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Microsoft Azure Automation Feature Launches as Preview

A new automation feature for managing Microsoft Azure workloads became available as a preview on Tuesday.

The Microsoft Azure Automation preview is available only via Microsoft's U.S. East datacenters, but Microsoft plans to expand support for the solution to other regional centers, according to a blog post by Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive vice president for cloud and enterprise. Earlier this month, Guthrie provided a roster of new Microsoft Azure "dev-ops" improvements.

Azure Automation is described as being similar to Microsoft's "Service Management Automation" capability that can be used with System Center 2012 R2 and the Windows Azure Pack, according to a blog post by Brad Anderson, corporate vice president for Windows Server and System Center. Both solutions -- Azure Automation and Service Management Automation -- are designed to help automate Azure workloads. However, Azure Automation is specifically designed for "cloud-based app/workload management," and it's designed to become "a unified Cloud OS platform," according to Anderson's post.

That distinction seems a bit fuzzy, but Anderson suggested that Azure Automation has the capability to integrate the services offered by other cloud providers besides Microsoft's services, specifically due to its PowerShell workflow support.

Customers of Azure will now be able to integrate into all of the 3rd party services they use in their cloud operations, as well as Azure itself. Equally important, with Azure Automation you will be able to automate these tasks within a highly available Windows PowerShell Workflow engine running within Azure.

Azure Automation provides direct support for five Azure services. It provides management support for Cloud Services, Storage Services and Web Sites. It provides management and Windows remote management support for Virtual Machines. Lastly, it provides management and SQL support for the SQL Server component of Azure.

Anderson also claimed that IT pros with automation skills can transfer those skills over to the cloud with Azure Automation.

Microsoft has another tool that helps to automate processes. The Orchestrator component in System Center 2012 has a runtime modeling component using a graphical user interface that can be used to that end. The difference between the use of Orchestrator and Service Management Automation in System Center 2012 is that Orchestrator doesn't require scripting, according to a Microsoft TechNet description. Orchestrator might be the tool of choice if an organization isn't electing to use the Windows Azure Pack, the article explains.

The preview of the Azure Automation solution is free to use, but Microsoft plans to charge $20 per month for the Standard version when it gets rolled out as a finished product. A free version of Azure Automation also will be available, but it will be limited to job runs of 500 minutes, 20 runbooks and modules that are 5 MB in size, according to Microsoft's pricing page.

Microsoft Azure Portal
Another feature of note mentioned by Guthrie was a new dev-ops dashboard preview called the "Microsoft Azure Portal." Users can customize their portal page's "startboard" and thereby surface various Azure details. The portal can show such as details as service health, as well as pricing and billing for Azure services, according to a blog post by Brian Keller, a principal technical evangelist for Visual Studio Application Lifecycle Management. The portal also has features that developers can use as it can show application lifecycle changes.

Keller stated that the Azure Portal preview has some limitations at present. It currently only shows resources from "Web Sites, SQL, MySQL and Visual Studio Online team projects," he explained, adding that Microsoft plans to add more resources "over time."

The Azure Portal preview also can't be used as a centralized dashboard by team members as yet. It's just available for an administrator or co-administrator account. However, Microsoft plans to add "role-based access control" to the portal in a future release, Keller stated.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.