5 Ways MSPs Can Add Automation to Their Workflows

MSPs can add efficiency to their work by automating processes such as application deployment, hardware provisioning, network management and infrastructure monitoring.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

January 12, 2018

3 Min Read
Automation Improves Efficiency

Automation is the name of the game in today’s IT world. If you’re an MSP and are missing out on opportunities to automate, you’re undercutting your efficiency, as well as your image in the eyes of customers. Here’s a look at processes that are easy to automate but that you may still be performing manually.

Lack of automation is bad for two main reasons.

First and most obvious, manual tasks are more costly and time-consuming to perform. By extension, they cost you more.

Second and less obvious, MSPs who fail to automate do not look as tech-savvy and efficient in the eyes of customers—especially customers who are aware of the latest technological innovations. Embracing automation is therefore important for bolstering your image as a competent, forward-thinking managed services provider.

Opportunities for MSPs to Automate

You’re probably already automating some of your workflows. But are you automating all of the following?

Firmware Updates

Firmware is special low-level software that helps to power most devices. Keeping firmware up-to-date is important for avoiding security and performance problems. However, one of the tricky things about firmware is that it is not usually updated by your operating system’s automatic update tool. It requires separate update workflows.

Fortunately, many device vendors offer automated firmware update tools. The tools are usually vendor-specific, so determining which ones apply to the devices you manage will require some research. But be sure you identify and enable automated firmware update tools that are available to you for the devices you manage.

Infrastructure Monitoring

If you’re still relying on manual or semi-manual processes to detect problems with the infrastructure that you manage, you’re missing out on substantial efficiencies.

Today, a variety of software platforms automate not just the tasks of detecting infrastructure problems, but also the workflows required to ensure that alerts reach the right people and are handled in a timely fashion.

Some basic monitoring tools, such as Nagios, are free. Most holistic platforms for managing alert workflows cost money. To the extent that your budget permits, take advantage of the monitoring and alerting tools available to you for keeping infrastructure up and running.

Application Deployment

How do you deploy applications? If you install them and start them manually, there is much more that you can do to automate the process.

By taking advantage of technology like containers, it’s easy to automate application deployment.

You can also integrate deployment with the rest of the application delivery chain, if you have one. That way, code updates, tests, staging, builds and deploys are all part of the same automated pipeline.

A number of vendors offer release automation platforms, or you can build your own using open source container frameworks, CI servers and test suites.

Hardware Provisioning

Setting up servers is hard work—or at least, it used to be.

Today, Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) tools make it possible to automate most of the tasks required to provision servers (and other devices, for that matter) with operating systems, storage resources, networking configurations and more.

IaC means that you no longer have to sit down and provision each server manually. It also allows you to duplicate configurations easily and programmatically.

Setting up hardware may be one of the ways you offer value to your customers. You can continue to offer that value even if the processes you use to set up the hardware are automated.

Network Management

For some MSPs, managing networks is a core part of their business. Setting up networking hardware, adjusting bandwidth and network load in order to keep services running optimally and responding network failures are important revenue-generating activities.

They are also activities that can now be automated (mostly). Automatic load balancing eliminates the need to adjust routes by hand. Many networking devices can be configured automatically using IaC approaches. Network monitoring can also be automated via the monitoring platforms mentioned above.

Again, automation doesn’t mean that you no longer deliver value to your customers. It just means you deliver value in a way that is more efficient for you, and leads to faster results for them.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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