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IT Automation Powers SRE Practices as System Complexity, Consumer Demands Grow 

Written By John Gorham
Dec 8, 2023

Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) use automation and orchestration capabilities to scale security and performance, ensuring sites are reliable and efficient. Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) can be applied to a wide range of use cases and industries, where software systems and services are critical to business operations. 

Considering today’s heavy demand to drive innovation and reach customers anywhere at any time, organizations need reliable digital products and services perhaps more than ever. They’re looking to SREs to balance reliability and change velocity. 

By 2027, 75 percent of enterprises will use SRE practices across their organizations to optimize product design, cost, and operations to meet customer expectations – a jump from 10 percent in 2022.  

Doing SRE right starts with a strong focus on automation and reliability – one that’s more modern and advanced than traditional operations across areas including governance, skills, objectives, technology, knowledge, automation, and structure support.  

SRE: Because Servers Gotta Run  

There’s always been a need for a certain class of person to keep a site up and running.  

When it comes to sites like AWS, Google, and other big players that have Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, or large cloud-hosted pieces of infrastructure, they need a specialized IT engineer who only focuses on that piece of software or server.   

Cloud infrastructure is fast and scalable, and it’s used by organizations who trust it’s up and running. Cue the need for SRE. When a company is selling a server, for example, they have to make sure it’s always up and running. It calls for a classification that’s very specific to that particular server task.  

Developers (DevOps), simply put, can’t focus on and dedicate their time to keeping sites up and running because they’re building and delivering the sites. Naturally, it raises the question of who to call when a site goes down. 

READ MORE: SRE Redefines IT Operations as Architect of Sustainable Systems  

A Proactive (not Reactive) Approach to Managing Server Volume  

SRE has been a thing since Google made it one back in 2003. But it’s the visibility of SRE today that emphasizes its importance and creates all the hype.  

In the automation world, technology-first perspectives identify an opportunity to run effective SRE … but without the engineer. Automation can relieve the internal idea of needing humans who specialize in operations, DevOps, SRE, and so forth.  

Instead, one person — equipped with the right automation tool to keep systems running — can run the show. Automation enables this person to do multiple jobs much more effectively. Back to the AWS example, the SREs there might have to go look at one server for one customer. But when Google has more like 100,000,000, it’s safe to assume they won’t hire that many SREs – maybe 100 or so max. But this means each SRE is responsible for managing and maintaining a massive number of servers, and as to be expected, the SREs can’t handle that kind of server volume.  

That’s where Resolve comes in. An SRE will basically see something that needs attention, like an error, and then they’ll react to it by resetting the server. But that’s the thing – it’s a reactive approach that falls short of today’s reliability demands. Resolve enables a proactive approach by automatically finding issues before an SRE even knows they’ve occurred. Resolve takes the right action, freeing up the SRE from having to worry about any related issues going forward.  

SREs can very well already be using some homegrown scripts and basic automations, but Resolve is a skeleton key.  

GO DEEPER: Road-tested integrations to unify your IT ecosystem 

If there’s a system that “integrates with the world,” then Resolve can interact with it, too, whether it be endpoints, web supporters, and so forth. From an automation perspective, if the system is part of a computer, interacting with it only makes sense.   

The Time-related Trouble SRE Teams Face  

Automations today are disjointed and in silos. Saving time is everything, and manual processes hinder team productivity.  

SREs have one of the most contextually difficult jobs of all depending on the size of the organization for which they work. Their jobs might be about the broadest scope of systems and doing them without automation only makes everything harder. An out of memory (OOM) error, for instance, can require connection to and interaction with four different systems. Special API calls and payloads (maybe one’s Linux and one’s Unix and so the character set has to change) are complicated – and they make up just one SRE responsibility.  

The challenge SREs face comes in the form of an ever-changing set of requirements and operating context. Too often, it takes more than one time to solve the problem, and so SREs have to think about it over and over. When the next problem comes in, it just adds to the SRE’s day and keeps them from moving to the next responsibility.  

For SREs, automation is a force multiplier that offers scale and consistency. Automation allows for faster reaction, response and repair than humans can do. It’s becoming more critical as IT operations get difficult, involving multi-step procedures, long scripts, and complex tools, which require more subject matter experts (SMEs). Plus, knowledge transfer is tricky and expensive. Educating every individual on how to do things in a given sequence and how to evaluate the output at each step is very challenging. 

Automated Incident Response for Smooth-sailing SRE  

A well-known, but tedious goal of an SRE is to keep mean time to resolution (MTT) health and within an acceptable range, so why not automate the job? 

There are two paradigms to think about for automation for incident response: an event-driven approach, with which something tells you there’s an issue with a system, and an asynchronous proactive approach, wherein automation periodically checks the state of a system to make sure everything is OK.  

On a similar note, known issues that are fairly common and less risky can be resolved through remediation workflows, which reduces the number of ticket escalations. Take proactive system health checks for example – sure, they have to be run, but automation allows them to happen without requiring a human to bear the burden of remembering to do so. 

And for issues that are highly risky, SREs can run thorough diagnostics and have all relevant information ready in the ITSM ticket. Let’s say automation runs regular systems health checks and monitors how it’s doing. This is an example where a dashboard helps by displaying diagnostic information on the system’s health at any given time, including things like the amount of memory and CPU being used, for any programs that are currently running.  

SREs Do What SREs Do

Monitoring service level indicators (SLIs) might be the first job that comes to mind when considering how an SRE spends their time – keeping track of the total number of successful requests out of all requests as to meet a preset target. Simply put, it means proactively going to a service to see whether it’s ok. SLIs also require SREs to monitor metrics including availability, uptime, latency, number of errors, and amount of throughput. In the case that the server isn’t running up to expectations and that it’s not utilizing its resources appropriately, an SRE will perform an activity to repair it, such as increasing the memory to avoid an (OOM) error, changing out a faulty hard drive, dumping the logs so that an engineer can have a look, and the like.  

And automation can perform all tasks that go into SLI monitoring. Automation looks at what was done in a particular step, for example, calling an API to see about the memory.  

Then, it considers what’s done after calling the API, such as upgrading the memory so an SRE no longer has to worry about it.  

SREs have a slew of responsibilities, depending on organizational priorities, business processes, and other factors. No two companies are the same; neither are their needs for SRE.  

No matter what your SREs might be up to, learn how Resolve’s automation and orchestration scales to fit your organization’s needs. Start by scheduling a demo with one of our automation experts.  

About the author, John Gorham:

About the author, John Gorham:

Vice President, Engineering

Responsible for design, implementation, testing and maintenance of large scale frameworks and web applications. Proficient in the development of documented processes, workflows, procedures and research to the finest detail. I have exceptional communication and interpersonal skills, with the ability to negotiate with stakeholders at all levels of the organization. I develop with a strong focus on design and user capabilities across all portions of the development stack.