The Role of Infrastructure Cleanup Jobs

May 19, 2024
Prefect Team

While we all wish our infrastructure operations were nothing but sunshine and rainbows, failures are an unavoidable reality in modern software systems. From VMs or containers crashing to storage buckets filling up with stale data, issues inevitably arise that require cleanup and remediation. The jobs that handle this infrastructure cleanup are critical for maintaining system health and performance. However, reliably hosting and executing these cleanup jobs presents its own set of challenges.

Understanding infrastructure cleanup jobs

An infrastructure cleanup job is any type of recurring task that maintains and/or recovers a system component. For example, a cleanup job may remove old log files from storage after they reach a certain age, or it may restart containers that have stopped running. Without cleanup jobs, infrastructure will eventually implode, leading to all sorts of downstream problems—system downtime, unnecessary cloud costs, and many other headaches. Additionally, without proper cleanup, cloud costs begin to skyrocket due to unused infrastructure. In today’s world, your infrastructure is the frame that holds your business together, so broken cleanup jobs have a clear and direct impact on business processes, cost, and overall success.

The challenges of hosting cleanup jobs reliably

As if infrastructure were not a big enough challenge to handle, these cleanup processes themselves are susceptible to failure.

The recursive infrastructure cleanup paradox

Cleaning up infrastructure failure is clearly a challenge on its own. But what do you do when the cleanup jobs themselves fail? How do you clean up and recover from a failure of the component that was supposed to handle the very problem that it fell prey to? You could create cleanup jobs that clean up cleanup job failures—that should solve the problem… except, it doesn’t. Instead, it simply pushes the problem out further, increasing the complexity of an already fragile system.

Legacy tooling and lack of insight

Traditionally, infrastructure cleanup jobs are built on tools like cron or legacy job schedulers. Their function is to simply tear down and spin back up infrastructure that’s misbehaving. Although such tools were able to support system cleanup in the past, they are not suited for the complexity of modern business and infrastructure, as they do not allow for easy observability, monitoring, and error handling. So, when issues and failures do occur, it is extraordinarily difficult to understand why and when a problem occurred, and tailored, automated failure response is not possible. It’s like walking around with your hands over your eyes—it might work out, but you’re likely to fall.


Even with better tools than cron or legacy schedulers, hosting a cleanup job is complex, costly, and siphons away precious time and resources from core engineering tasks. Designing and deploying infrastructure is already hard enough, but teams must also configure and maintain servers or containers specifically for their cleanup jobs. Oftentimes, even the minimum size of a server is even far larger than what’s needed for the task at hand - presenting an opportunity to decrease costs. Ensuring high availability and scalability adds even more overhead.

The Solutions

While the challenges of reliably hosting cleanup jobs may seem overwhelming, there is a path forward. Consider the following ways to optimize your infrastructure cleanup jobs.

1. Create resilient and observable workflows

Leave the legacy scheduling tools to the computer science history books, and use modern workflow development tools and frameworks to build robust, observable workflows for your cleanup jobs. By doing away with outdated tools like cron and using modern frameworks, you can create visibility into job and workflow execution status via monitoring, custom alerting on failures, and the use of built-in error handling and automatic recovery mechanisms.

2. Use scalable and highly available infrastructure

Take the pressure off that ancient server in the back office, and deploy your cleanup jobs on scalable, highly available cloud infrastructure and/or containerized environments. Use auto-scaling to handle variable resource demands and take advantage of high availability capabilities like multi-region deployments and failover to prevent cleanup job downtime.

3. Use a managed platform

Lift some weight off your team's shoulders and use a third-party managed platform to handle cleanup job orchestration and hosting. A managed platform can simplify all aspects of cleanup job management, including hosting, deployment, and execution of workflows, and provide built-in observability, monitoring, scaling, high availability, and more. 🎉


Now that we’ve gone over the problems and theoretical solutions to those problems, how do you put this into practice? Enter Prefect, the workflow orchestration and observability tool for infrastructure cleanup jobs. Prefect empowers you to rapidly build, monitor, deploy, and manage recurring maintenance workflows with ease, using either self-managed infrastructure or managed cloud infrastructure. Prefect transforms simple, brittle Python-based cleanup jobs into robust, observable units of work, employing a few simple decorators—no major rewrites required! With Prefect as the foundation on which your cleanup jobs rest, you’ll have access to the following capabilities:

🕰️ A built-in job scheduler to automatically create new runs for your cleanup jobs

⭕ Automatic, customizable retries to ensure your jobs are robust

📝 Logging and alerting by default for troubleshooting and monitoring

⏱️ Flexible task-execution strategies to meet your specific needs

Caching of task state for efficient reuse of task results

👀 Incident tracking and management for rapid, automatic response to system issues

🎼 Event-driven orchestration to dynamically respond to changes across your infrastructure

By adopting Prefect for as your infrastructure cleanup job management tool, you can prevent downtime from missed jobs, spend way less time firefighting, and focus on building the infrastructure necessary to make your business successful. Prefect provides the resilience, observability, and scalability you need to host cleanup jobs without all the overhead and complexity of building that infrastructure yourself. Say goodbye to cleanup chaos and hello to a hassle-free environment! To learn more, visit

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