The Azure Automation service currently depends on “20 Azure Automation cmdlets,” which allow the scripting of repeatable actions or runbooks on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. However, when Microsoft releases the Azure Automation service as a product, then that number will double, enabling full automation via PowerShell.
“By Azure Automation’s general availability, we expect to have around 40 cmdlets to allow complete control of Azure Automation via PowerShell,” Microsoft explained.
The 20 currently available Azure Automation cmdlets are listed at this page. Other Azure script resources can be found in Microsoft’s Script Center.The new complete PowerShell management capability will be important not just for automating Microsoft Azure workloads. Microsoft has also claimed that it will enable integration and automation with other cloud services as well.
Setup of Azure Automation seems a bit cumbersome at present. It requires passing the same Automation account name parameter into each Azure Automation cmdlet. That process can be smoothed somewhat by the so-called PowerShell “splatting” technique, Microsoft’s announcement explained. Splatting is a way of passing parameter values to a PowerShell command as a single unit. The technique is described in this TechNet library article.
In any case, PowerShell has been Microsoft’s answer to organizations that may have used graphical user interfaces (GUIs) in the past for repeated tasks but found themselves hobbled by the GUI in larger computing environments. It’s thought to be “easier” to automate runbooks in datacenters by using the command line interface scripting environment of PowerShell vs. using a GUI. Sometimes, the GUI just can’t do the job.
Microsoft has a few other tools besides the Azure Automation Portal that can be used for setting up the automation of Azure tasks. System Center 2012 Service Management Automation handles runbooks the same as Azure Automation, according to Microsoft’s “Runbooks Concepts” description. System Center 2012 Orchestrator also can be used for automation. Orchestrator doesn’t require scripting to set up the workflows, so Microsoft advocates its use if an organization isn’t using the Windows Azure Pack (a bundle of Microsoft Azure integration technologies for enterprises and service providers).
It’s not clear when Microsoft plans to release the Azure Automation service, but it’s expected to cost about $20 per month for the standard version when available. A free but limited version is also part of Microsoft’s release plans.
By Kurt Mackie