A Sysadmin Guide to Automation

Adam Bertram

Adam Bertram

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Automation. It’s a term that has a different connotation for different people. Some believe automation is and will continue to be the cause of job loss. Some believe that automation will increase efficiency throughout the industry. Others believe automation will force workers to become more educated and get better jobs.

Regardless of what you think, automation is on the rise and, as a sysadmin, you need to recognize this. You need to figure out ways you can apply automation to your daily life.

One of the hardest parts about getting started with automation is discovering where it can fit in. You’ve been doing the same routine day in and day out without much thought.

You come into work, grab a cup or pot of coffee, sit down at your desk, sifting through emails, close helpdesk tickets, continue on that project and so on. You rarely actually think about the bigger picture. You don’t recognize the patterns in your day-to-day tasks. Instead, you blindly go along putting out fires.

You close the ticket, complete the project, and as soon as it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. This kind of mentality is the enemy of automation.

Recognize Patterns

To leverage automation, you must recognize daily, weekly, and monthly patterns. Benefits of automation are best seen for repetitive tasks. It’s up to you to make a list of these tasks. To do that, you must recognize they exist!

The first step is taking time. Turn off the phone, close Outlook, and push back from fire-fighting mode. Think through your typical work patterns. To spur some ideas, some common areas that are ripe for automation are:

  • New employee user provisioning
  • Deploying standardized servers
  • Software deployments
  • Software patching
  • And a whole lot more… Think!

Break down your job into categories and think about how often you perform a particular task. The more repetitive a task, the longer it takes and how similar the actions are to complete the tasks, the better! These kinds of tasks will save you hundreds of hours over a year!

Once you define some ideas, it’s then time to take the extra step and break down the workflow for each task. Think about each job as having a:

  • Trigger
  • Action
  • Schedule

The Trigger

An event will trigger a task. That event may be a new employee being hired, a new application coming online or when Microsoft releases new patches every month. Each task has a trigger that then invokes the action.

The Action

The action is what it takes to complete the task. Example actions could be:

  • create the Active Directory user
  • create the Exchange mailbox
  • put the employee in the HR database

Each action is broken down into individual steps.

The Schedule

A schedule can either be a predictable, recurring schedule. It can be scheduled events like Microsoft patches released on the second Tuesday of every month or unpredictable like a hiring freeze at your organization. Regardless, each task will have a schedule.

Automation is all about figuring out what that root trigger is.

Automation is not “I need to create an AD user.” Instead, it’s “when HR adds a row to a database; I need to do X.”

Automation is breaking down each task into individual actions and chaining them together. Once you have this system in place, it’s then a matter of standardizing this system to apply across multiple instances. It’s about documenting how things are done manually today. Once recorded, it’s then standardizing those actions into some repeatable sequence.


If you don’t have an automation mindset, this may sound overwhelming at first. There are a lot of processes you can automate.

Don’t despair.

Pick out a task that you frequently perform that takes a long time. You’ll never grasp what automation is all about until you’ve built something that frees up hours of your day to do on other things you enjoy.

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