Automation Topic of the Week: Where to Start with Automation?

Before we start looking at this topic, it’s perhaps appropriate to talk about what we consider automation. Automation is obviously writing scripts and automation policies, but it is also building monitoring that will automate checklists, configuring automation around patching management and approvals, and many others things. I like to start any conversation around automation with this as people tend to put on blinders and focus only on scripting—although I would agree that it is a big part of automation.

In my travels and in meetings with our partners, I see that most managed services providers (MSPs) want to automate their work not to reduce their staff count, but rather to do more with the staff they have. The problem they face is where to get started. Over the years, I’ve seen partners do things in a variety of ways, so let’s cover a few of the more common ones.

Some partners have weekly or monthly meetings with their techs to see what they would like to automate, and then people take on side projects to create the automations. Some will look through their tickets and find the issues that occur the most often, and see what can be done to reduce the time to resolution. Others will have an employee dedicated to building their automations. I have even seen some partners offer financial incentives to their employees to build automations that will make things more efficient.

For the purpose of this blog, lets talk about tickets, as this is the main point of entry for work. Most of the MSPs I talk to tend to tell me their tickets are always different, and that their work cannot be automated. I sometimes see some niche MSPs that specialize in a specific field or market where this is true, but the majority of the time I see recurring tickets that can be automated.

What I typically recommend is to look at the issue types/subtypes, and focus on the most common areas of problems. These can come from your RMM, a client, or a technician creating the ticket himself. Look at the details of the ticket and see if anything can be automated or not. If you feel that it is possible, proceed and see what can be done. Once it is completed, move on to the next thing. Each element that can be automated may save you anywhere from a few minutes to hours or days of work in the future. We will cover best practices around automation deployment in a future article, but keep in mind that you will want to test it before deploying it to 100 or 10,000 devices.

Let’s take a look at a concrete example: In a previous trip this year, I met a partner in France that had to go through and fix an issue on Dell servers due to a software issue with Dell OpenManage. With minimal work, we were able to script the fix suggested by Dell, and we fixed the issue on hundreds of servers in a matter of minutes. To do this we built a simple monitoring service to look for the issue across all their servers. If a server was found to have the issue the fix would be automatically applied to that server. This ensured that any new servers added to the network would be proactively fixed, or if someone rebuilt a server or did a change that removed the fix for any reason, the fix would reapply itself, avoiding future tickets on this topic. Of course, this didn’t work for 100% of the servers, but it worked for over 90–95% of them and dramatically reduced the manual work required.

Automating is easier than you think once you start, and there are a lot of resources available to you out there if you know where to look.

What’s new with automation?

While we’re talking about resources, we’ve recently launched The Automation Cookbook. This is a central repository of automation policies, scripts, and custom monitoring. You can go in and search for anything you want. To see it, go to the success center and look for the Cookbook button under the resources section.

In other news, we are working on new objects for Automation Manager that will be added in the coming weeks/months. If you have suggestions for objects, feel free to reach out to me.

There is more coming that will be announced in the coming weeks too.

Upcoming events 

The Automation Bootcamp webinars are being hosted during the week of September 16 in three different time zones (Europe, North America, and Australia). They are split over two days each for SolarWinds® N-central® and RMM and are around five hours in total (2.5 hours per day). If you did not have the chance to watch it live in July, or participate in the in-person one we held in our North Carolina office in August, this one is for you—and it’s free for our partners to join. Click on one of the links below to register depending on whether you are an N-central or RMM partner

 

N-Central customers: 

AU click here

NA & EMEA click here

 

Solarwinds RMM customers: 

AU click here

NA & EMEA click here

Automation of the week

I thought I would start this week with an automation policy that is heavily requested, even though it was produced and shared a few months ago.

BitLocker management is very tricky to a lot of people, but once configured (either through Active Directory, through a script, a third-party product, or set up manually) it still needs to be monitored to ensure it is healthy and working properly. For that reason, we have built two scripts that can be used as a custom service to monitor the health of BitLocker and also to capture the BitLocker keys in the unlikely event that the keys need to be recovered.

Included in the links below are the actual automation policies, as well as the documentation on how to use them.

Download here

Each provider’s exact needs vary, but we’ve discovered five actions successful MSPs take to automate business. Download our free ebook to find out more.

MSP – Automation Ebook

Conclusion

This is the end for our first article, but we’ll be publishing more information around automation every week to help you become an automation expert. If you are already an expert, register to learn more about automation, what’s coming, and how we can help you get even better. Subscribe to our blog in the top right of this article so you can see our latest automation content.

Marc-Andre Tanguay is Head Automation Nerd. You can follow him on Twitter at @automation_nerd

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