10 System Administrator Tasks Ripe for Automation

By Kenneth Hess (Send Email)
Posted Oct 14, 2010


More on data center management

A system administrator who does everything manually wastes not only her time but yours as well. Tasks that a sys admin performs repeatedly should be automated. Automation through scripting, specialized software and system scheduling frees her time, saves you money and prevents human error-related mistakes. These 10 sys admin tasks are prime targets for automation and will help streamline your daily operations.

1. Patching

Automation through scripting, specialized software and system scheduling frees up a sys admin's time, saves you money and prevents human error-related mistakes. These 10 repetitive processes are prime candidates for automation.

The only time manual patching is called for is when that stubborn minority of systems will not take patches by automated means. Linux and Windows include tools to perform automated updates, but if you'd like more control of which patches your systems receive and when they receive them, investigate HP's Data Center Automation Center (HPDCAC) software (formerly Opsware). Much more than just an automated patching application, HPDCAC moves managing a complex infrastructure into a single, simple interface. If you're looking for a "patch only" solution, check out Ecora's Patch Manager for agentless patch management.

2. User and Group Maintenance

You've probably used Active Directory, LDAP, NIS+ or other user and group account management software, but have you ever used one that really made you happy? The reason you haven't is that there's not a lot of automation built into them. Sure, you can create a user account, remove a user account, and create groups and manage groups, but when it comes down to real management, you probably haven't found the right tool. The one you want might have to be the one you create yourself via scripts.

In UNIX, it's simple to create scripts to prompt you for the accounts that you wish to remove, have the system copy the user's files to a new location, change the permissions, search all systems for any files owned by that user, change permissions on those files, or move them and complete the process by removing the user account from the directory service. Check out some of the add-on modules for your user management tool of choice. Microsoft, for example, offers its Active Directory Resource Kit Book and CD that includes utilities for automation scripting.

3. Security Sweeps

You should perform regular, automated security sweeps on your entire network to expose and fix any wire-borne vulnerabilities. The frequency and intensity of the scans depends on the complexity of your network. Through scripting magic, you can set up scheduled scans, send the output to a database, extract a post-scan report from the database, and email it to yourself or create an HTML version of the report suitable for online viewing. One such tool, available for every modern operating system, is Nmap. Nmap is a free network security scanner designed to rapidly scan large networks and report vulnerabilities.

4. Disk Usage Scans

There is a constant turf war raging between users and sys admins, and it is one that the sys admin must ultimately win. To that end, the sys admin has some tools to employ: disk space quotas, disk partitions and disk space scans. Scans are regular audits of disk space usage by user. Offenders usually receive a warning or two before personal contact from a sys admin. Typical remedies for disk space gluttons are temporary account suspension, removal of files, moving the files to a new location or an extension of the user's space quota. These automated scans, when performed regularly (about once per week), prevent harsh actions by the sys admin and keep users apprised of their disk use.

5. Performance Monitoring

Taking an occasional performance snapshot is a good method for a single point-in-time glance at system performance. That singular peek is only a pixel in the entire performance picture. You need something with more depth and breadth that will provide you with performance trends and predictive peaks and valleys. Setting up such a system is easy with Orca. Orca compiles performance data from disparate sources (UNIX, Windows, Linux) and creates easy-to-read performance graphs. Gathering of data, calculations, graph generation and display are all part of the automated system.

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