The Usual Tech Ramblings

System Administrators, Automation, and Laziness

Today I was reading Matt Simmons’ post “View from the other side…” and a phrase he used in it seemed a little off to me. He wrote:

Automation is big for most sysadmins. We’re inherently lazy, so the idea of pushing a button and making programs work for us? Appealing.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with the statement that we are lazy. I’m pretty sure Matt is not lazy, in fact I’m not sure I’ve met any system administrator that was lazy. I do agree that automation is a big thing for us though. Here’s why I think it’s big…

  • Repeatable tasks leads to automation
  • Automation leads to consistency
  • Consistency reduces errors
  • Reducing errors leads to a more stable environment
  • A stable environment leads to happy customers

So while automation does reduce the amount of work we do for a task, it’s far from what I’d consider a goal of laziness. Automation brings us a stable environment, giving us more time to work on other important stuff, like planning for the next big project, or automating other tasks. It also gives us a way to “pass the buck” to a junior.

Another method of automation comes in the form of configuration management. This is a perfect example of producing a consistent, and repeatable, setup. Configuration management is one of those areas that is far from lazy, but in large environments, critical to your operations. If you have a web farm of 100 web servers, and they have to run the same packages, how do you guarantee they have those packages, and are the same version? If you were to do each one by hand, you’d be there all week, and you’d probably miss a server or three.

So on the outset, it might look like we’re being lazy, but scrape away the thin layer on the top, and we’re really doing it for the greater good of ourselves, our environment, and those around us too.

As a side note, Tom Limoncelli wrote a section in his book, Time Management for System Administrators, on automation. It boils down some very good reasons to automate. If you’re a system administrator, and you don’t have that book on your shelf, go get it.

So are we lazy? Or are we working towards a better system?