Chapter 7. The Evolution of Automation at Google

Besides black art, there is only automation and mechanization.

Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), Spanish poet and playwright

For SRE, automation is a force multiplier, not a panacea. Of course, just multiplying force does not naturally change the accuracy of where that force is applied: doing automation thoughtlessly can create as many problems as it solves. Therefore, while we believe that software-based automation is superior to manual operation in most circumstances, better than either option is a higher-level system design requiring neither of them—an autonomous system. Or to put it another way, the value of automation comes from both what it does and its judicious application. We’ll discuss both the value of automation and how our attitude has evolved over time.

The Value of Automation

What exactly is the value of automation?1


Although scale is an obvious motivation for automation, there are many other reasons to use it. Take the example of university computing systems, where many systems engineering folks started their careers. Systems administrators of that background were generally charged with running a collection of machines or some software, and were accustomed to manually performing various actions in the discharge of that duty. One common example is creating user accounts; others include purely operational duties like ...

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