Don’t get me wrong, I love System Center Orchestrator (as you will see here AND here), but it is important to know when it is time to move on. Well my friends, it’s time. Some months ago now, Microsoft publicly announced that their investment in new features Orchestrator had come to an end, and that a cloud-first strategy would be the norm. The Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS), together with Azure Automation, is actually the bridge for organizations wishing to modernize their automation strategy,..even organizations not quite ready to go “all-in” with Microsoft Azure.

In this article, I will share five tips to help optimize your journey in modernizing your process automation strategy.

Tip #1: Don’t make big investments in legacy tools

Since Orchestrator is a legacy component, it is probably best not to rush into costly investments in Orchestrator-based solutions that you will only have to rewrite later. However, I am not saying not to use Orchestrator at all. If you find a runbook for free (or cheap) you can download that solves a problem, go ahead! If the development cycle is fairly short, no problem! However, think twice before spending tens of thousands of dollars on Orchestrator-based development or solutions.

“How would you suggest I move forward” you ask? Read on.

Tip #2: Don’t count on the Orchestrator Migration Toolkit to handle everything

The System Center Orchestrator Orchestrator Migration Toolkit will convert some of your runbooks, as well as your custom activities developed with the Orchestrator Integration Toolkit (OIT) to an Azure Automation / Service Management Automation (SMA) friendly format. It also provides a converted set of (most of) the standard activities from Orchestrator.  However, there are some caveats:

  • Some activities cannot be converted. For example, the Map Published Data activity, used heavily by runbook authors everywhere, cannot be converted for Azure Automation and SMA at present.
  • Activities in integration packs not created with the OIT cannot be converted.

What’s more, you may have created custom logging, checkpointing and other workarounds in your Orchestrator runbooks that are native features of Azure Automation, which you will need to write out of converted runbooks. The bottom line here is that at least some runbook redesign and rework is going to be necessary on the road to a simplified, modern process automation strategy. Embrace this reality and use it as a learning opportunity.

Tip #3: Use hybrid to take your first step…

If your organization is not yet in the cloud, walking in the door and singing the praises of an “all-in cloud strategy” may not be the best approach. Your message may not be well-received by the cloud doubters and cloud fearful in your ranks. Some of these concerns may be well-founded and may take time to overcome. This is where OMS can help, by giving you a fantastic compromise…the Hybrid Runbook Worker. Without rehashing everything explained in the hyperlinked article, the key point here is that linking OMS to an Azure Automation subscription enables you to execute Azure Automation runbooks on a server enabled as a Hybrid Runbook Worker inside your datacenter with no additional outside-in firewall ports required!

This is an olive branch with another bonus. With Hybrid Runbook Workers enabled throughout your data centers, you can Azure Automation as your centralized, simplified, global back-end orchestration infrastructure. An Orchestrator instance per-datacenter, and the headaches that come with keeping them all in sync in terms of patches, runbooks and security, are a thing of the past.

Tip #4: Don’t build what Microsoft is going to build for you

This tip is an easy one to follow. Never spend a lot of time and money building or buying a solution Microsoft promises to build for you. Watch the product roadmap for OMS, which includes a long list of Microsoft’s planned feature releases that may eliminate your need to build certain types of automation. The current public roadmap includes a host of great features, including solutions focusing on

  • Office 365
  • Patch Management
  • Remote OS Management
  • Containers
  • Network Performance and Analytics
  • Configuration Management Database

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Since OMS Is cloud-based platform, features come on a rapid release cycle…at a cloud cadence. Talk to your MS account team and focus on closing the gaps MS is not already working to close for you. This likely means you will be able to focus on more organizationally-specific, high ROI scenarios the business side of your org care about.

Talk to your Microsoft account rep for the latest OMS feature roadmap.

Tip #5: Start with a “quick win”

One important point I used to stress with Orchestrator was the need to “start small”, and the same is true with OMS and Azure Automation. To introduce your organization to hybrid automation with OMS and Azure Automation with the Hybrid Runbook Worker (and to ensure they love it), start with a manageable scenario. Find an automation need that you can develop and demonstrate in a proof-of-concept in a short time (nor more than one or two days) to get your colleagues and management stakeholders acquainted…and on board.

Before you start, look at what is already available from the community. There are lots of runbook samples out there demonstrating common scenarios like group maintenance mode in System Center Operations Manager, Active Directory user onboarding, as well as adding computers to collections in System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Since Azure Automation supports PowerShell, a freely available PowerShell script may help jumpstart your efforts!

Next Steps

Your first step is to get in the game. Sign up for the free tier of OMS, which includes 500 automation minutes per month. Sign up for a free Azure trial, or sign up for the pay-as-you go option to limit your spend. Watch some of OMS and Azure Automation videos on the MS Channel 9 website. Download some of the many sample runbooks shared in those sessions.

Good luck!

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