA, Tittel gives you the practical know-how to define, create, orchestrate, and manage workflows that support many of your organization’s operational processes.


Chapter 1: Understanding RBA and What It Delivers

Operational efficiency and effectiveness in the business environment requires a keen understanding of the complex nature and interactions among software, hardware, and personnel. It is also necessary to automate as many processes as possible with a definable, repeatable pattern of execution or flow as possible. Today’s complex IT systems contain more constants and variables than any single human mind can process and comprehend in a meaningful way, simply because humans are ill-equipped to handle so much information at once.

Within modern IT operations, there is tremendous unharnessed potential. There are also immense gaps among diverse, multi-disciplinary architectures, infrastructures, and platforms in use. To compound these problems, IT must cope with rapid proliferation of issues related to absorbing existing business infrastructures, acquiring new equipment, dealing with human error, and working from an often incomplete view of centralized management and task automation across heterogeneous environments.

ITPA represents the convergence between routine tasks and best practice initiatives addressed through software-centric approaches. Traditionally, automated interactions have been handled using batch scripting and on-site custom programming tools and techniques. Modern computing and telecommunications enterprises process millions of transactions through diverse organizational infrastructures and various systems that execute thousands of different tasks, many of which are similar in nature, though individual execution details may differ. Establishing cohesive operation and centralized software management across an entire IT infrastructure and all its various components and elements presents significant challenges, particularly during routine system maintenance, and can drain resources and time. In fact, task automation’s biggest appeal is the time and effort it frees so that IT staff can do more than put out fires or deal with the crisis du jour.

Chapter 2: Key Ingredients for RBA Systems

Modern business and utility computing incorporates numerous layers of technology, which by itself creates several discrete pockets of and serviceable levels for automation. In terms of IT operations oversight, there is no individual component, nor combination of components perhaps more important than a coherent and holistic perspective on data center management. This is particularly true when it comes to process automation and incident handling. Centralized management with service provisioning is both central to and instrumental for the next generation of enterprise computing management development.

Achieving an organic self-sustaining IT infrastructure is possible, but it seldom comes easily, cheaply or instantly. The trick to designing an appropriate all-purpose IT management solution comes from developing the technology that assists enterprise and government organizations in moving beyond tools restricted to disparate and disjoint IT domains. This enables such outfits to work across isolated IT infrastructure silos, and to improve day-to-day operational efficiencies across the board. By the same token, well-orchestrated run book procedures also eliminate more error-prone, labor-intensive processes and can deliver services both more efficiently and cost-effectively—starting at the ground level and working upward from there.

Chapter 3: Common RBA Use Cases

RBA provides the ability to automate, create, define, document, orchestrate, manage, and report on workflows that support orderly scheduled or event-driven execution of system and network processes. RBA processes transcend IT disciplinary boundaries and establish interactivity across diverse infrastructure elements (including applications, databases, services, and hardware) to apply IT best business practices across an enterprise. RBA processes also provide tighter software integration, improve IT service levels, and automate resource provisioning through event- and process-driven workflows.

RBA significantly enhances efficiency levels, particularly for routine or regularly repeated business operations, and permits easy automation of manual procedures. Specific alerts, events, and incidents may be captured, monitored, and examined—by man, machine, or both—to identify better methods for managing and maintaining workflows. Furthermore, RBA integrates business components tightly and acts as an industrial-strength adhesive to bind large heterogeneous IT environments. All in all, RBA helps businesses handle the enormous and complex administrative challenge that goes by seemingly innocuous names such as “IT operations,” “IT Service Support,” “IT Service Delivery,” and “ICT Infrastructure Management” (ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology), to pick up key elements from the ITIL v3 Framework.

Certain RBA solutions can even execute multiple aspects of IT procedures in parallel while simultaneously synchronizing intercommunication between or among them, and can escalate selected events for administrator attention according to specific triggers, event severity levels, threshold values, or even for particular combinations of events. All RBA solutions perpetually measure, monitor, and maintain enterprise-wide performance levels to help ensure that SLAs are met. Another competitive advantage of certain RBA solutions is their ability to analyze workflow procedures to reduce end-to-

Chapter 4: RBA Benefits and Best Practices

In the preceding chapters, we have made the argument that process automation is instrumental to sustaining complex and constantly growing enterprise IT environments. At the same time, RBA is also an important key to maintaining priority handling for escalated events as well as for timely delivery of quality services. Automating routine management, maintenance, and monitoring tasks greatly leverages the time and energy that IT professionals bring to their jobs—as opposed to forcing them to remain mired in the nuts and bolts of routine daily tasks that so often make up the vast majority of everyday IT workflow.

Now, let’s recap some key concepts from the first chapter: IT process automation (ITPA) and run book automation (RBA) are simply two ways of identifying the same thing. These two terminologies convey similar meanings and seek to achieve the same goals—namely, the orchestration, integration, and automation of rule-based workflows. Each workflow consists of building-block tasks that progress through a series of procedures and events or outcomes, and seek to address and resolve all sorts of IT issues and activities.

The three primary components in any RBA system may be identified as follows:

  • Integration: To collect, analyze, and transfer information between products and platforms to enable making input-based decisions and to execute dynamically configured task-related procedures using run-time data, status, and information.
  • Orchestration: To coordinate, initiate, and organize actions within and among third-party systems and software to determine the next logical step or activity among a series of workflow tasks.
  • Automation: To create self-maintaining processes that can initiate themselves upon receipt of alerts, events, or incident flags, as well as to notify handlers when failures occur, and when hand-off procedures are required to achieve a successful outcome.