The automation system I always wanted

It’s amazing that in 2018 I still get Orchestrator questions, so thank you to everyone who appreciated my small bits of work.

While I haven’t posted anything for years, I’m still very much involved in this space and I was lucky enough to start something that can take these ideas to the next level.

I absolutely loved Orchestrator, even with all its bugs and shortcomings. I think it was a great idea. Actually, the whole System Center stack was such a great story:

  • with CIs coming from AD and SCCM (even SCOM);
  • and alerts opening ticket from SCOM;
  • and the integration between SCORCH and SCSM.

If only SCSM wasn’t so slow and complex, forcing you through the ITIL nomenclature. I’ve yet to see someone actually implementing ITIL right and not just cherry picking whatever they feel most comfortable with.

So what have I done since?

For a while I tried to live with SMA and Windows Azure Pack. Then I was lucky enough to get the chance to actually work on this problem.

Together with some great guys we co-founded a company that’s trying to make automation easy to build, easy to manage and – most importantly – friendly for the end user. Our approach enables the automation not only of IT processes, but of any process. Think about it as a lightweight RPA (Robotic Process Automation).

How do you build automations? With PowerShell. Let me explain:

  • What if you write the PowerShell script – say for onboarding a user – then publish it in Azure Automation. And when the end user formulates the request (in natural language) she sees this:blog-automation
  • As you see, we use a conversational UI as the driver (let’s say a bot) along with some clever tricks to match what the user writes with the correct automation and to ask for the input parameters in a natural, user-friendly way.
  • Here’s our website nibo.ai, and here are some of our blogs: https://blog.nibo.ai. Email us 📧 if you are interested in a demo.

Cool, but with it work with our initial investment in SCSM?

Sadly, no.

I did try that initially. I wasted a whole year on it. But you just can’t fight it, it’s too slow, and even with caching and all sorts of other tricks you can only get so far. I also wanted to simplify the whole idea a bit, because for most companies having a service catalog à la ITIL (Automation → Activity → Request offering → Service offering) is overkill.

No SCSM, no ITIL, so now what?

Light Kanban. There’s actually a book that inspired a lot of the ideas and I highly recommend this to any person working in IT: The Phoenix Project.

Our take on this is simple:

  • Spend less time and effort learning the system, and more on actually building automations.
  • Avoid lock-in caused by using proprietary tech, and instead use something open like PowerShell.
  • Build and test your automation easily on any machine, with no need for special designers, special VMs, UIs etc.
  • Make this easy for the end user to interact with.

There is a lot more, such as ML, analytics, cool search… If you’re interested I’d love to show it to you. The system can be used as:

  • Automation system only (no ticketing) or;
  • Automation + ticketing.

Ping me 🤙

Valentin

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While modifying a runbook, I deleted some of my activities / links

Bad news: There is no “Undo” button. So what do you do when this happens?

You have two options:

  1. Since you deleted part of your runbook, you are probably still in “check out” mode with it. So, in order to see how the runbook was before check-out, log on from a different machine, to Orchestrator Runbook Designer. Select everything inside the runbook and copy it to a new runbook, then start modifying again.
  2. If you just want everything restored in the same runbook, verify the time when you deleted your activities / links (let’s say it was 10:00 a.m.), then go to your Orchestrator database, and run the following query:

use Orchestrator

Select * from OBJECTS where Deleted = 1 and LastModified > ‘2013-11-22 09:55:00.000‘ and LastModified < ‘2013-11-22 10:05:00.000

Update OBJECTS set Deleted = 0 where Deleted = 1 and LastModified > ‘2013-11-22 09:55:00.000‘ and LastModified < ‘2013-11-22 10:05:00.000

In case you deleted the entire runbook, or worse, an entire folder of runbooks, you should check this post, which covers well the rest of the available undeleting tricks.

Child runbooks in Orchestrator: Automating an uniquely named,fully patched VM with basic apps installed.

I always see people comparing PowerShell with Orchestrator, or thinking of Orchestrator as a GUI for PowerShell. From my point of view the real power of Orchestrator lies in its capabilities to integrate at different levels to multiple systems and bring them together in a simple “runbook”.

Finally in this post, we can bring together all the previous runbooks and get to experiment with child runbooks. For this all the previous runbooks have to be ready:

Another prerequisite for this runbook is having a VM template (with Windows 7 in my case) ready for deployment.

Scenario

The main idea, when creating these little runbooks, was to have a VM that:

  • Was auto generated
  • Has an unique name that complies with a specific standard
  • Is fully patched
  • Has a minimum of applications installed

Following this scenario, we easily get to connect to Active Directory, Exchange, SCCM and SCVMM. And we could go even further, by integrating this runbook with SCSM, for change management (future post).

Continue reading

Invalid Runbook in SCSM

Changing parameters in a runbook after it was synced in SCSM may change its state to “Invalid”. To fix this you need to go in SCSM and delete the synced runbook and run the Orchestrator connector again. If your SCSM machine is slow ( like mine :) )  you need to wait a little until the “Delete” action appears in the console, on the first instance you get only “Refresh”

More on this topic: Runbook States in Service Manager
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