A DevOps runbook is a little like a recipe book. Instead of rules for cooking, it’s a compilation of rules and procedures designed to maintain software systems and other applications. The purpose of each runbook is to cross-educate your entire team with the same knowledge base and provide easy-to-follow instructions in time-sensitive situations like incidents.
Runbook templates are guides outlining a standard for the documentation of operations and development. Promoting consistency through standard runbook examples provides a variety of benefits, including:
- Team-wide collaboration in a common language
- Troubleshooting guidelines
- Collective expertise
- Automated scripts for error-free operations
- Incident reporting and response
- Ongoing updates and improvement
- Compliance and structure
- System recovery provisions
Throughout this blog, we’ll talk about the uses of runbooks, how they differ from playbooks, and why a DevOps runbook is beneficial to your business.
Runbook vs. Playbook - What’s the Difference?
While they sound and function similarly, a runbook and playbook aren’t the same thing. Each is beneficial in different ways. Here’s how you tell them apart.
- Runbook: Runbooks are designed for technical processes, overseeing the finer details of specific projects or responses to incidents.
- Playbook: A playbook is a broader scope of direction on a grand project. It might even include advice on which runbook to use on tasks within your project.
An easy way to differentiate a runbook from a playbook is to think of a playbook like a manual to for your entire car, while a runbook is a small section detailing how to change a tire.
Components of a Runbook Template
A runbook template includes tables outlining each task involved in a process. Some tasks you might see in a DevOps runbook example include troubleshooting CPU spikes, renewing an SSL certificate, or patching a server. Within each table, there are clear labels and instructions, including the following:
Title and Description
Each runbook template includes a title and description of the task ahead. It may also include a task ID number for easy filing. The title and description should clearly outline the type of task and what is involved.
Scope and Audience
Next in the runbook template is the audience, team, or task owner. This might be broken down into departments. For example, the task might fall under Server Operations Team but be delegated to Operations Manager.
Objective and Context
The runbook should define the reason for the task’s completion, also known as the task objective. It should also explain the context of the task and desired outcome. Some tasks have multiple potential outcomes.
Steps and Procedures
Like any good recipe book, the runbook template should include steps and procedures involved in completing each task along with the necessary tools and processes needed for success. These can include branching paths, where depending on outputs of previous steps or specific desires, different steps will need to be taken.
Troubleshooting and FAQs
No task management is without potential risk and failure. Troubleshooting tips and frequently asked questions might be included in a thorough runbook template.
References and Resources
Finally, your runbook template should outline the references and resources used to supply all the above information. These are trusted industry-specific resources.
Rules and Guidelines for Runbook Structure
Runbooks are designed to be useful. This requires readability, organization, and clarity. Runbooks should be user-friendly and include a variety of visual aids, such as diagrams and snippets of code.
Here are some of the requirements of any good runbook.
Visual guides are user-friendly and overcome the language barriers of written instructions. There are a variety of visuals you can include in a runbook, like:
- Flowcharts: A diagram depicting the direction and processes involved in the workflow.
- Interface screenshots: Photos of screens showing specific steps in a configuration or process.
- Infrastructure drawings: These diagrams show the relationship between system components.
- Tables: A collection of numbers is confusing in chaotic times. Labels and alignment through tables make figures easier to understand.
- Color coding: Colors are a useful way to label individual processes or stages of development.
These images streamline the process ahead, making it simple to find and engage in the task appointed to you.
Annotations and Text Boxes
Along with visual cues like charts and tables, you’ll see annotations drawing attention to integral pieces of information. Some text boxes included in a runbook include:
- Notes and tips
- Process definitions
- Diagram captions
These notes might be highlighted in the margin or under a visual element for increased awareness.
Organization and Formatting
Runbooks need to be consistent and professional. This increases clarity and makes information easier to follow. A few of the ways you can increase formatting consistency are using the same:
- Headings and subheadings
- High-quality images of similar size and relevance
- Paragraph length
Sections should be organized by relevance and step in the runbook process. One runbook example for organization is checking code snippets are together and logical.
Automating Processes within the Runbook
Automation is a major benefit within runbook templates. Automation removes the need for tedious and complicated manual tasks, minimizing human error and maximizing workflow. Some automation you may add includes:
- Deployment and release management
- Compliance and security
- Configuration management
- Monitoring and notifications
- Incident response
- Recovery and backup
- Compliance reports
Some ways to integrate automation scripts include the following.
1. Identify opportunities for automation: Check your runbook for processes that can be automated. Look for repetitive manual tasks that can be simplified.
2. Choose your automation tools: Different automation tools work better for different codes and processes. Look at things like scalability, infrastructure compatibility, and code language support.
3. Design automation: Automation should flow with your current process workflow for increased performance. Define inputs, steps, and outputs to maintain organized scripts that match your processes.
4. Write scripts: Scripts can be written in a variety of coding languages depending on your current structure and desired outcome. Scripts and automation should enhance the function of your runbook task outcome. PowerShell, Bash, and Python are just a few examples of potential scripts used to execute commands or provision resources.
5. Test code and automation: Never add untested automation to your DevOps runbook. Always use a controlled environment first to ensure scripts run as they should. Debug and repair as needed to produce clean code for your runbook template.
6. Write things down: Automation processes should be documented to show how and why they were created. Be clear and to the point in each description. Add required inputs, dependencies, and output expectations.
7. Add your automation: Now that automation has been tested and documented, integrate it into your runbook. Check again to make sure everything runs smoothly.
8. Review and maintain: Reviewing the performance of your code and runbook processes ensures no updates are necessary. From time to time, you may need to change scripts to reflect changes in the infrastructure or environment.
This is an example of automation integration and what it can look like in your runbook. The key is to enhance design, organization, and efficiency.
Example Runbook Template: Monitor CPU Load
If a computer isn’t performing, CPU load could be impacting speed and processing. To troubleshoot and fix high CPU usage, check the CPU load by following these steps:
1. Open your DevOps monitoring tool of choice (Examples: Prometheus, Nagios, Zabbix, Solar Winds)
2. Look at the past 48 hours of CPU usage
3. Check applications capability and relevance (It could be that the application in use is being phased out or requires updating)
4. Initiate scaling tool
5. Monitor and report changes during and after scaling
6. If the CPU issue remains, escalate
7. If the CPU issue is resolved, document and report
Format your steps with screenshots of processes and tables indicating appropriate metrics for healthy CPU during application usage. Use appropriate headings and subheadings, and keep fonts and visuals consistent.
8 Steps to Create an Effective Runbook Template
All runbooks look a little different. Here is a runbook template example including the basics of an effective DevOps runbook.
1. Outline purpose and objective, detailing the target user for the runbook and its scope of use.
2. Define the steps used in the process, breaking each down into easy-to-follow instructions.
3. Organize information into sections with appropriate headings, visuals, and simplified navigation.
4. Add FAQs and troubleshooting techniques for common problems associated with the process being described.
5. Peer reviews of your runbook ensure it reads effectively and includes accurate information.
6. Incorporate correct automation techniques, code types, and tool examples to be explored during the procedure.
7. Check your runbook regularly for required maintenance and updates as processes and technologies evolve.
8. Continue to add to and improve your runbook with user feedback and testing.
All DevOps runbooks are unique to the inputs and outcomes required of them.
A few tips to remember as you develop your own runbook:
- Be consistent
- Simplify phrasing and processes
- Include examples of automation tools and code
- Use visual aids and clarify annotation
- Test, test, and test again
- Continuously maintain and update
Hopefully, this runbook example and rundown have been useful for the creation and maintenance of your own runbooks.