The process of managing servers over time to ensure that the configurations of those servers remain consistent, accurate, and current can be difficult, time-consuming, and error-prone. Fortunately, there are several solutions available to help with server configuration management. One common solution involves the use of scripts to automate processes related to the configuration of servers. These scripts can be created manually or through the use of tools such as Puppet or Ansible, which assist in the creation and maintenance of server configuration scripts.
Different Types of Scripts
Because there are many types of scripts, it’s best to start by defining what a script is. There are three main types of scripts: configuration, execution, and validation. A configuration script changes how something works or how it looks. An execution script makes something happen based on external input or other programs that will control processes. A validation script tests for expected results or documents that everything was completed correctly.
The distinction between these types of scripts is important because they need not be written in one language; however, certain languages lend themselves better than others for specific tasks. The following sections will talk about which languages are best suited for each type of task.
For instance, if you want to change a DNS server’s IP address, you would use a configuration script. But if you want all of your machines in one organization to change their default passwords, you’d need an execution script. And if you want to run tests on new servers after they’ve been set up, you’d need a validation script.
Each language has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, while Python is a great choice for configuration scripts because it’s easy to read and interpret commands, it also might not be as fast or flexible as using Shell scripts on Linux systems.
PowerShell is a great option for scripting, especially if you run primarily Microsoft Windows Server. While it doesn’t have as rich of an API as Bash or Python, it does offer useful features such as error handling and tight integration with other systems like Active Directory or Exchange Server. Perl was originally designed for system administrators and offers support for both Windows and Linux machines; however, Perl also has a steeper learning curve than some other languages because of its complex syntax.
Choosing the language(s) is largely dependent upon your in-house expertise or access to a consulting firm like Axeleos, which has experts in myriad different scripting languages. This is one of those situations where it’s best to be clear about what you need now as well as what you might need down the road before choosing a specific framework.
Why Use Scripts Over Manual Processes?
There are many reasons why it is preferable for an organization to use automation over manual processes when configuring servers. For one, they offer a level of repeatability that manual processes simply cannot match. With scripts, you can execute them again and again with no risk of human error.
Furthermore, server configuration scripts are repeatable across different types of servers because they are configured using software tools. The script only needs to be written once, but it can be applied multiple times across different platforms or configurations without needing any adjustment on your part.
With scripts, you can ensure that critical tasks are carried out with great precision. You also get detailed reports on each step of your process, which helps you keep track of progress. Any time a script fails or encounters an error, it can be run again with little risk of human error affecting its completion. This is because there are no moving parts associated with running scripts versus manually carrying out steps in a process. An experienced engineer or system administrator can often maintain server configuration automation systems more easily than manually configuring servers.
Best Practices for Creating and Maintaining Server Configuration Scripts
Server configuration management is a critical IT task, but it’s often an afterthought or done in a non-methodical manner. In both cases, it leads to errors, duplication of effort, and unnecessary costs for your business. To ensure that server configuration changes are well-documented and systematic from start to finish, take advantage of these best practices when creating your own scripts:
1) Keep it simple
There’s no need for complex coding or fancy scripting languages—that just adds unnecessary time to a project. Be sure you only use a scripting language that you understand so you can update it if problems arise down the road. Instead, your scripts should be lean and easy to read. They shouldn’t contain complicated conditional statements or looping functions—instead, simply list steps in order of operation, ideally with inline comments that document any non-obvious instructions.
2) Test before implementing
Once you have your script ready for production use, test it on a small set of servers before implementing it on every server. This ensures that there are no problems with functionality or performance issues on these machines first so you can fix them now rather than after more servers have been added.
3) Schedule regular maintenance
Server configuration management is more effective when it’s done regularly. At a minimum, schedule changes once per quarter on each server you manage. This keeps scripts up-to-date without having to make multiple trips to different offices or remote locations; your team can update servers remotely during scheduled maintenance windows (which minimizes downtime).
4) Backup everything before updating or implementing new scripts
Changes can go wrong—you could accidentally delete files, tweak configuration settings in an unintended way, or otherwise cause problems that damage server performance. That’s why it’s important to backup all of your data before making any changes—if something goes wrong, roll back by restoring from backups instead of starting over from scratch.
Document script changes with notes in your master spreadsheet or master document repository so that others have quick access if they need to update scripts at some point down the road. You can also leverage a solution like a GitHub repository to store your scripts. This provides version control as well as the ability to document information about each script.
Implementing a well-architected server configuration management practice can save your business time and money. Reach out to Axeleos today to schedule a consultation and let us help you begin formalizing a configuration management practice that makes sense for your organization.