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System Centre Orchestrator 2012: why you should be using it

Firstly, what is Orchestrator? Orchestrator is a new member of the Microsoft System Centre suite, previously badged System Centre Opalis or Opalis Integration Services, and commonly referred to as SCO or SCORCH. Orchestrator is quite simply, a workflow engine. You define the workflow, it goes off and executes it.

Workflow? Isn’t that a business thing? It was. In recent years, numerous workflow engines have appeared out of nowhere, most notably in document management and incident management systems. Workflows creation is somewhat complex for some, and it’s interest is generally left to those who rely on the systems that utilise it. Not the IT guys.

Why is workflow important? Workflow is a precursor to automation, and automation is what you should be striving to develop in your IT environment. Automation allows for you to do more important things, like drinking more coffee and focusing on your next big IT project. As a professional, business understanding IT guy, you should be investigating automation for everything in your environment – pro-active management is key.

Workflows are key to this automation. Orchestrator gives you this capability.

So, what can you use it for?

  • Cloud management (Microsoft’s flagship reasoning for Orchestrator)
  • Desktop deployment
  • Service provisioning
  • Proactive and reactive management of servers/desktops or even network devices
  • Incident management
  • much much much much more

Orchestrator workflows are defined as “runbooks”, which can be started manually, scheduled to run every 5 mins, or  triggered from an SNMP trap, file creation/edit, registry entry update, or generic monitoring statistics such as CPU usage. Orchestrator runbooks define the processes, and workflow, of your automation tasks.

At the heart of Orchestrator, you have PowerShell. If you don’t know PowerShell yet, you’re probably going to want to learn the basics before using Orchestrator.

The most important thing about Orchestrator, is you, the admin. Ask yourself:

  • What mind numbing tasks do you today? Ugh, the programmers want me to refresh UAT with the latest production database again, I hate this.
  • Is an investment of a days work, worth not having to complete that task again, every day/week/month? Think of all that extra coffee time
  • Is that task often prone to errors? Automating that task will ensure the task runs the same time, every time, and reduces the risk of error.
  • Most importantly, can you actually automate the task? Perhaps you think you can’t… But think about the end to end process. PowerShell has a lot of neat tricks, and the Orchestrator functionality is pretty extensible.

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