The “argument is null or empty” error in Azure Automation Runbook

I was recently working on an Azure Automation runbook that provisions an empty resource group in Azure. I was running into an issue when the runbook ran that the variable being used with New-AzureRmRoleAssignment was null. The errors I was receiving are:

New-AzureRmRoleAssignment : Cannot validate argument on parameter ‘SignInName’. The argument is null or empty. Provide
an argument that is not null or empty, and then try the command again.
At line:96 char:39
+ New-AzureRmRoleAssignment -SignInName $RequesterSignIn -RoleDefinitio …
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
+ CategoryInfo : InvalidData: (:) [New-AzureRmRoleAssignment], ParameterBindingValidationException
+ FullyQualifiedErrorId :
ParameterArgumentValidationError,Microsoft.Azure.Commands.Resources.NewAzureRoleAssignmentCommand

and

New-AzureRmRoleAssignment : Cannot validate argument on parameter ‘ObjectId’. Specify a parameter of type ‘System.Guid’
and try again.
At line:97 char:37
+ New-AzureRmRoleAssignment -ObjectID $RequesterID -RoleDefinitionName  …
+                                     ~~~~~~~~~~~~
+ CategoryInfo          : InvalidData: (:) [New-AzureRmRoleAssignment], ParameterBindingValidationException
+ FullyQualifiedErrorId :
ParameterArgumentValidationError,Microsoft.Azure.Commands.Resources.NewAzureRoleAssignmentCommand

It turned out to be a permission issue with AzureRM.Resources CMDLETS not being able to talk to AAD specifically Get-AzureRmADUser that I was using for a variable.

To fix this I had to give the following permissions for the AAD directory to the AzureServicePrincipal Run As Account:

Windows Azure Active Directory (AAD)
Application Permissions

·       Read/Write directory data
·       Read directory data

Delegated Permissions
·       Read directory data
·       Read all users’ full profiles
·       Read all users’ basic profiles

Microsoft Graph
App Permissions
·       Read directory data

In your runbook code you will typically have

# Authenticate to Azure resources
$connectionName = “AzureRunAsConnection”

# Get the connection “AzureRunAsConnection “
$servicePrincipalConnection = Get-AutomationConnection -Name $connectionName
“Logging in to Azure…”
Login-AzureRmAccount `
-ServicePrincipal `
-TenantId $servicePrincipalConnection.TenantId `
-ApplicationId $servicePrincipalConnection.ApplicationId `
-CertificateThumbprint $servicePrincipalConnection.CertificateThumbprint

You may have a some differences like the connection variable and the name of the runasconnection. The point here is that the runas connection is what needs to have the proper permissions. You can find this account here to get the name and ApplicationID:

To give the permissions go to Azure Active Directory>the directory you are using in this automation>App registrations>and search based on the ApplicationID. Don’t forget to select All apps in the drop down.

Click on Add first and add the AAD and then Microsoft Graph permissions.

After you add the proper permissions make sure you click on Grant Permissions. The permissions are not actually applied until you do this. Once you click on Grant permissions you will see the prompt shown in the screenshot. Click Yes.

Verify the permissions have been added properly. In AAD go to All applications>select All applications. Find your service principle application.

Click on the service principle applications permissions.

Verify the AAD and graph permissions are listed. If the AAD and graph permissions are listed then the runbook should be good to go.

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Microsoft Professional Program for DevOps Finished!

I am a firm believer that no matter how old you are, how far along you are in your career, and regardless of the industry you are in it is important to continue educating yourself. This helps you expand your skillset, stay relevant, and sets you up for new opportunities as they come along. My field of information technology has been changing at a rapid pace and so for a while, I wanted a good way to ramp up on DevOps as a whole. A while back I found out that Microsoft added a new track to their Professional Program for DevOps. When I checked it out I found it to be very thorough and it was not just focused on Microsoft’s DevOps tooling but included non-Microsoft as well. I jumped in without hesitation and started learning.

I finally completed the program last week. Here is my certificate https://academy.microsoft.com/en-us/certificates/67284e84-8afe-4f13-b477-d7620949fb18. I am planning to dive into the program they have for cloud next. If you have not heard of Microsoft’s Professional Program DevOps before here more information about it:

“DevOps is the union of people, process, and products to enable continuous delivery of value to end users. This program helps the student learn about continuous integration and deployment, infrastructure as code, testing, databases, containers, and application monitoring: skills necessary for a DevOps culture in today’s workplace. This program focuses on Microsoft DevOps technologies as well as some OSS (Open Source Software) DevOps tools. Some of the Microsoft DevOps technologies covered in this course consist of Azure, Azure Resource Manager, IaaS, PaaS, IIS, Azure App Service, DevTest labs, Desired State Configuration (DSC), Azure Automation, OMS, Application Insights, SQL, Nuget, TFS, VSTS, and Visual Studio. Some of the OSS DevOps tools covered in this course consist of Jenkins, Git, Github, New Relic, Nagios, Chef, Docker, DC/OS, swarm, and Kubernetes.”

Here is a link to it:  https://academy.microsoft.com/en-us/tracks/devops

This program consists of 8 required courses. Each course runs for three months and starts at the beginning of a quarter. In the end, there is a capstone that has to be completed. This capstone course is the 8th one. You have four weeks to complete the capstone. The capstone is a bunch of hands-on stuff you have to do. Courses average 16-32 hours per course to complete and are taken via the edX.org platform https://www.edx.org/microsoft-professional-program-devops.

Here is a list of all of the DevOps program courses:

      • Introduction to Dev Ops Practices
      • Infrastructure as Code
      • Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment
      • Configuration Management for Containerized Delivery
      • DevOps Testing
      • DevOps for Databases
      • Application Monitoring and Feedback Loops
      • Microsoft Professional DevOps Capstone Project
      • The DevOps Capstone Project contains:
        • Automation
          • Use ARM templates to deploy and configure Infrastructure in Azure
        • Continuous Integration
          • Implement Continuous Integration solution using Visual Studio Team services (VSTS)
        • Continuous deployment
          • Implement Continuous Deployment solution using Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS)
        • Testing
          • Implement Unit tests
          • Implement Testing in Production
        • Application Monitoring
          • Implement application monitoring solution using Application Insights

As you can see from that list this program is not just all about VSTS. There is a lot of Azure baked in as well as other non-Microsoft DevOps tooling. I highly recommend this course for anyone jumping into DevOps, or CloudOps and especially for folks with an IT pro background. If CloudOps is foreign to you here are a couple of blogs related to this topic: Sys Admin to Cloud Admin…ITSM to CloudOps…On-Prem to Azure Stack/Azure and Native Cloud Management in Azure.

My personal opinion is that Microsoft should move away from the certifications as they are and to this format. This format combines training and testing. When Microsoft first started the Professional Program for they only had a track for data scientists. They have added more and more tracks over time. Today there are tracks also for Big Data, Web Development, Software Development, AI, IT Support, and Cloud Administration.

Here is a link for all the tracks so you can check them out: https://academy.microsoft.com/en-us/professional-program/tracks. These programs are a great way to expand your learning. Check them out!

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WordPress as front-end for Azure Automation

With Azure Automation there are cases where you will need to have a form that end users can go fill out to kick off an automation runbook. Back with System Center Orchestrator we could use Service Manager’s self-service portal as the front end for our automations. This was a solution that worked well. With Azure Automation we do not have that luxury at least not yet we don’t. There is a community based Azure automation webhook Service Manager (SCSM) connector in the works. One of my colleagues Rob Plank is a part of this project and says it should ready to release very soon. This connector will allow you to use the SCSM portal as the frontend of Azure Automation via webhooks, know when a webhook expires, and see a runbooks job status. Here are some teaser screenshots of the  connector.

image001

image002

There also are a few posts out there on how to leverage other platforms as the frontend for Azure Automation these are “how to use SharePoint as the frontend of Azure Automation” by Anders Bengtsson and “how to use an ASP website as the frontend to Azure Automation” by a friend of mine and fellow Microsoft MVP Florent Appointaire. Well in this post I am going to show you how to use the popular platform WordPress as the frontend for Azure Automation. The cool thing here is that this is another instance of showcasing the ability to utilize Microsoft and Open Source technologies together. 🙂

Here are the steps at a high level

  • Have an Azure Automation account on Azure
  • Setup your runbook/s in Azure Automation
  • Setup a webhook on your runbook/s in Azure Automation
  • Have a WordPress instance
  • Install Ninja Forms plugin in the WordPress instance
  • Install the Webhooks add on for Ninja Forms
  • Setup your runbook frontend form/s
  • Configure the runbook frontend form/s to connect to the Azure Automation webhook

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Have an Azure Automation account on Azure

To get started with Azure Automation go here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/automation-intro. I am not going to cover this within this blog post.

Step 2: Setup your runbook/s in Azure Automation

For this testing this scenario and this post I grabbed a couple of Azure Automation runbooks built by the Microsoft AzureAutomationTeam and made available in the Azure Automation Runbook Gallery. These runbooks start and stop Azure virtual machines.

Runbook #1 Name:

Start-AzureV2VMs

Description:

This runbook connects to Azure and starts all VMs in an Azure subscription or resource group.

Runbook #2 Name:

Stop-AzureV2VMs

Description:

This runbook connects to Azure and stops all VMs in an Azure subscription or resource group.

Both runbooks have two parameters they need. These are:

param (

[Parameter(Mandatory=$false)]

[String]  $AzureConnectionAssetName = “AzureRunAsConnection”,

[Parameter(Mandatory=$false)]

[String] $ResourceGroupName

We need to pay attention to these when setting up the webhooks and these often become your fields on your front end form.

Step 3: Setup a webhook on your runbook/s in Azure Automation

Here are the steps to setup a webhook for an Azure Automation Runbook.

First off make sure your runbook/s are in a published authoring status.

image003

Within https://portal.azure.com Navigate to

YOURAZUREAUTOMATIONACCOUNT

Runbooks

YOURRUNBOOK (Start-AzureV2VMs)

Webhooks

From here click on the Add Webhook button.

image004

The Add Webhook blade will fly out. Here you will want to click on Create new webhook to make the next blade flyout.

Here you need to give your webhook a name, set to enabled, set when it will expire and COPY THE URL TO A SAFE PLACE.

NOTE: You will not be able to access the webhook URL after this.

image005

Click OK.

Next you need to click on Configure parameters and run settings. This is where you set the parameters from the runbook.

If your parameters are required you have to set them here. If they are optional you can leave them blank here and pass the data into the runbook from the frontend form via a $WebhookData object.

In my case I put AzureRunAsConnection directly in the webhook. I created a credentials asset in Azure Automation with the account containing the needed permissions to perform the actions from the runbook in my Azure account (Start/Stop VM’s).

I left the resourcegroupname blank as I will pass this in from the front end form. I left the Run Settings to run on Azure as I do not have a Hybrid Worker setup.

NOTE: A Hybrid Worker lets you run automation runbooks on premises in your data center.

image006

One you have the Webhook and parameters configured click on the Create button to actually create the webhook.

image007

You will now see your new webhook in the webhooks blade.

image008

Note that if you click on a webhook you will not see the URL. You can enable or disable the webhook, see when it expires, and access the parameters. This is shown in the following screenshot.

image009

Step 4: Have a WordPress instance

You can host WordPress on WordPress.org on a hosting account, internally or even on Azure. Here is a link to a tutorial on how to run WordPress on Azure. https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/app-service-web-create-web-app-from-marketplace.  I am not going to cover how to setup a WordPress instance within this blog post.

Step 5: Install Ninja Forms plugin in the WordPress instance

Here are the steps to install Ninja Forms WordPress plugin.

From within the WordPress admin dashboard click on Plugins.

Click on Add New.

image010

Search for Ninja Forms. Click on the Install button to add the plugin. Make sure you activate the plugin.

image011

You also could manually download and upload the plugin or load it directly into the plugins directory. I have shown you the steps for the easiest way to install it.

The Ninja Forms plugin page can be found here:

https://wordpress.org/plugins/ninja-forms

Step 6: Install the Webhooks add on for Ninja Forms

The Webhooks for Ninja Forms add on can be found here:

https://ninjaforms.com/webhooks-for-ninja-forms

This add on has to be purchased. It is $39 by itself for 1 WordPress instance.

After you buy it you will get the files for download. Again from within the WordPress admin dashboard click on Plugins.

Click on Add New. This time click on the Upload Plugin button and browse to your downloaded Webhooks for Ninja Forms zip folder.

After it is uploaded be sure to activate it.

The final step is to install the license for the add on. To do this Click on Forms>Settings>Licenses and input the key that Ninja Forms sent in the Webhooks Key field. Click on Save & Activate.

image013

Step 7: Setup your runbook frontend form/s

Next we need to build the actual form. To do this follow the list of steps.

Click on Forms>Add New. Give your form a Title.

Add a Textbox and put in the label of ResourceGroupName.

I like to make it Required.

image014

Add a Submit button to your form. I labeled it Start.

image015

In the following screenshot is what the form looks like. Note that I have both forms loaded on the same page.

image016

Step 8: Configure the runbook frontend form/s to connect to the Azure Automation webhook

Now is the last step. This is the step in which we configure the form to send data to the Auzre Automation webhook upon submission. This is doing it via POST method.

When editing the form click on the Email & Actions tab. Click on the Add New button.

Give this Action a name.

In the Type dropdown select Webhook.

Enter the Azure Automation webhook URL in the Remote Url field.

Select Post for the Remote Method.

For Args select enter the name of and select the field from your form of the parameters you need to send to the Azure Automation runbook.

You can see this all represented in the following screenshot.

image017

One of the cool things about this solution is we can test the webhook action before actually submitting it to make sure it will work as expected. This testing can be turned on by checking the Run in Debug Mode field. I have highlighted this in the screenshot in green. Checking this box and submitting the form will show debugging information like data sent and response.

Here is an example of what the result in Debug mode will look like:

image018

Make sure you uncheck the Run in Debug Mode field when you are ready to actually start your runbook/s.

Now let’s see what this looks like in Azure Automation when we submit the form.

I have a resource group named 6716vm with one VM in it named 6716vm. So I will enter 6716vm on the form. 6716vm will be passed to the runbook as the resourcegroupname.

image019

You can see the job running in Azure now.

image020

Within the job if you click on Input you can see it has 2 inputs. One is Webhookdata. This is where the 6716vm is located. The other is the Azureconnectionassetname. Remember we hardcoded this into the webhook itself. We can also see in the following screenshot that the job completed.

image021

If we look further at the webhookdata we can see several interesting things. We can see exactly where it put the 6716vm parameter for the resourcegroupname and we can see that this request came from my blog at www.buchatech.com.

image022

{“WebhookName”:”WPhook1″,”RequestBody”:”ResourceGroupName=6716vm”,”RequestHeader”:{“Accept”:”*/*”,”Accept-Encoding”:”deflate; q=1.0″,”Host”:”s1events.azure-automation.net”,”User-Agent”:”WordPress/4.5.3; http://www.buchatech.com”,”x-ms-request-id”:”0ae47ca6-46a4-4ba7-902e-6d33840add75“}}

Pretty cool right? Check out the VM now running:

image023

Now to shut it down I can go back to my WordPress and use the Stop Azure VM form. The possibilities here are endless. I know some of you may be thinking this is great but what if I want to control who can login to see this form and will it work with Active Directory. The answer is YES. WordPress has several plugins that integrate with Active Directly and even have SSO. A couple of these are Active Directory/LDAP Login for Intranet sites and Active Directory Integration. 

You can see that WordPress can make a great frontend for your Azure Automation runbooks. That is the end of the post. Happy automating!

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2 Sessions at MMS 2015

I am late posting this but better late than not at all. Next week I will be presenting at MMS 2015 on November 9th and 11th. In this post I will break down what each session is about. This is the second year of the community powered MMS event. The Midwest Management Summit is a 3-day conference purposely capped to just 500 attendees so that nobody gets lost in the crowd. Almost 60 Microsoft MVP’s will be presenting on System Center, cloud, PowerShell topics and more.

Areas the speakers will be presenting on are Operations Management Suite (OMS), Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS), Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, Orchestrator, Service Management Automation, Azure Automation, Service Manager, Data Protection Manager, Azure Backup, Azure Pack, Azure Stack, Hyper-V, Nano server, PowerShell, Desired State Configuration and more. I am lucky to be co-presenting with two awesome System Center experts Natascia Heil @NatasciaHeil and Chiyo Odika @mrchiyo. The first session I will be presenting is:

-Real world automation with Service Manager and Azure Automation-

Here is what to expect from this session:

Automation is not only requesting and building virtual machines through Service Manager and Orchestrator. Automation can do much more and Service Manager can be combined with Microsoft’s other automation tools such as SMA, Azure Automation, and DSC. This session will teach you how to identify areas of automation in your company. It will cover automation fits in the ITIL story. It will also show some real life automation examples utilizing Microsoft newest automation tool (Azure Automation) and Service Manager.

We have two demo’s planned for this session. The first demo will show how to use Service Manager and Azure Automation. The second demo will show automating patch management using SCCM, Orchestrator, and Service Manager’s change management.

clip_image001

Link to this session:

http://mms2015.sched.org/event/bc3ffcd6aaaaef9a5e765493a0e6527f?iframe=no#.VjsTBeJcxps

The second session I will be presenting is:

-OMS Strategies and Notes from the Field-

Here is what to expect from this session:

OMS is a comprehensive web-based cloud IT Management solution with monitoring, automation and other features and solutions that will provide you with greater control and new capabilities across your hybrid cloud.

In this session, you will learn about strategies for getting the most out of OMS, best-practices, and learn from our extensive experiences in the field, deploying, configuring, and troubleshooting OMS.

clip_image002

Link to this session:

http://mms2015.sched.org/event/a4fb2e8bd31e7cab0de55695f9ec48a1#.VjsTCOJcxps

For more information on MMS 2015 and a full list of speakers and sessions visit:

http://mmsmoa.com/

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