Automate to survive
Everyone has a choice
Automate or die, That is pretty much it, you can automate everything or you can keep working with manual processes that slow you down. If you don’t think you have the time to automate, you’re wrong; you need to automate and do it quickly before you get even more busy and even further behind. Maybe you think that you can’t automate because you don’t have the time to do it justice? maybe you can’t automate because the task is to big? Too complicated? well it’s all rubbish.
This is a bit like eating an elephant, You have to start somewhere, you have to start small, by all means try and start big if you want, but smaller is better. Maybe you have a task to check for new packages from a site once a month, that is a good place to start, pull third party packages from vendors sites into your yum repo or maybe every time you build a server you need to do x, y & z. These sort of tasks are achievable for everyone even those without a good background of programming background which leads on to language choice, not all are equal but knowing two or three is better than just one. At a minimum some sort of terminal language, so Bash,ash,sh or ksh and a ‘Proper’ sort of language that is object orientated like, Ruby, Python or Perl. The terminal languages are good for re-producing what you do on a terminal into a reproducible and consistant format but are terrible for manipulating multiple data sources, mangling data, although with that said you can do some complicated things.
Once you start building up many smaller components of automation start looking at ways of linking it all together so that a series of tasks becomes one. It is this constant cycle of simplifying the process to automate the small chunks and then linking the small chunks together that make an automated system.
Over a year ago we use to deploy our environments with Puppet and cloud formations and it use to take about 2.5 days to complete and get it working, that whole process is now down to 10 mins thanks to automation. It required many leaps of faith, many poor decisions and a lot of bug fixing but it got there though simplifying everything down and then automating each component. Other than building the servers and tagging them with appropriate keys in Amazon the whole process is controlled by bash to the point of a working system and is typically very robust. That is a massive time saving, but to get there we had to fail, we had to try and we had to persist.
As a result we now automate large portions of the architecture to a point where all of our time is split between incidents or project work to implement new features hardly any daily grind. Recently I have been working on our DR strategy to take it to the point of clicking a button to deploy a clean environment built from the ground up and automatically pulls the latest backups to restore to the environment but it is now done and saves hours of time building out a DR which makes the recovery time shorter and the process is easier. So larger projects are perfectly achievable with the right attitude!
Give it a go, start small and work up to it but be un-relenting and do what ever it takes, no matter how much you disagree with it, just do it to get it automated, once more is automated you’ll have some time to fix it up properly or you’ll need to extend it and you can make a small part better then.