Setting up solar on our farm in North Texas has been a treasure trove of data to analyze – everything from Inverter load, to PV watts in, to state-of-charge for the batteries – It’s a massive amount of useful information.
So naturally I want that data in Azure Log Analytics. It’s perfect platform to handle this amount of data. Small messages, lots of entries. Just ready for reporting and analytics.
To do this, we are going to use IOT Hub as a go-between. Here are the high-level steps:
To get MQTT data into Azure Log Analytics via IoT Hub, you will need to perform the following steps:
Set up an IoT hub in your Azure account.
Set up a device in your IoT hub.
Configure the device to send data to your IoT hub using the MQTT protocol.
Set up a log analytics workspace in your Azure account.
Connect your IoT hub to your log analytics workspace.
Start sending MQTT data from your device to your IoT hub.
And now some details:
Set up an IoT hub in your Azure account:
In the Azure portal, click on “Create a resource” in the top left corner, then search for “IoT Hub” and select it.
Follow the prompts to create a new IoT hub, including selecting the subscription, resource group, and region you want to use.
Make note of the IoT hub’s name and connection string, as you will need these later.
Set up a device in your IoT hub:
In the Azure portal, go to the IoT hub blade and select “IoT Devices” from the left menu.
Click the “Add” button to create a new device.
Follow the prompts to set up the device, including giving it a unique device ID and generating a device key or certificate.
Make note of the device ID and key/certificate, as you will need these later.
Configure the device to send data to your IoT hub using MQTT:
The specific steps for this will depend on the device you are using, but generally you will need to specify the MQTT endpoint and authentication information for your IoT hub.
The MQTT endpoint will be in the format “YOUR-IOT-HUB-NAME.azure-devices.net”, and you will need to use the device ID and key/certificate you obtained in step 2 to authenticate.
Specify the MQTT topic you want to publish data to.
Set up a log analytics workspace:
In the Azure portal, click on “Create a resource” in the top left corner, then search for “Log Analytics” and select it.
Follow the prompts to create a new log analytics workspace, including selecting the subscription, resource group, and region you want to use.
Make note of the workspace ID and primary key, as you will need these later.
Connect your IoT hub to your log analytics workspace:
In the Azure portal, go to the IoT hub blade and select “Diagnostic settings” from the left menu.
Click the “Add diagnostic setting” button to create a new setting.
Select the log analytics workspace you created in step 4 as the destination for the data.
Select the data types you want to collect
Start sending MQTT data from your device to your IoT hub:
Using the device ID, key/certificate, MQTT endpoint, and topic you obtained in steps 2 and 3, publish data to your IoT hub using the MQTT protocol.
The data should be automatically forwarded to your log analytics workspace and be available for analysis.
One of the hurdles a company might run into when moving to Azure, especially with Azure Monitor and Log Analytics, is integration with Action Groups. Rarely are the actions of SMS or Email good enough to integrate with an internal Service Management system, so that leaves webhook as the simplest way to get data back into the datacenter. But that leaves one problem – Firewalls.
The Azure backend can change at any time, so it’s important to know what IP addresses the Action Group can originate from – and we can do that with Get-AZNetworkServiceTag.
To start, let’s install the az.network module. I am specifying allowclobber and force, to both update dependencies and upgrade existing modules. Make sure you are running or pwsh window or VSCode as an administrator.
install-module az.network -allowclobber -force
If you aren’t already connected, do a quick Connect-AzAccount. It might prompt you for a username/password, and will default to a subscription, so specify an alternative if necessary.
Once connected, we can run the Get-AZNetworkServiceTag cmdlet. We will specify what region we can to get the information for – in this case, EastUS2.
Get-AzNetworkServiceTag -Location eastus2
The ‘values’ property is what we are after. It contains a massive amount of resource types, regions, and address ranges. In our case, let’s just get the Action Groups, specifically for EastUS2.
This is another post in a series of posts by fellow MVP Billy York and myself on migration from on-prem automation to Azure. Check out his post here to see the full list.
One of the challenges that needs to be addressed with moving off an on-prem tool such as Orchestrator is how to trigger your automations. Almost all of the tools individually have a method to call them remotely – things such as webhooks, watchers, api endpoints, etc… In this post I would like to highlight how another Azure tool – Azure Event Grid – can prove a useful tool for correlation and centralization. If you need a quick refresher on Event Grids – check out this post. I’m not going to dig into the concepts of Event Grid, but I will walk through how to do a quick setup of Event Grid and get it ready to trigger your workflows.
The first thing we are going to do is create an Event Grid Topic – go to the appropriate resource group, and create a new resource – pick Event Grid Topic, and click ‘Create’.
Specify the event topic name, subscription, resource group, location, etc… The deployment will take a minute or two.
When it’s created, you should see something like this. Take note of the “+ Event Subscription” and the Topic Endpoint.
The topic endpoint is important – this is where you can forward events to from your on-prem resources in order to for event grid to pick them up. This URL takes a json payload (under 64kb in the general release version, with 64kb increments being charged separately – 1mb version in public preview now). Because I am who I am, I wrote a quick PowerShell script that could be used by your resources as a quick and dirty integration.
Subject – What the event subject would be, which is what we will key off of later for subscriptions – this is a personal preference. You can trigger from the event type in the basic editor, but I prefer subject.
eventTime – Required, in UTC
id – Important, but only if you want unique event identifiers.
data – The important bits from your on-prem resources – the bits we will want to pass to the Azure Automation resources.
After sending a couple of events, you can look at the ‘Published Events’ metric to ensure they are coming in as expected:
Now it’s time to give the event grid something to do when the events arrive. There are several ways to accomplish this – all done with a ‘subscription’ to the events. Some of the ‘automation’ flavored options include:
Sending to Event Hubs
Service Bus Queues and Topics
WebHooks are pretty self-explanatory, but also one of the most powerful. For example, you can create a Logic App that is triggered by an http request, and from there break out and perform any type of automation that you want. I will go over that in another post. For this post, I will show a slightly more difficult to setup, but equally as powerful method to start automation – the Azure Function EventGrid triggered function. Head over to your Azure Function, and let’s add a new function:
Select the “Azure Event Grid trigger” and give it a name – in my case I gave it the descriptive name ” EventGridTrigger1″. After it’s created, you should see something like this:
You can see the parameters – eventGridEvent and TriggerMetadata. Keep those in mind. Now head back over to the Event Grid Topic, and let’s add a new subscription. When you select the endpoint in the new subscription, you should see your EventGridTrigger function:
Great – since the function is created already, the endpoint is something we can select. If the function wasn’t created, there would be no option to create a new one.
Now we can dig into the actual subscription properties – notice the 3 tabs. Basic, Filters, and Advanced Features. Filters is where we will do most filtering for automation, although some can be done in the basic tab via the event type. For now, just set the Event Type to ‘recordInserted ‘, since that is what we put in the PowerShell code, so we can switch over to the filters and do the rest of the work.
On the Filters tab, the first thing we want to do in this example is check the box marked “Enable subject filtering”. If you remember in the PowerShell, we set the filter to “App01/Database/TLogFull”. You could imagine this being the unique identifier to trigger the appropriate automation – almost something like a unique monitor ID or an automation trigger id. In this example, let’s set that as our filter. We will do this simple one in this post, but branch out and look at advanced features in a future one:
When you are ready to create your new subscription, head back to the ‘Basic’ tab and give it a name – numbers, letters, and dashes only. Do it right, and you will be greeted with something like this:
Now that we have the subscription created, let’s send some events and see if they trigger the subscription! If you run that PowerShell snippet a couple of times, wait a minute or two, and check out the ‘monitor’ tab of the EventGridTrigger function, you will see something like this:
And clicking on the details:
From here, we can see the data fields that were passed, and which could be used in our PowerShell function.
Hopefully you can see how using an Event Grid can help trigger your automations, especially when dealing with IOT and monitoring situations, or when a simple webhook is all you have to work with. They offer an easy way to take those PowerShell workflows from Orchestrator and directly import them into Azure with little modification, while at the same time providing a centralized method of tracking.
Whether you are well into your automation journey or just starting out, it’s important to know what options are available. Moving a manual workload to the wrong automation engine can be just as disruptive as automating a bad workload. Luckily Microsoft has a plethora of tools, so you can be sure to pick the right tool for the right job.
Azure Automation – Process Automation
It’s tough to start an article about automation tools in Azure without starting with Azure Automation – so I won’t try. Azure Automation is going to be the first place you look if you are migrating things like:
System Center Orchestrator runbooks
Simple commands called repeatedly (restarting services, for example)
Azure Automation uses RunBooks and Jobs, which will immediately be familiar to Orchestrator admins. Azure Automation supports PowerShell, and Python 2 scripts, along with PowerShell workflows. The automation jobs can be run either on-prem via Hybrid Workers, or in the cloud. A little known secret about Azure Automation – it runs a lot of the backend process that power Azure!
There is another piece to Azure Automation worth calling out – it’s CHEAP. Azure gives you 500 run-time minutes for free each month, with each additional minute costing only $0.002. Watcher tasks are even cheaper – I will go over those in another blog post.
The server-less powerhouse of the automation options in Azure – Functions are designed for scale, speed, and complete extensibility. Deploy code or docker containers for your function and then build your functions with .Net Core, Node.js, Python, Java, and even PowerShell Core.
With the language options available, moving on-prem workloads should be a breeze. Access your functions from anywhere via API or schedule them to run automatically. Customize your compute stack, secure the functions with multiple keys, and monitor your runs with Log Analytics and App Insights.
You can build your functions in VSCode, any other code editor you choose, or edit and test your function right in the Azure portal. Each Function App can have multiple functions, and scaling can occur manually or automatically. There are so many options available for Azure Functions, it deserves it’s own blog series.
As with Azure Process Automation, Functions are priced really competitively. Check out the pricing list here.
Azure Logic Apps
Anyone coming from a tool like System Center Orchestrator, or other automation tools like MicroFocus Operations Orchestration will tell you one thing those tools have that the tools I have previously mentioned dont – a UI that shows logic flow. Microsoft’s answer to that – Logic Apps. Logic Apps are a personal favorite of mine, and I use them extensively
Building a Logic App couldn’t be simpler. You can start with a blank app, or choose from a LARGE selection of templates that are pre-built. Once in the Logic App Editor, it’s practically drag and drop automation creation. Logic Apps are started with ‘Triggers’, which lead to ‘Actions’. The apps can access services via ‘connections’, of which there are hundreds. If you do happen to find a 3rd party service that doesn’t have a built-in connector, build a custom one!
Logic Apps makes it easy to build complex automations by helping you with things like automatically creating loops when arrays are detected. Allowing you to control parallelism, offering you hundreds of ways to call your app, and more. You can add conditions, switches, do-until loops, etc… There isn’t much they can’t do.
Of course you get the enterprise controls you would expect – version controls, IP access restrictions, full metrics and logging, diagnostics, etc. We run a massive Systems Management and Monitoring conference almost entirely with Logic Apps.
If you are considering migrating from Orchestrator (or other 3rd party automation tool), then look no further. This should be one of the first Azure tools you do a proof of concept with.
Power Apps/Power BI/Power Automate
The tools I have talked about so far are focused on you – the enterprise system admin. But PowerApps gives your organization an exciting and probably under-utilized automation opportunity – your Business users! Even the biggest automation organizations don’t have the resources to automate everything their users want, so why not let them handle some of that automation on their own.
Power Apps let you or your users create new desktop or mobile business applications in a matter of minutes or hours. These can be self contained, or reach out to tools like Azure Functions to extend these simple to make apps into something truly enterprise worthy.
Power BI gives world class data visualizations and business intelligence to the average business user. Using Power BI you can allow your users to create their own dashboards or become their own data scientists directly from their desktop.
Power Automate is the tool formerly known as Flow. If you are familiar with Logic Apps, then Power Automate will look almost identical – and for good reason! Flow was originally built from Logic App code. There are a couple of big differences, though:
Power Automate has an amazing mobile app. Start a flow, or even create one from your phone.
Power Automate can no simulate screen clicks – Remember AutoIt?
Configuration and Update Management
I am going to lump these two into one description, mainly because each is slightly meta. Configuration management is like PowerShell DSC for your Azure and on-prem resources. Describe what your environment should look like, and determine if you want auto-remediation or not. Expect more information on this in future blog posts.
Update management is patching for all of your resources – on-prem or in Azure. Group your servers logically and schedule OS and app updates, or trigger update management from Log Analytics, runbooks, or functions.
The great thing about Configuration and Update management? The cost. Update and configuration management is practically free – only pay for the data ingestion used by Log Analytics. Update management is even ‘free’ for on-prem resources, including Linux! Configuration management does have a cost for on-prem resources, but the cost is still low.
Event Grid and Hub
Although not automation in the strictest sense of the term, Event Grids and Hubs are prime examples of triggers for automation. For most use cases, Event Grid is going to be the best trigger – Event Hub and even Service Bus are more for telemetry and high-value data, but Event Grid is designed to handle reactionary data. Filter events as they come into Grid, and create action groups based off filtered events. Action groups can have actions for starting Azure Functions, generic web-hooks, automation rubooks, Logic Apps, and more! Send your events to a endpoint API, and you are set to start your automation flows automatically!
Meta – ARM
What’s the first thing you need to automate if you are moving to Azure? The automation workflows themselves, of course! Whether it’s configuration or full deployments, ARM is your best friend.
How a sinister act leads to great things – in about 15 minutes
This Sunday, as the wife and I traveled back from Dallas to Austin after a weekend away I get a text from an automated website monitor. My WordPress blog – this blog – was either offline or not responding correctly. Happens occasionally. When I got home I popped up the site, and immediately got a message about php being a really old version – like 5.x – when it normally runs a 7.x version. I decided to log into my provider and check it out. I was not prepared with what I saw.
It was obvious that I had been hacked, big time. Redirects to shady pharma sites in Russia, CSS injection on every post, random hacked php files in practically every directory in not just this domain but in 8 sub-domains as well. I was well and truly up the creek. To make it even better, the hosting service I use seems to think that UI enhancements are forbidden – hence my inability to download a current backup.
I had to do something, and quick. This blog contains some of my contributions to the community, and does (shockingly) show up in search results. I needed to get it back up and running quick. The only thing I had was an XML export from the blog a couple of weeks back. I immediately decided to use Azure to get this running quick.
For those who don’t know, the easiest way to export from a WordPress blog is to go to Tools – Export – All content. I suggest you do it often.
I jumped over to Azure, and provisioned a new resource. Since this was going to be an actual production thing, and not just some testing resource for a conference or for a post, I decided to use a new resource group.
Note – I choose to do a MySQL database in the app – mainly because I needed this up and running quickly, and I don’t have traffic substantial enough to warrant scaling backend MySQL instances. For large instances, I would recommend using ‘Azure Database for MySQL’ – that allows options like scaling, larger instances, etc…
The deployment of the WordPress instance was honestly the longest part of the process – it took between 7 – 10 minutes, but once it was up and running you are presented with a brand new WordPress instance:
Click on the URL, and you are presented with the interface for your brand new WordPress instance. Now we continue with the WordPress setup
Now update your WordPress – immediately. After updating, log out and back in, just in case the WordPress database needs to update as well. Once everything is updated, it’s time to import the WordPress XML.
When you install the importer, then the ‘Run Importer’ option will appear. Upload your XML file and let the importer run. In my case it took about 5 minutes. A great thing about this import – it takes all of your settings – preferences, link post IDs, media, etc… This was in many ways much better than doing a restore on my normal hosting provider – I have my blog back up and running (minus some theme customization), but I have the entire power of Azure behind it! I get Azure Monitor – Azure Sentinel, App Insights, Log Analytics, and more!
Next, it was time to redirect my old-and-busted blog to the new blog website. This is going to differ by hosting provider, but in my case it was fairly simple.
What are the next steps? In my case, it is going to be adding a custom domain to my App service, so that I no longer have to rely on my old hosting provider, and use them solely as domain registrar. That will be in an upcoming post.
In my case, something as horrible as a hack has led to a great outcome – hosting in Azure, really cheaply, with an absolute glut of new features at my disposal. This hack might have been the best thing to happen to this blog in a while. Who knows – maybe I will just continue to add new Azure features and see how it turns out.
Recently a friend sent me an email asking how to start a series of machines in Azure in a certain order. These particular machines were all used for labs and demos – some of them needed to be started and running before others. This is probably something that a lot of people can relate to; imagine needing to start domain controllers before bringing up SQL servers before bringing up ConfigMgr servers before starting demo client machines.. You get the idea.
So, even though we got something for my friend up and running, I decided to go ahead and build a repo for this. The idea right now is that this repo will start machines in order, but I will expand it later to also stop them. Eventually I will expand it to other resources that have a start/stop action. Thanks a lot, Shaun.
The basics of the current repo are 2 files – start-azurelab.ps1 and config.json. Start-AzureLab performs the actual heavy lifting, but the important piece is really config.json. Let’s examine the basic one:
The first thing you see is the ‘tenantid’. You will want to replace this with your personal tenant id from Azure. To find your tenant id, click help and show diagnostics:
Next, you can see the subscription name. If you are familiar with JSON, you can also see that you can enter multiple subscriptions – more on this later. Enter your subscription name (not ID).
Next, you can see the Resource_Group_Name. Again, you can have multiple resource groups, but in this simple example there is only one. Put in your specific resource group name. Now we get down to the meat of the config.
This is where we put in the VM names. Place them in the order you want them to start. The two other properties have special meaning – “wait” and “delay_after_start”. Let’s look at “wait”.
When you start an Azure VM with start-azvm, there is a property you specify that tells the cmdlet to either start the VM and keep checking until the machine is running, or start the VM and immediately return back to the terminal. If you set the “wait” property in this config to ‘false’, then when that VM is started the script will immediately return back to the terminal and process the next instruction. This is important when dealing with machines that take a bit to start – i.e. large Windows servers.
Now – combine the “wait” property with the “delay_after_start” property, and you have capability to really customize your lab start ups. For example, maybe you have a domain controller, a DNS server , and a SQL server in your lab, plus a bunch of client machines. You want the DC to come up first, and probably want to wait 20-30 seconds after it’s running to make sure your DC services are all up and running. Same with the DNS and SQL boxes, but maybe you don’t need to wait so long after the box is running. The client machines, though – you don’t need to wait at all, and you might set the delay to 0 or 1. Just get them up and running and be done with it.
So now we can completely control how our lab starts, but say you have multiple resource groups or multiple subscriptions to deal with. The JSON can be configured to allow for both! In the github repo, there are 2 additional examples – config-multigroup.json and config-multisub.json. A fully baked JSON might look like this:
I am working on a project for a very popular conference – working on backend automation that controls everything from speaker coordination to session scheduling. The current task at hand involves deploying the entire suite of Logic Apps, Azure Automation accounts, Azure Functions, etc… These would all be deployed to a new Resource Group. When deploying these resources for a new conference a few things change – changing the conference name from ‘Jazz’ to ‘Midway’ for example, or changing the backend data sources.
Normally you would use Azure ARM Template Parameters to pass these values when you deploy the resources, and you would be absolutely right! They are powerful assets to have in your pocket. It does get a bit dodgy, however, when you start to deploy Logic Apps in the ARM template and those Logic Apps have parameters of their own.
Logic Apps have parameters and variables all their own, and they are defined just like parameters and variables in ARM templates. When you want to deploy a Logic App that has parameters you can put them in the ARM Template and reference them in the Logic App, or you can use an ARM template expression in the Logic App. The latter is not a popular idea, and the former doesn’t evaluate the parameters until the execution of the Logic App. That obviously makes it difficult to work on the Logic App after it’s deployed.
That’s when I got the idea of using a popular SCOM tool – SCOM Fragments by Kevin Holman – in order to get the best of both worlds. I wanted a quick way to deploy, and a quick way to edit after deployment. Cake and all that….
The idea is simplistic – Find/Replace what you want to change before you deploy. Sounds simple, and it is! That is essentially how the SCOM Fragments work, and the same idea can be utilized here. Say, for example, you have a simple Conference Name parameter you want to change. The first thing you would do is build your Logic App like normal, keeping in place a static conference name. Export that template. Now, at the top of the template, add a new parameter to the parameters section in the template, like this:
"description": "Name of the conference - i.e. Management Conference 2019"
Now, find your static conference name down in the code for the Logic App itself, and replace the name with ###Awesome_Conference_Name###. That’s it! That is all that is needed to prepare your template for a rapid deployment. When you need to deploy this template, simply Find/Replace ###Awesome_Conference_Name### with whatever text you want – i.e. “My Super Conference 2019”. It will update it both in the parameters section, and in the code itself. Do we really need the Parameter at the top of ARM template, especially if we are just going to replace the text ourselves before we deploy? That answer is no, but it does help immensely when keeping track when you have a ton of parameters: