Why people don't automate sysadmin stuff

May 3, 2008

Yesterday's entry raises an obvious question: why don't people automate things ahead of time, before they have so many systems that they have to automate or die?

The simple answer is that it is easier for them not to automate than it is for them to automate. But why is it that way?

There are at least two reasons:

  • there is pretty much no standard way to automate things at the various levels, especially across different Unixes and platforms. This means that you have to build an automation setup yourself, or at least evaluate a bunch of open source options to see which ones actually work in your environment.

  • when there are vendor tools, the vendors have generally done a bad job of making them available and convenient. The area that this particularly manifests in is that vendors have done a bad job of letting you grow into using the tools, where you can do things like install a system once by hand and then have it adopted by the vendor's auto-install framework.

From my perspective, part of the problem is that vendors often aim too high. Instead of adopting a Unix tools approach, where they try to create relatively simple pieces that can be used as building blocks, they try to create an 'Enterprise Management Application' or the like that meets all the needs in one go.

(The lack of standard tools has other costs, but that's another entry.)

Or in short: right now, the lack of standard tools and good integration means that it takes a bunch of work to automate, enough that it's hard to justify if you're not running enough systems.

Comments on this page:

From at 2008-05-05 10:50:23:

I agree. There's no "rosetta stone" for doing this between various Linux distributions, much less across entire disparate operating systems.

Scripting things would be made much easier if there were a cross platform interface. There are some web-based things I've seen, such as Webmin, and some mechanisms for talking to multiple machines at once (cssh), but nothing extensible without massive modifications.

Obviously user accounts can be centralized through LDAP or NIS. Clustered or hot/spare services can have their configs sent through cvs or svn. The problem is that we're all too busy to "roll our own".

Written on 03 May 2008.
« Automation changes as systems grow
On standard interfaces »

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Last modified: Sat May 3 23:19:49 2008
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