In our previous post, we set the scene for being able to use System Center Orchestrator for being able to bundle up automated functionality in a way that’s more consumable by others. We also defined the business problem we’re trying to solve and worked out which inputs we would rely on the user to provide and which things we will decide on their behalf.

In this article, we’ll start to look at the Orchestrator workflow and how to include some PowerShell automation as part of that. We’ll then follow up with some specifics around example PowerShell code, which has its share of peculiarities when being run under Orchestrator.

Orchestrator Workflows

System Center Orchestrator, like many orchestration tools, allows us to take automation modules, called Activities, and glue them together in a workflow called a Runbook. There are a bunch of pre-defined activities that ship with Orchestrator, and Microsoft provides extra activity bundles in a set of Integration Packs that are available for download. We’ll be keeping things quite simple in our example and will rely primarily on the Run .NET Script activity that comes standard.

Open Orchestrator’s Runbook Designer tool, select your Orchestrator runbook server and we’ll create a new runbook. In my example, I’ve called mine Prod-Dev Data Sync. Using the activities on the left, drag and drop the following activities into the runbook and connect them:

  • Initialize Data — this is where our runbook will start
  • Run .NET Script — this activity is where we’ll call out to PowerShell to do Tintri SyncVM magic
  • Return Data — at the end of the runbook, any returned data will be handled here and passed back to Orchestrator

It will end up looking like this:


We can far more complex runbooks than this, and indeed ours could be improved, but this will work as a starting point.

Next, right-click the Initialize Data activity, select Properties and click the Details tab. This is where we set the inputs that this runbook will take from the end user. We’ll add one string input parameter and we’ll call it VMname. It should look as follows:


We’re going to blindly pass this along to the next activities in the runbook, but it would be better to perform some kind of basic checks here to make sure that we’re operating on a developer VM and not a production VM. We’ll come back to that.

Next, right-click the Run .NET Script activity, hit Properties and again select the Details tab. This is where we’ll add our PowerShell script shortly. For now, set the language to PowerShell and leave the the script pane blank. Click on the Published Data tab. This is where we take any values returned our script and pass them to the next activity in the runbook.

We’re going to add three variables to be returned:

  1. ResultStatus as an integer
  2. ErrorMessage as a string
  3. TraceLog as a string

The names don’t matter too much, but the name you use in the Variable field will need to match the variable names we use in our script, and the Name field will be plumbed into the Return Data activity shortly. The result should look like this:


The plumbing for our runbook is almost done. We just need to take care of the data that we want to return and we’re then ready to start adding our PowerShell code.

First, right-click on the runbook’s title in the tab along the top, and click Properties, and select the Returned Data tab. This is where we’ll declare which parameters we plan to return. To begin with, these will match what we returned from the Run .NET Script activity earlier.


This defines the data we plan to return, but we still need to link that up with the previous activities in the runbook.

Right-click the Return Data activity, click Properties and select the Details tab. You’ll notice that it has already populated with the list of return parameters we defined a moment ago.

For each parameter to be returned, we need to subscribe to a piece of data published by earlier activities. In our case, we’ll right-click the text field, select Subscribe and Published Data. You should be able to find each of the variables we defined as output from the Run .NET Script activity earlier. Orchestrator will then fill in the text fields with template text that looks like ‘{ResultStatus from “Run .Net Script”}’ as seen below:


At this point, our runbook is pretty much complete. To summarise what we’ve done:

  1. Declared the VM name as an input parameter and subscribed to it
  2. Passed that VM name to a PowerShell script (still to come)
  3. Took the returned data from the script and returned that at the end of our runbook.

We’ll cover the PowerShell script in two separate articles — our next will cover the plumbing needed for PowerShell scripts in Orchestrator, and then the one after will look at the use-case specific code.

Ideas for improvement

The runbook we have will be pretty functional once we’re doing with the PowerShell component. But it is about as simple as it could be. Here are a couple of ways that we could insert some more activities into the runbook to make things more robust:

  1. Have an activity after the Initialize Data activity that checks that the virtual machine name is a developer VM, rather than production or some other application.
  2. Extend that to check that the user requesting the activity owns the VM being operated on. Most hypervisors don’t have a concept of an owner of a VM in this context, so we’d need to think of ways to map that ourselves.
  3. Check the output of the script and if the operation failed, automatically email us with the trace log data and anything else helpful.

Time permitting, we’ll try to tackle one or more of these once we have the initial project up and running.

[Orchestra image by aldern82 and used without modification under SA2.0]


5 thoughts on “Orchestration for Enterprise Cloud part 2

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