Spreadsheets As System Administration Tools

I think spreadsheet software is an oft-overlooked system administration tool. You can do simple lists of things, do budgets, graph performance, and most of all you can use the autofill features as a substitute for one-off, run-once scripts. Sure, I think everybody should know how to use Perl and the various shell utilities like awk to do things, but why pull out the big guns when you need to do something once? Besides, a lot of folks have trouble with recursion, and it’s easier to see exactly what will happen (or at least the commands you’re about to run) with a spreadsheet.

I might be a heretic to some, but I’d rather folks, especially junior admins, feel comfortable with their tools than be over their heads and make a big mistake. I’d also like them to get used to getting things done, rather than getting lost in somebody else’s idea of “the right way” and accomplishing nothing in the end.

Plus, when someone starts running into the limits of Excel’s text functions it’s a natural lead-in to a better tool like Perl. They’ll see the value for themselves, rather than having to take the merits on faith from too-enthusiastic others (read: zealots). In the end they might be able to make a better call about which tool to use, based on how important the process is versus the results.

2 thoughts on “Spreadsheets As System Administration Tools”

  1. Perhaps more simplistic yet, but I find spreadsheets invaluable for keeping track of maintenance tasks across large groups of similar machines.

    A quick record of yes/no and any versioning information prevents me from losing track of where I was when someone last interupted me. Plus it’s quick for other people to refer to.

  2. I keep control of the inventory an all kind of static info about my servers in a single excel file with near a dozen worksheets each one relating to a pertaining issue (hardware, antivirus, backups, licensing an so on).

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