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Blog SysAdmin Tips: 5 Automation Tips That Can Free Up Your Schedule

Automation Tips That Can Free Up the Schedule

Server maintenance is a time consuming process and even with a team of administrators it can take several hours of your time. With all the backups, patches and updates, adding and disabling user profiles, it can turn into a full time job! For busy administrators, one way you can reduce the time it takes to deal with these tasks is using automation. The way you automate depends on your operating system, but most of the concepts apply regardless of which platform you use. Let's take a look at some of them.

1. Automate Backups.

Backups can get out of hand if you don't maintain some standards. If you don't use backup software, it's already an issue. Backup software will ensure that every folder is backed up, that backups are verified and checked for corruption, and folders and files are secured every day.

It's common for administrators of small networks to manually back up files and folders, but it's much more beneficial to use proper backup software. You also have to decide if you want to store your backup files in the cloud or using local network storage. Both solutions have their pros and cons.

For protection against malware such as ransomware, cloud backups are preferred. Some ransomware scans network drives for backup files, so even backups meant to protect against ransomware is encrypted and all of your data is lost unless you pay the ransom. Cloud backups is the alternative option that fully protects your files from ransomware and similar malware. Cloud backups are often more cost efficient, and they are secured by the host. The ransomware can't scan these files and find them on the network, so they are more secure from malware.

You have several options to automate backups. Acronis, Paragon, StorageCraft and NovaBACKUP are just a few solutions to choose from. Backups are a part of your security, so always test each solution before you fully implement it on your network.

2. Use Scripting Languages to Automate Configuration Setups.

Most configurations can be done using scripts. The language you use depends on the platform and operating system. Linux and Windows each have their own language and scripting syntax, so you'll need to determine the right language before you get started.

Let's take Windows as an example. Windows uses the PowerShell platform. It's a scripting language that combines the .NET framework with basic DOS commands you'll recognize from decades ago.

You can use these scripts to automate almost anything on your Windows network. You can automate user profile settings, server configurations, file copy and paste procedures and a number of other maintenance tasks. You can even use PowerShell to automate tasks for specific Microsoft server applications. For instance, if you have Microsoft SharePoint, you can use PowerShell to automate files copied to the SharePoint server and configurations used to manage user sites.

What's great about scripting languages is that they can be used to log into remote servers, so you aren't limited to running them directly on the local machine.

3. Automate Production Server Deployments.

Many administrators are responsible for deploying an application across a large web farm. If you have more than one server, you know that every server must be configured exactly like the others. One missed configuration or file copy can affect the performance and uptime of your entire site.

One way to standardize production files across all servers is to use automation tools. You can save your file changes to one folder and then the automation tool will copy the files from the source location to all of your servers. The target location can be one or 10 servers.

It can take all day to promote files from one location to 10 different web servers. You also risk missing a file or two between each server. Automation tools let you specify the source folder and click a button. That's all it takes to move files from a staging environment to a production environment.

You have several options for deployment services. Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server are often used in Microsoft environments. Jenkins is also a popular option. Jenkins is a free deployment option, and it runs on a web server just like any other cloud-based tool. Another popular tool on the market is Chef. Using these tools will save you hours if you have a large server farm.

4. Cloud Integration.

Part of an administrator's busy day is managing network architecture. One way you can automate network architecture maintenance is to place part of your network infrastructure in the cloud. A hybrid solution lets you implement cloud infrastructure with your own network, so you can still use resources local to your organization but use cloud infrastructure where it's beneficial.

For instance, ServerPoint offers cloud infrastructure and hosting to help minimize administrator overhead. You can put much of your sensitive infrastructure in the cloud to then pass the risk of security to the cloud host. The host has the expert personnel to deal with the security. For example, putting your database solution in the cloud places some of the security like firewalls and internal network permissions on the host. This reduces the administrator's efforts in securing the network.

5. Notification and Alerts.

This tip combines automation with notifications. Some server software lets you set a threshold that then calls a script. Take, for instance, Internet Information Services (IIS). You can set a script to run should a specific website's application pool need a reboot when too many resources are used.

The right notifications and alerts can be set up to stop a server from a critical crash. You wouldn't want an alert after the server room is too hot. You want the alert when temperatures are rising so that you can determine the problem early. The right notification system can save you thousands in downtime and ruined server resources.

While automation can't do everything for you, it can save you hours of administration time. If you can automate something, it's worth investing a few hours into creating scripts or setting up software to reduce the overhead that you can put towards other projects.

If you have any questions about automation or if you'd like to learn more about Cloud Integration or other services that can help you in server maintenance and administration, don't hesitate to contact ServerPoint's friendly staff. As always, we're here for you!

  • The current CTO of Serverpoint.com and an accomplished web developer. Peter is one of the leading voices at Serverpoint and one of the founding members.

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