Azure Automation: A Comprehensive Recap of 2022 and What's Coming
Published May 02 2023 12:58 PM 4,751 Views
Microsoft

There has been a significant acceleration in digital transformation of the IT environments, with organizations moving their workloads to the cloud and benefitting from consolidated management and operations of their otherwise intricate and dispersed IT infrastructure. While digital spending rapidly increased, organizations are now focused on optimizing costs. Infrastructure automation is being prioritized to maintain efficient operations (cost savings, streamlined operations, and accurate results) across on-premises, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments.

 

Azure Automation offers a comprehensive platform for cloud-based execution of PowerShell & Python scripts as automation runbooks, to manage Azure and hybrid environments. Customers utilize automation jobs for a variety of purposes, including cost optimization through resource life cycle management, reliable orchestration of dependent mission-critical jobs that otherwise require manual tracking, and other common enterprise IT operations such as periodic maintenance (defragmentation, scaling, etc.). By automating these tasks, customers increase efficiency, reduce costs, and free up operational time and resources for core business initiatives. You can read some of the common automation scenarios here.

 

Azure Automation is focusing on providing a modern, secure, and a reliable engine allowing maximum reuse of existing scripts proven to reliably perform IT operational tasks, be it for the environment or guest applications on the VMs.

 

In this blog post, we shall go on a retrospective journey and discuss the enhancements done in Azure Automation since 2022 and provide a sneak peek into the year ahead.

 

Automation Accounts - Process Automation 

 

  • Latest Runtimes – Automation runbooks now support scripts authored in PowerShell 7.2 and Python 3.10, providing access to the latest updates in these languages in the scripts. These language runtimes are currently available in public preview. General availability announcement coming shortly!
  • In-guest management - Automation support in-guest management of Azure machines & on-prem resources registered as Arc-enabled servers using Hybrid Automation Extension. This is available as a GA offering. We’ve invested in the simplification of the onboarding by making it a one-click operation, unified management experience across Azure and Arc-enabled servers, leveraging Azure AD authentication mechanism to improve the security posture.

     

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  • Developer Productivity – Azure Automation released Visual Studio Code extension. With this, developers and IT admins can author, debug, edit and manage automation runbooks without leaving the IDE of their choice (Visual Studio Code). The extension is integrated with GitHub Co-pilot, an AI programmer that suggests code completion as you write. For those who lack coding proficiency, Co-pilot provides suggestions for coding by starting with a natural language comment or by typing out the desired code. This allows for a much faster dev-test-debug-deploy loop.

VSCode.jpg

 

 

  • Security – Azure Automation used to rely on Drawbridge (SQLPAL) sandboxing technology for isolation between the jobs. This led to various functional shortcomings, scale restrictions and security issues. PowerShell and Python runtimes now run on the Azure Container Instances (ACI) platform, that is much more secure and provides Hyper-V isolation. This major shift is happening behind the scenes with no impact to existing runbooks. Moreover, with security on top of our minds, RunAs account and Log analytics agent-based Hybrid worker agent has been announced retired and are to be replaced by Managed identities and Hybrid worker Extension.
  • Scale – Azure Automation has made significant investments in improving our platform scale in order to provide seamless experience to customers to run their jobs. The service has made significant investments to improve the overall job execution flow, specifically towards having a successful Job creation and a high Job execution reliability are super critical, avoiding job failures due to infrastructure issues.  
  • Resiliency - Data sovereignty has been a bigger concern for customers, so Azure Automation is investing in making the service Availability zone ready, thereby, making it fault-tolerant to zone failures within the datacenter. This improves the overall availability and resiliency of the service. We are continuing our investments in resiliency by Azure Automation supporting Availability zones in 23 regions & our global footprint is expanding even more, with Azure Automation now being available in 60+ regions worldwide.

 

Retirements

There are a few retirements announced in 2022 and retiring this year and next. We encourage you to take immediate action and move on to the latest and more secure features. 

Retiring Feature

Retirement Date

Feature Replacement

Run As Accounts

30 September 2023

 

Managed Identity

(Announcement blog here)

Desired state configuration VM extension for Linux

30 September 2023

 

Extension-based User Hybrid Runbook Worker

(Announcement blog here)

Agent-based User Hybrid Runbook Worker

31 August 2024

 

Azure Automanage Machine configuration

(Announcement blog here)

 

You can find all the announcements and updates in the Azure Automation what's new article.

 

 

Partner Solutions 

We have new partner solutions added to the Azure marketplace from Kelverion.

 

No-Code Automation for Azure

Kelverion’s no-code automation offering is The Runbook Suite which provides a rich no code graphical authoring, underpinned by the Microsoft PowerShell framework running in Azure Automation.  The image-based approach uses a click and configure method, making the creation of automation runbooks simpler using a drag and drop, code-free approach and doesn’t require advanced coding knowledge, however the tool does have the capability to embed code should the user wish – best of both worlds for scripting experts as well as users who like the No-code approach.

View the no code authoring offer for Azure Automation on the Azure Marketplace.

 

Self-Service Portal for Automation

The Automation Portal is an easy to implement lightweight Azure Web App which provides a Self-Service Portal dedicated to automating IT service requests, offering a versatile interface that can drive automation processes and also now has a Mobile App for on-the-go automated request interaction. This offer provides the Automation Portal as a standalone product to which users can interface from any existing automation platform of choice, whether that be Azure Automation, System Center Orchestrator, Logic Apps, Azure Functions, Power Automate or any other system.

View the Automation Portal on the Azure Marketplace.

 

Use these solutions to complement your Azure Automation environment by Pro integrators and developers, IT professionals who would want to use low code/no code option to author runbooks.

 

Now, let's shift our focus to other solution areas that are included in the Azure Automation service and see how they are expected to evolve in the future -

 

State Configuration

A newer version of State Configuration is now available called as Azure Automanage Machine Configuration. Machine configuration is the latest implementation of functionality that has been provided by Azure Automation State Configuration. It also includes the most requested features from customer feedback.

When possible, you should plan to move your content and machines to the new service. There is a detailed guidance available on developing a migration strategy from Azure Automation to machine configuration. For more information , see Azure Automation state configuration to machine configuration migration planning.

 

Azure Update Management

Azure Update Management  manages operating system updates for Azure virtual machines (Windows and Linux), and machines (physical or VMs) off-Azure. with no dependency on Automation account and Log Analytics workspace.

Watch out this space for more announcements soon around the general availability of the solution and migration plan for Azure Update management to Update management Center.

 

Change tracking & Inventory.

Change Tracking & Inventory is the service that tracks changes in virtual machines hosted in Azure, on-premises, and other cloud environments to help you pinpoint operational and environmental issues. It alerts customers to changes in software data, services, daemons, and files for Azure and non-Azure VMs.

At present, Change Tracking and Inventory leverages the Log Analytics Agent. However, this agent is scheduled to be retiring by August 31, 2024. In accordance with this retirement plan, an updated version of the Change Tracking and Inventory service is currently in Preview, based on the Azure Monitor agent (AMA). AMA agent provides you with more security and other feature benefits. We strongly recommend utilizing the Azure Monitor Agent-based service as the new supporting platform. For more information, see change tracking and inventory using Azure Monitoring Agent.

Watch out this space for more announcements soon around the general availability of the solution.

 

 

Well, now you must be wondering why these solutions are moving off Azure Automation?

In the past, these scenarios were bundled together with Azure Automation. However, each of them serves a distinct purpose. Our aim is to separate them from Azure Automation and offer dedicated services for specific use cases. Going forward, Azure Automation will focus solely on process automation for infrastructure management and orchestration across Azure and hybrid environments (both on and off Azure). This change will provide a more tailored & native experience for each service. Additionally, this approach enables us to focus better on the unique requirements and demands of each solution, resulting in better overall experience for our customers and a design that is fit for purpose.

 

What’s coming next.

Our goal is to make this service as the one-stop-shop for infrastructure automation managing Azure resources, as well as in-guest management of Azure virtual machines and off-Azure machines. Our focus for this year would revolve around below key themes -

 

  • General availability for the language runtimes – Announcing General availability for our preview runtimes - PowerShell 7.2 and Python 3.10.

 

  • Platform Modernization to plug in feature gaps identified through customer feedback. A lot of that feedback is around supporting release of latest runtimes faster in an agile manner, providing an easy upgrade path to the latest runtimes etc. You will see investments coming into these areas soon that would allow customers to stay up to date.
  • Security - We are continuously taking steps to ensure we offer a safe and reliable platform for customers ensuring consistent policies across multi-cloud environments are applied to strengthen security & provide guardrails to standardize automation across your entire IT estate. We will continue to invest in improving the security of the Automation service.

 

  • Improved reliability and scale – We will be investing in the service to ensure that it becomes a dependable platform, enabling customers to execute their jobs with confidence, supporting a larger scale.

 

  • Runbook Gallery Enhancements – We intend to expand our script collection in the gallery to include more scripts for common automation scenarios following the latest Azure constructs like managed identities, Az modules etc. Additionally, our focus would be on enhancing the user experience of the Runbook Gallery making it simple to navigate and use the script library.

We encourage you to continue contributing to the PowerShell or Python scripts available for Azure Automation in our GitHub organization to grow the Azure Automation community by sharing the amazing work you have been doing with the runbooks. See Azure Automation Runbooks moving to GitHub.

 

There's still a lot in the backlog. We're always looking for ways to learn more about your challenges and how Azure Automation can help you better automate your tasks. Reach out to us at AskAzureAutomation@microsoft.com.

 

 

That's about it, Happy Automation!

 

Learn more about Azure Automation

 

 

 

 

 

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