Chapter 1: Introducing Opalis Integration Server 6.3

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Automation, Orchestration, and Integration

Consider OIS as the underlying platform enabling you to orchestrate everything else. Orchestration and automation usually go hand in hand. Where orchestration is the external management of an application or applications, automation is the programmed execution of tasks within and between those applications. All that is missing is how OIS connects to these applications to perform the orchestrated management and automation tasks.

Without integration capabilities, the product’s benefit to the data center would be greatly decreased. Integration is the connection created between OIS and an integration surface on the application or applications to be orchestrated and automated.


When OIS connects to these integration surfaces, you can link together a series of out-of-the-box or extensibility actions to form a policy. A policy is an integrated action or collection of linked integrated actions, which is a part of a greater process. In these processes, individual policies are frequently linked together. Instead of calling them a series of linked policies, these have come to be known as workflows. In OIS, the terms process, workflow, and policy are often used interchangeably. Figure 1.2 is an example of a policy; this is a portion of the workflow previously depicted in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.2

An OIS policy

Referring to Policies Versus Workflows 

The OIS application utilizes the term policy, the term this book will use when referring to OIS components. Outside the application, when referring to groupings of policies or the process as a whole, the authors will use the term workflow.

After it is completely configured, a workflow becomes the best practice process. The process dictates those orchestrated management and automation tasks you need to perform, while each action in the process contains information about the integration to each device or system you will manage.

OIS Connects the Data Center

Collecting these workflows (and the platform on which they are built) becomes the foundation for your time and cost savings and improved reliability in your data center. With the ease of building and maintaining this foundation, you will realize a swift return on investment and continual gains in operational efficiency and notice a stronger alignment between your business and IT services as best practices become an IT reality. Bringing your data center together using OIS can make you that IT hero you always wanted to be!

Microsoft’s Automation Platform

Whether you work in a data center or manage one, you know the struggles and pain involved for it to run smoothly. For every device you manage and system you maintain, there seem to be at least that many other solutions available to do the job. You have a mix of legacy, old, new, and sometimes bleeding-edge technology, all in one place and demanding attention. Without automation, keeping up with it all is a challenging task.

To assist with this endeavor, Microsoft offers a wide range of products, known as System Center. The System Center offering is considered by many as one of the most popular suites to create and manage an automated data center. With products such as Operations Manager, Service Manager, Configuration Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, Data Protection Manager, AVIcode, and now OIS, Microsoft has you covered. Indeed, the acquisition of Opalis Software and bringing OIS into System Center is what solidified Microsoft’s place in the automated data center. Using OIS lets you automate, orchestrate, and integrate.

OIS not only integrates to each of the other System Center Suite products, but also just about any other technology in the data center. The capabilities of this fully integrated, heterogeneous platform are what caught the eye of the software giant. In the time since the acquisition, and especially since the release of OIS 6.3 and the System Center Integration Packs, it has become clear that OIS is Microsoft’s automation platform of choice.

Microsoft Before OIS

This is not to say Microsoft did not have automation capability prior to the OIS acquisition. Whether you used batch files, scripting, PowerShell, workflows in SharePoint, or SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), you were automating. These methods and others are still available. Many of the products are completely self-sufficient; some have robust integration and automation capabilities built in. As an example, Service Manager has out-of-the-box connectors to Active Directory, Operations Manager, and Configuration Manager; all which allow you to get a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) up and running in several hours.

Adding OIS to the Picture

With OIS, you can bring it all together. With the products and scenario mentioned in the previous section, you can build a workflow to

  • Respond to alerts from Operations Manager.

  • Read data from the Service Manager CMDB.

  • Correlate the data from Operations Manager, the CMDB, and Configuration Manager.

  • Take action on the impacted devices and remediate the root cause of the alert.

  • Keep the incident and problem management systems up to date throughout the process.

The remediation can be as easy as

  • Deploying software using the Configuration Manager Integration Pack,

  • Executing a PowerShell script, or

  • Calling a third-party tool to perform maintenance actions.

OIS makes irrelevant whether the data center is a heterogeneous mix of technologies or how many IT silos exist, what time it is, or how many people are on call at the time of the alert. You will notice the data center is continually growing closer to when it will become self-sufficient.

Making the Difference: The Data Bus

What OIS brings to the table is its data bus technology. This is a unique capability built into the OIS workflow engine used to integrate systems without code. It is not Windows Workflow Foundation nor is it like anything in the existing Microsoft stack. The technology came with the product during the acquisition, and it is what makes OIS so powerful yet easy to use.

Rather than using the more common symbolic variable method for intra-workflow data transfer, the Data Bus contains all execution data from every object in a workflow. During workflow design, data from the first workflow object is available to all other downstream objects. This technology makes it possible to create fully dynamic workflows. Using the Data Bus removes hard coding and thus lowers maintenance costs; creating workflows is becomes as easy as creating rules in Outlook.

In addition to ease of use, the power of the Data Bus becomes most apparent during workflow runtime. Execution of fully dynamic workflows means you can build in a certain amount of intelligence. Parallel processing, branching, execution time decision making, and context adaptive processing are possible because of the Data Bus.


In the modern data center, there are as many integration points as devices. An automation platform must be able to handle workflows not only with System Center-only technologies but a mix of System Center, third-party and competitor products, and cross-platform devices and software. OIS’s flexibility is crucial for meeting the requirements of an automated data center. Here is a list of capabilities illustrating the flexibility of OIS:

  • Allows for multivendor integration to your existing tools

  • Does not require you to rip and replace any of your existing solutions

  • Does not necessitate lock-in to one vendor solution or stack

  • Offers prebuilt activities and workflow processes, ready for your customization, to speed up time to value and illustrate sample best practices

  • Facilitates your best practice processes and does not corner you in with simplistic boilerplate offerings

  • Puts you in control of the Data Bus’s power—automation, orchestration, and integration at your fingertips, with easy-to-use workflow creation practices

  • Provides the choice during design time to use a forms-based configuration or create and utilize code and scripts

  • Supports dynamic workflow creation, which in turn enables workflow intelligence during execution time

These features enabled OIS to become Microsoft’s automation platform for System Center. With an automation platform in place, System Center can facilitate more enhanced and end-to-end solutions, solving many common issues and pain points in the typical data center. With your pain points and issues addressed, you have more time for innovation, continual improvement, and transformation—the type of transformation that moves your data center from common to extraordinary (or “basic” to “dynamic” per Microsoft’s Infrastructure Optimization model).

OIS in the Real World

With everything moving toward automation and ultimately the cloud, OIS can continue to fill all the right gaps in the system management space. Here are issues and pain points addressed by the System Center solution with OIS:

  • Mean time to response/repair takes too long

  • Too much reliance on subject matter experts, which increases costs and response time

  • No visibility from owner to owner during an alert/outage, resulting in non-repeatable remediation actions

  • No documented process

  • Processes not being followed

  • Processes that are too manual

  • Operational expenses are too high

  • Poor performance during alert/outage remediation

  • Extended downtime during alert/outage

  • No audit capabilities

Many of these items relate to alert/outage downtime and remediation. Though just one area a solution using OIS can address, it is one of the most important and ubiquitous. OIS is best equipped for this type of solution as it was designed to interact with all the tools necessary to remediate impacted systems. It can also interact with all the tools required to track the alert/outage in the incident and problem management systems. This ensures ITIL or MOF best practices are followed, even during an emergency when some steps in a manual process might be shortcut to save time.

This type of end-to-end process management is often referred to as Information Technology Process Automation (ITPA), discussed in the “Understanding IT Process Automation” section of this chapter. Each feature of the OIS offering enables ITPA. With its addition to Microsoft’s family of products, OIS enables System Center with ITPA capabilities, solidifying its place in the automated data center and private cloud.


Imagine being able to simplify the most manual, error prone and time-intensive tasks down to several workflows. These workflows are powerful enough to interpret different types of data on the fly, flexible enough to be a reusable solution catalog as your automation needs grow, and easy enough to create and understand that even people new to the product can operate and maintain them with minimal overhead. Rather than being theoretical, you can experience this reality shortly after installing and deploying OIS.

Adding the other System Center products into this equation makes the results even more impressive. Deploying the entire System Center suite enables you to provide end-to-end data center management. Alerts from your operations management tools will automatically flow into your service management tools; remediation of those alerts will be orchestrated through your configuration management and virtualization management tools, and an integrated combination of your backup and recovery tools ensures data integrity throughout the process. This is not magic; it is the first realization of the dynamic data center.

Where OIS Fits Within the System Center Suite

By becoming part of the System Center suite, OIS joins the ranks of many longtime established products and solutions. Table 1.1 presents a listing of data center solution areas with their corresponding System Center product.

Table 1.1  System Center Suite Solution Areas

Solution AreaSystem Center Product
Incident/Change ManagementService Manager
Virtual Workload ProvisioningVirtual Machine Manager
Operating System (OS)/Software Deploy, PatchingConfiguration Manager
Performance and Health MonitoringOperations Manager
Backup/Disaster RecoveryData Protection Manager

As it was added through acquisition, there might be some functional overlap, but OIS does not replace the functionality of any existing System Center product. Rather, OIS enhances and extends the existing capabilities, enabling System Center with ITPA. Its addition fills the few gaps that existed between these products by offering automation, orchestration, and integration. OIS also enables third-party application management. This enables System Center to grow into existing heterogeneous automated data centers or gives you the ability to build a new one.

It’s not really about how OIS fits into System Center; the acquisition did not force an unwanted spoke into the System Center wheel. OIS strengthens all the existing spokes and thus the wheel itself. Here are the capabilities of the products in the System Center suite, as described at

  • Configuration Manager—Assesses, deploys, and updates servers, client computers, and devices across physical, virtual, distributed, and mobile environments.

  • Operations Manager—End-to-end service management product that is the best choice for Windows because it works seamlessly with Microsoft software and applications, helping organizations increase efficiency while enabling greater control of the IT environment.

  • Data Protection Manager—Delivers enterprise-class data protection and scalability. Data Protection Manager provides unified data protection for Windows servers such as SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, virtualization, and file servers, in addition to Windows desktops and laptops.

  • Virtual Machine Manager—Provides a management solution for today’s virtualized data center, affording centralized management of the IT infrastructure, increased server utilization capability, and dynamic resource optimization across multiple virtualization and physical platforms.

  • Service Manager—Designed to meet the needs of the modern IT help desk. By providing powerful new capabilities for incident, problem, asset, and change management, Service Manager supports organizations as they seek to improve the service they provide to their users.

  • Opalis Integration Server—Provides IT process automation of incident response, provisioning, virtual lifecycle management, and change management. This is achieved through a workflow environment that orchestrates and integrates System Center tools with third-party management tools, enabling interoperability and process consistency across the data center.

  • AVIcode—Delivers .NET application performance monitoring capabilities to help ensure the availability of business-critical applications and services, regardless of where they are deployed.

Enhancing, Extending, and Enabling System Center

Table 1.1 showed how the existing five System Center products fit in with the five solution areas. OIS integrates with and supplements the existing functionality of the existing System Center products. The next sections show how OIS enhances, extends, and enables ITPA for those solution areas.

Solution Area 1: Incident/Change Management

Here are some sample capabilities showing how OIS fits in with the existing System Center service management solution. OIS adds the ability to

  • Automate the remediation of alerts

  • Orchestrate incident management through to resolution

  • Integrate Service Manager with third-party IT service management (ITSM) tools for service desk synchronization

  • Integrate across monitoring tools, service desks, and CMDBs

  • Facilitate ITIL or MOF best practice processes

For a discussion of OIS’s integration with Service Manager, see Chapter 10, “Integration with System Center Service Manager.”

Solution Area 2: Virtual Workload Provisioning

This next list illustrates some sample capabilities and how OIS fits in with the existing System Center virtualization solution. OIS adds the ability to

  • Automate provisioning, resource allocation, and retirement.

  • Orchestrate third-party virtualization tools for virtual machine life-cycle management.

  • Integrate Virtual Machine Manager or Hyper-V with third-party virtualization tools for multivendor virtualization solutions.

  • Extend virtual machine management to the cloud.

Chapter 12, “Integration with System Center Virtual Machine Manager,” includes a discussion of the VMM Integration Pack.

Solution Area 3: OS/Software Deploy, Patching

Here are some sample capabilities showing how OIS fits in with the existing System Center configuration management solution. OIS adds the capability to:

  • Automate cluster patching.

  • Orchestrate configuration across platforms and tools.

  • Triage end points where patching cannot proceed because of service or application issues.

  • Integrate Configuration Manager with third-party configuration management tools for end-to-end closed loop compliance.

The Configuration Manager IP is discussed in Chapter 11, “Integration with System Center Configuration Manager.”

Solution Area 4: Performance and Health Monitoring

This next list illustrates some sample capabilities and how OIS fits in with the existing System Center operations management solution. OIS adds the ability to

  • Automate alert monitoring across the data center to simplify event management.

  • Orchestrate third-party monitoring tools delivering important incident and problem data to Service Manager.

  • Integrate Operations Manager with third-party monitoring tools for event correlation and consolidation compliance.

See Chapter 9, “Integration with System Center Operations Manager,” for a discussion of the Operations Manager IP.

Solution Area 5: Backup and Restore/Disaster Recovery

The following list illustrates some sample capabilities and how OIS fits in with the existing System Center backup management solution. OIS adds the ability to

  • Automate virtual machine, SharePoint farm, and SQL Server protection and recovery.

  • Orchestrate third-party backup and recovery tools for end-to-end data protection.

  • Integrate Data Protection Manager with third-party tools to trigger data protection based on alerts, planned maintenance, or as part of a change management process.

Chapter 13, “Integration with System Center Data Protection Manager,” discusses the Data Protection Manager IP.

Transforming the Data Center

With all these tools and capabilities, System Center has the ability to transform data centers from hard to manage, slow moving entities into agile, responsive, and well-managed assets. Whether your end goal is to make your data center more dynamic or if you plan the full journey to the cloud, taking advantage of what System Center with OIS has to offer will make the transition more automated, orchestrated, and integrated.

Here are desired results you can realize by taking advantage of System Center with OIS:

  • Lower costs

  • Improved operational efficiency

  • Increased responsiveness, flexibility, and control

  • Reliable services with optimized infrastructure

OIS with System Center enables you to get this and more with a simple, familiar, and consistent platform. You can manage your applications, platforms, and infrastructure whether they are physical, virtual, or in the cloud with one set of tools, powered by OIS. Opalis Integration Server is Microsoft’s automation platform. It and System Center form the backbone of on-premise, private, and public cloud data centers.

The History of Opalis Software

Opalis Software has its roots in France, where the first OpalisRobot automation utility was created in 1995 by a network administrator frustrated with the lack of automation capabilities for performing his day-to-day duties on Windows NT Server 3.5. The idea was then considerably ahead of its time. Even in its earliest versions, the product was more than a job scheduler, as OpalisRobot was capable of monitoring for certain conditions (file system, SQL query results, calendar) and triggering actions (run a program, file management, Service interaction, SQL query) in response to these conditions.

Rendezvous with Destiny

As the Windows NT market matured, Opalis Software continued to add capabilities to OpalisRobot while also creating a new line of products dedicated to managed file-transfer—OpalisRendezVous. OpalisRendezVous had a simple graphical user interface (GUI), and made the tasks of transferring files to or from a FTP site, file shares, or databases extremely easy. Similar to OpalisRobot, OpalisRendezVous was extremely resilient and maintenance-free. There are still instances of OpalisRendezVous running today, although the code hasn’t been updated in over a decade. Figure 1.3 shows the OpalisRendezVous interface.

Figure 1.3

OpalisRendezVous Administrator interface

Though the interface was simplistic, the tasks it enabled and the way they were initiated revolutionized how IT organizations managed data distribution across the data center. Configuring what were referred to as flows was as easy as workflow configuration is today in OIS. Figure 1.4 illustrates a sample OpalisRendezVous flow configuration screen.

Figure 1.4

OpalisRendezVous flow configuration interface

By filling out the When, What, and Where tabs in the flow configuration screen, an administrator could quickly transform a manual file distribution process into an automatic and scheduled flow. The After tab enabled specifying actions to perform based on the execution status of the flow. These conditions included If flow completes, If flow fails, and If nothing to do. Available actions were Trigger OpalisRobot Event/Task on local/remote server, Trigger OpalisRendezVous flows on local/remote server, and Send detailed flow report by email. The implementation of these concepts in an easy-to-use application paved the way for what Opalis Software would eventually deliver as OIS.

Do the Robot!

In 1997, the marketing tagline for OpalisRobot was “Efficient Automation and Remote Administration.” Opalis Software then took the product beyond the Windows utility market, making their automation product line available worldwide.

OpalisRobot 3.0 was released at the end of that year, combining a drag-and-drop workflow user interface with event-driven automation capabilities, the first seen in the industry. Most of the Foundation objects available today with OIS 6.3 were developed at this time. The release of the Add-on Software Development Kit (SDK) added to the value of the product, enabling third parties to extend OpalisRobot’s functionality by adding new types of automation objects.

An RBA Tool for Your Department Admin

While OpalisRobot was competing mostly with job schedulers, its functionality already defined what would later become Runbook Automation (RBA). Because the product possessed monitoring capabilities, it also was used as a departmental monitoring solution—sometimes competing with dedicated event management systems from vendors such as HP and BMC. Its unique capabilities are those now associated with RBA—the ability to perform corrective actions such as restarting services, purging log files, and so on. This effectively provided the tools needed to create self-healing systems and applications, a relatively unknown concept at the time. (As an example, Microsoft did not announce the Dynamic Systems Initiative until 2003.)

The first series of Add-ons (now known as Integration Packs) were released in 1998. The Call Add-on provided Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) through dedicated hardware from Dialogic, and the Email Add-on added inbound email processing capabilities. By using CTI, OpalisRobot could call a network administrator to inform them of an application issue. The network administrator could then use the dial pad to control any of the NT 4.0 servers in the network to perform corrective actions or playback event log messages. A SNMP Add-on and updates to OpalisRendezVous soon followed.

In 1999 the company created a North American sales office and consolidated the French development office and Sales and Marketing teams that had been in the Netherlands. Opalis Software became based in Toronto, Canada. Figure 1.5 shows an early company logo.

Figure 1.5

An early Opalis Software logo

OpalisRobot 4.0 was released in 2002. It used a new codebase and included a fresh new user interface (UI) and automation objects. Some of these objects are still available in the Integration Server product in the legacy category. Figure 1.6 shows the OpalisRobot 4.12 user interface.

Figure 1.6

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