The lazy admin

 Best Practice, Policies, Scripting  Comments Off on The lazy admin
Jul 112015

Are you an industriously busy backup administrator, or are you lazy?

Asleep at desk

When I started in IT in 1996, it wasn’t long before I joined a Unix system administration team that had an ethos which has guided me throughout my career:

The best sysadmins are lazy.

Even more so than system administration, this applies to anyone who works in data protection. The best people in data protection are lazy.

Now, there’s two types of lazy:

  • Slothful lazy – What we normally think of when we think of ‘lazy’; people who just don’t really do much.
  • Proactively lazy – People who do as much as they can in advance in order to have more time for the unexpected (or longer term projects).

If you’d previously thought I’d gone nuts suggesting I’ve spent my career trying to be lazy (particularly when colleagues read my blog), you’ll hopefully be having that “ah…ha!” moment realising I’m talking about being proactively lazy. This was something I learnt in 1996 – and almost twenty years down the track I’m pleased to see whole slabs of the industry (particularly infrastructure and data protection) are finally following suit and allowing me to openly talk about the virtues of being lazy.

Remember that embarrassingly enthusiastic dance Steve Ballmer was recorded doing years and years ago at a Microsoft conference while he chanted “Developers! Developers! Developers!” A proactively lazy data protection administrator chants “Automate! Automate! Automate!” in his or her head throughout the day.

Automation is the key to being operationally lazy yet proactively efficient. It’s also exactly what we see being the focus of DevOps, of cloud service providers, and massive scale converged infrastructure. So what are the key areas for automation? There’s a few:

  • Zero error policies – I’ve been banging the drum about zero error policies for over a decade now. If you want the TL;DR summary, a zero error policy is the process of automating the review of backup results such that the only time you get an alert is when a failure happens. (That also means treating any new “unknown” as a failure/review situation until you’ve included it in the review process.)
  • Service Catalogues and Policies – Service catalogues allow standard offerings that have been well-planned, costed and associated clearly with an architected system. Policies are the functional structures that enact the service catalogue approach and allow you to minimise the effort (and therefore the risk of human error) in configuration.
  • Visual Dashboards – Reports are OK, notifications are useful, but visual dashboards are absolutely the best at providing an “at a glance” view of a system. I may joke about Infographics from time to time, but there’s no questioning we’re a visual species – a lot of information can be pushed into a few simple glyphs or coloured charts*. There’s something to be said for a big tick to indicate everything’s OK, or an equally big X to indicate you need to dig down a little to see what’s not working.

There’s potentially a lot of work behind achieving that – but there are shortcuts. The fastest way to achieving it is sourcing solutions that have already been built. I still see the not-built-here syndrome plaguing some IT environments, and while sometimes it may have a good rationale, it’s an indication of that perennial problem of companies thinking their use cases are unique. The combination of the business, the specific employees, their specific customers and the market may make each business potentially unique, but the core functional IT requirements (“deploy infrastructure”, “protect data”, “deploy applications”, etc.) are standard challenges. If you can spend 100% of the time building it yourself from the ground up to do exactly what you need, or you can get something that does 80% and all you have to do is extend the last 20%, which is going to be faster? Paraphrasing Isaac Newton:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

As you can see, being lazy properly is hard work – but it’s an inevitable requirement of the pressures businesses now place on IT to be adaptable, flexible and fast. The proactively lazy data protection service provider can step back out of the way of business functions and offer services that are both readily deployable and reliably work, focusing his or her time on automation and real problem solving rather than all that boring repetitive busyness.

Be proudly lazy: it’s the best way to work.

* Although I think we have to be careful about building too many simplified reports around colour without considering the usability to the colour-blind.

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