In its most basic form, a runbook is an electronic or physical document that lists detailed procedures for handling every expected situation that an IT system may experience. Based on changes in system condition, incoming requests and other factors, system administrators determine which procedures to run and when to run them. Runbook procedures often include complex decision trees that indicate specific steps to follow depending on answers to pre-established questions.
Administrators are responsible for performing the appropriate steps of the procedure in painstaking detail, often by manually issuing commands to components and sub-systems. Primitive runbooks are notoriously inefficient, inflexible and error prone, sometimes relying on undocumented steps known to just a few staff members. Yet, if a critical step is missed or an incorrect command is entered, the entire process may be negatively impacted.