Introduction to System Center Orchestrator 2012 R2

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It’s mind boggling to consider how far IT has come in such a short time. Think back for a moment to the days of clunky, old desktops you couldn’t take home, user identities confined within corporate firewalls, connecting to the Internet while a dial-up modem made funny sounds, or waiting for the “It’s now safe to turn off your computer” message before you could power down.

Those of you smiling in nostalgia realize how much the IT landscape has changed over these years. Proliferation of mobile devices enabled anywhere-anytime accessibility. Higher Internet speeds made for better connectivity. Virtualization allowed us to do more with less hardware. Cloud gave us virtually infinite computing resources.

Although these modern computing trends have fueled tremendous business growth, an IT administrator’s workload has only increased in terms of maintaining and managing the infrastructure. The need for things like mitigating server sprawl because of a large number of VMs, quicker resource provisioning, enabling self-service, keeping consistency in configurations and minimizing downtime becomes more prominent and even more necessary as the infrastructure grows.

And that’s where automation comes to the rescue. By automating IT processes that are time-consuming, repetitive, non-productive or laborious, an administrator can focus on achieving the core business goal without worrying about the lower level details of how a task will be executed each time. And once you have all the bits and pieces of your automation solution in place, witnessing automation in action for the first time wouldn’t be anything less than magic. It’s almost as if your infrastructure has come to life!

If you’re a medium-to-large enterprise running on Microsoft software, System Center Orchestrator is the answer to these automation needs. Orchestrator comes as a part of the well-known datacenter and client management toolkit, the System Center suite. Orchestrator is a visual, non-scripting- and no-coding-based solution that offers activities you can drag-and-drop onto the workspace and connect them through links to create the desired workflows. In Orchestrator, workflows are called runbooks. The main intention here is reusability; create runbooks once by configuring details of how each activity should occur, and after that it basically happens on its own.

A very simple (Hello automation!) two-activity runbook would look like this:

orchestrator01

You have multiple options to invoke a runbook:

  • Manually triggered by the Administrator
  • Scheduled to invoke at a specified date/time
  • Trigger based on occurrence of a preset event

An advantage of having an automation strategy in place is that it helps offload the burden that would normally be an administrator’s responsibility. This, in turn, has a cascading effect on the overall efficiency of the entire infrastructure.

orchestrator 02

The results include:

  1. Quicker provisioning of resources
  2. Facilitation of self-service
  3. Consistency and elimination of human errors
  4. Repeatability of robotic tasks
  5. Monitoring and remediation to decrease downtime and honor SLAs

If you’re curious to learn more about Orchestrator, check out my beginner-level course, which covers the basics of datacenter automation and IT process automation using System Center Orchestrator 2012 R2. In this course, you’ll learn about the product architecture, deploying the product, creating runbooks to automate day-to-day IT processes and extending functionality using integration packs. You’ll also learn about basic design principles and recommendations, improving performance by optimizing the setup, and preparing for high-availability and scalability.

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Contributor

Kunal D Mehta

is a Microsoft and VMware certified IT Pro specializing in Core Infrastructure solutions like Windows Server, Active Directory, Exchange, SharePoint, Office 365, Azure, and System Center products. He has trained about half a dozen SI partner companies in India on Server 2012 and Private Cloud solutions covering over two thousand people. When he is not doing his geeky thing, he likes to hang out with friends to play a game of snooker or bowling. He also loves watching all types of movies, going out on long drives on the highway, listening to soothing music, and playing pranks on people.