VCenter Orchestrator: The workflow-automation king

With vCenter Orchestrator automated workflows, you can indulge your lazy streak. This free workflow automation tool in vCenter Server can eliminate many manual processes.

VMware vCenter Orchestrator is a workflow automation tool that is included for free with vCenter Server.

In complex VMware infrastructures, manual workflows can be a hassle. For example, suppose that a user wants additional RAM for a Web server. He completes the company's required form and emails it for management approval. Once additional RAM has been approved, an automated workflow starts by modifying a virtual machine's properties.

If the RAM increase overextends the virtual infrastructure, a manager must provision a new host, provision storage to that host and then update the content management system to reflect those changes. VCenter Orchestrator can automate the entire process, once management signs off.

VCenter Orchestrator plug-ins and APIs for workflow automation
VCenter Orchestrator has an open, plug-in-based architecture that enables third-party companies to write code for custom workflow automation. Companies such as NetApp Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. have demonstrated plug-ins that automate workflows within their hardware platforms, and VMware also created a plug-in for automating vCloud Director workflows through Orchestrator.

Even if a third-party product doesn't offer a plug-in, vCenter Orchestrator can still help. As long as a product has an open application programming interface (API), Orchestrator can make a call to the product's Web services, which can update the content management system or possibly create a ticket within the help desk management application.

Like most VMware products, vCenter Orchestrator has an API, which allows third-party software to execute workflows. A request form for additional RAM in a virtual machine (VM), for example, can be a full-fledged Web application that makes an API call once the form is submitted.

Importing, exporting and scripting workflow automation 
VCenter Orchestrator can also import and export workflows. (Some websites offer workflows for download.) As you learn how to build your own workflows, using a previously created workflow is informative. These downloads are particularly useful for creating complex workflows.

In addition, Orchestrator can run scripts and execute JavaScript directly within a workflow, which can help process data in a way that no other actions or workflows can. For example, there aren't built-in workflows that manipulate a sequential set of VMs (e.g., WebServer01, WebServer02, etc.). Using a JavaScript-based action, a loop can iterate through the relevant numbers and manipulate the associated VMs in sequence.

These options make vCenter Orchestrator a very powerful tool for building an automated virtualization infrastructure, and they will surely make your infrastructure more efficient.

This was first published in February 2011

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