Katie Burton


The nature of threats facing networks and data centers has been changing rapidly over the recent past and security infrastructure has been forced to evolve to keep pace. In order to stay abreast with changing technology, network administrators and security professionals are required to update their knowledge.

This is easier said than done as they manage devices from diverse vendors operating on diverse technology. Network and security devices such as routers, switches and firewalls do not have standard interfaces. Operations teams therefore has to take the initiative to continually upgrade their knowledge and skills on the different technologies.

Due to the pressing demands of their daily schedule this has proved difficult for many of them. Having their hands full with pressing network and security tasks, they have little time to proactively monitor systems to forestall future failures. This was made clear in a survey that ranked the tasks that IT professionals spend time on in order of priority.

Firefighting arising system issues takes up the majority of network and security administrators’ time. This leaves them with little time to do planning for future needs or undertake training courses that will upgrade their skills. Knowledge gaps have therefore arisen in organizations’ IT operations in the following areas:

  • Device setup of physical and virtual devices
  • Prioritization of problems diagnosed
  • Creation of scripts to extract system data and parsing the data from scripts
  • Logging onto virtual and physical devices to obtain data
  • Processing and analyzing the data obtained
  • Data centre setup and management
  • Information security
  • Cloud technology and virtualization
  • Big data and advanced analytics

Runbooks is a critical tool in codifying this knowledge and automating the routine tasks undertaken by network and systems administrators. It can take the form of a computer program or a list of written procedures.

Using Runbooks can save admins time and help them prioritize their work better. It also makes their work less dependent on a single individual as other admins can carry out their duties simply by following the procedures.

Less than 30% of the survey’s respondents use Runbooks. However, more than 80% of those who use it find it an effective tool. So why the low uptake? Below are some of the reasons:

  • Inaccurate representation of required procedures
  • Staff not reading the Runbooks
  • No documentation of Runbooks
  • Use of scripts

Find out more about organizational skills gaps in network and system security knowledge in the complete survey report.