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What's New in System Center 2012 Orchestrator

This chapter from System Center 2012 Orchestrator Unleashed focuses on changes to Orchestrator in System Center 2012. If you have an OIS 6.3 background, reading this chapter can provide a smooth transition to understanding this System Center component. The chapter covers technology changes and discusses how Microsoft’s rebranding affects Orchestrator’s position in System Center. This chapter also provides a brief overview of the history of Orchestrator.
This chapter is from the book

In its second major release since its acquisition by Microsoft, Orchestrator (previously known as Opalis Integration Server, or OIS) has completed its assimilation into System Center. Chapter 1, “Orchestration, Integration, and Automation,” introduced the concepts behind run book automation (RBA), business process automation (BPA), IT process automation (ITPA), and Orchestrator. This chapter focuses on changes to Orchestrator in System Center 2012. If you have an OIS 6.3 background, reading this chapter can provide a smooth transition to understanding this System Center component. The chapter covers technology changes and discusses how Microsoft’s rebranding affects Orchestrator’s position in System Center. This chapter also provides a brief overview of the history of Orchestrator.

As the first version developed entirely by Microsoft, System Center 2012 Orchestrator has the benefit of the rigorous testing and code standards placed on all Microsoft products. In addition, it has the benefit of several years of experience with customers implementing OIS into their data centers; Microsoft has taken that feedback and fed it into product development. Although the user interfaces for Orchestrator are similar to the previous version, they have received a facelift along the lines of the rest of the System Center components, providing a consistent look and feel across the product.

The underlying theme is that even though Orchestrator appears different and has a new name, the technologies, concepts, and processes underneath essentially remain the same. In fact, this version further emphasizes the features and benefits of OIS 6.3. Integration is still what Orchestrator is about, and it continues to offer the same robust workflow engine. If you used the last release of OIS, System Center 2012 Orchestrator will be a familiar experience. With that said, you will encounter some key terminology changes, new software and hardware prerequisites, several dropped features, and a brand-new Orchestration console.

The History of Orchestrator

Orchestrator has had a relatively short life in the hands of Microsoft, but its predecessors by Opalis Software, Inc., hit the shelves more than a decade ago. Opalis Software enjoyed a successful run, and its history includes a number of milestone developments that helped shape what Orchestrator is today. Even in the first release of the OpalisRobot product, the company approached automation differently from the rest of the world. Simply scheduling jobs was not enough; the real value was in being able to monitor for certain events and use those to trigger an action. By combining low-level task automation with the capability to integrate heterogeneous tools, people, and processes, Opalis enabled much more consistent and reliable automation. This concept came to be known more formally as IT process automation. The following sections look at how Orchestrator came to be and examine the advancements Microsoft has made since the 2009 acquisition.

The Beginnings of Orchestrator: OpalisRobot

Orchestrator started life in 1995 as a program called OpalisRobot; Figure 2.1 shows the Opalis logo. As OpalisRobot evolved over the next decade, it became clear it had an important differentiating feature over its competitors: Whereas other products were essentially task schedulers, OpalisRobot incorporated monitors and triggers. The idea was not only to schedule automated tasks, but also to dynamically identify and respond to specific events in your environment. This enabled administrators to build truly self-healing systems and applications. This concept was a precursor to runbook automation, and it is still very much at the core of Orchestrator today.


FIGURE 2.1 Opalis logo.


OpalisRobot was not the only product Opalis Software developed and produced. The company also sold OpalisRendezVous, which provided a graphical user interface (GUI) for transferring files over FTP, file shares, and databases. This product offered a unique “when, what, where” configuration that enabled administrators to control the flow of file distribution, ultimately allowing a company to move quickly from a manual to an automated process. Again, simplicity of use was an underlying principle that made OpalisRendezVous such a useful and popular product. Figure 2.2 shows the OpalisRendezVous interface.


FIGURE 2.2 OpalisRendezVous user interface.

Opalis Innovates

OpalisRobot 3.0 was released in 1997, bringing one of the most important innovations to the product line with the world’s first drag-and-drop design interface for workflows. This was an important development because it marked a key concept that exists in current System Center products: simplicity. Ease of operation and administration has been an important theme throughout all System Center components.

A year later, Opalis released a set of add-ons for email and computer telephony integration. These add-ons, today called integration packs (IPs), facilitated the addition of activities to the set of out-of-the-box activities shipping with the product. Over the years, Opalis fostered a community of independent developers to create open source IPs that enable the product to automate tasks within many other systems. These IPs changed the perception of OIS from an ITPA tool separate from the rest of the data center to that of a platform resting beneath all the tools and processes in the data center.

This important distinction led to what is now known as the Orchestrator Integration Toolkit. It enables developers to integrate Orchestrator with virtually every other application, regardless of manufacturer, through those other applications’ exposed integration surfaces, such as application programming interfaces (APIs), command-line interfaces (CLIs), and databases.

Microsoft currently offers more than a dozen supported IPs for both Microsoft and other vendor applications, such as VMware vSphere and HP Service Manager. Dozens more are available through open source community developers.

OpalisRobot 4.0, released in 2002, was the last release under the OpalisRobot brand. This final release brought a new user interface (see Figure 2.3), some bug fixes, and additional standard automation objects. This release was also the first with support on Linux and Solaris; however, support on non-Microsoft platforms ceased with 4.0 and did not carry forward to later versions of the product.


FIGURE 2.3 OpalisRobot 4.0 interface.

Goodbye Robot, Hello OIS

By the early 2000s, it became clear that although Opalis Software clearly understood where it needed to fit into runbook automation and ITPA, OpalisRobot had outgrown its architecture; it was time for a major rewrite of the underlying technology. Opalis retired its RendezVous and Robot product lines and planted its position firmly in the ITPA space. Fundamentally, this was a shift in focus, from developing better runbook activities to providing a better integration platform. New integration packs (then called connector access packs) were released to support this positioning, which included integration into Microsoft Operations Manager.

As part of this new positioning, Opalis rebranded its new automation software as Opalis Integration Server and released OIS 5.0 in 2005. OIS 5.0 brought a round of significant improvements, including the use of an industry-standard relational database management system on the back end, dashboards, improved scalability, and Active Directory integration. The marriage of the administrator-friendly interface, the IP approach, and the new architecture allowed OIS to take its seat as a true ITPA tool, allowing automation of activities to occur across systems and processes.

Issues with the redesigned architecture became evident over the following months, as often occurs with newly released software. Opalis made several incremental improvements to the 5.x release, and those ultimately led to the development of a new workflow engine, called pipeline mode. Pipeline mode changed how data was passed between objects, facilitating new capabilities such as embedded looping and the capability to flatten published data. The old workflow engine, referred to as legacy mode, remained available until the System Center 2012 Orchestrator release. A final round of minor changes brought about the last major release of OIS with version 6.0.

Microsoft’s Acquisition of Opalis Software

Microsoft, having identified a requirement to bolster its line of data center management tools with an ITPA solution, acquired Opalis Software in December 2009. The terms of the acquisition included a final release of OIS for Microsoft that removed any unacceptable features, such as the Java-based prerequisite of the OIS Operator Console displayed in Figure 2.4. For legal reasons, Microsoft would not distribute the open source software required for the Operator Console. However, the console itself was still available and supported until Orchestrator was released as part of System Center 2012 in April 2013.


FIGURE 2.4 OIS Operator console.

Microsoft positioned the Opalis software under System Center. Version 6.3, which was the final update to OIS, included support for OIS on Windows Server 2008 and the OIS Client on Windows 7, and a set of IPs for System Center. Figure 2.5 shows the OIS 6.3 Client.


FIGURE 2.5 OIS 6.3 Client.

OIS to Orchestrator

Microsoft announced the rebranding of Orchestrator in March 2011 at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas. Officially called System Center 2012 Orchestrator, this is the first major release developed wholly by Microsoft. As such, the functionality is migrated into a Microsoft codebase. This means that Orchestrator is now subject to the same rigorous design and testing cycles as the rest of the Microsoft products.

With the System Center 2012 release, OIS 6.3 was no longer available as a standalone download, but Microsoft provided support of the product for an additional 12 months. The company also honored existing support agreements with customers.

Orchestrator brings a series of improvements, including these:

  • Bug fixes
  • Terminology changes
  • A new Orchestration console
  • Updated integration packs
  • A new installer

OIS Migration to Orchestrator

You cannot upgrade OIS to Orchestrator, but you can migrate existing OIS 6.3 policies to Orchestrator 2012. Some of the standard activities have changed, so you might need to adjust your runbooks after migrating them from OIS 6.3. Chapter 5, “Installing System Center 2012 Orchestrator,” covers Opalis migration in detail.

Where Orchestrator Fits into System Center

Microsoft has positioned System Center 2012 as a single product with multiple components rather than individual applications, which is representative of the way the tools interact with each other. The components have a high level of integration, and Orchestrator is key to that integration. This integration also reflects the license options: System Center 2012 has a single SKU with an option to purchase either licenses per virtual machine (VM) or an unlimited VM enterprise license. Figure 2.6 illustrates the relationships among the different System Center components.


FIGURE 2.6 IT management as a platform.

Microsoft built System Center 2012 to manage on-premise, private cloud, and public cloud data centers. Each component provides a platform; on top is a set of solutions that fulfill those management needs. Here is a description of each component—see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh546785.aspx for additional information:

  • App Controller: Enables template-based deployment of services and virtual machines to private clouds via Virtual Machine Manager and public clouds using Windows Azure.
  • Configuration Manager: Provides a comprehensive configuration management solution for the Microsoft platform. This component features application delivery, operating system deployment, desktop virtualization, device management, compliance monitoring and remediation, hardware monitoring, and software inventory capability.
  • Endpoint Protection: Endpoint Protection is built on the Configuration Manager platform and provides antimalware and security solutions. Because it shares its infrastructure with Configuration Manager, you can consolidate endpoint protection and management.
  • Data Protection Manager (DPM): DPM is a centralized backup solution that features near-continuous backup. It enables rapid and reliable recovery of a Windows environment, including Windows servers and desktops, SQL Server, Exchange Server, and SharePoint.
  • Operations Manager: Provides an infrastructure management solution that delivers comprehensive health and performance monitoring and alerting to drive performance and availability for data center and cloud-based applications.
  • Orchestrator: Enables the automated delivery of IT services through a simple user interface that is built for information technology (IT) administrators. Orchestrator enables automation across a heterogeneous datacenter.
  • Service Manager: Provides a platform for managing Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) and IT Information Library (ITIL)–based service management processes. These include incident management, request fulfillment, problem management, change management, and release management. Those processes are automated through integration with companion System Center 2012 components.
  • Virtual Machine Manager (VMM): VMM is a virtual infrastructure management solution for provisioning and centrally managing host, network, and storage resources that support datacenter, private, and public cloud environments.

Orchestrator is unique, in that it does not provide a solution to any problem; it provides a platform and set of activities to enable administrators to generate their own solutions to unlimited problems. Often the question with Orchestrator is not whether you can automate something, but whether you should automate it. Automation clearly has many benefits, but a certain level of planning must go into the design and creation of runbooks. The good news is that Orchestrator simplifies this process with its user-friendly Runbook Designer.

Orchestrator shines particularly well in the following areas:

  • Automation in the data center
  • Service delivery and automation
  • Creation of self-healing systems

The best way to think of Orchestrator is not as an additional component hanging off the end of the rest of System Center, but one sitting beneath the rest of the components that can read, interact with, and pass data among the various APIs to act as a point of integration. In this way, Orchestrator doesn’t necessarily need to action all the automation, but it can act as a puppet master that enables other applications to execute the automation.

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