We’ve all heard the cloud is more than virtualization and that the cloud builds on virtualization. But how exactly is the cloud more than just virtualization? One of the key differences is automation. The management of virtualization is focused on single VMs. With the cloud, the management moves up to the application layer.

Related: Enabling the Private Cloud with System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012

Products like Virtual Machine Manager 2012 enable you to create cloud services that combine all of the VMs that comprise an application into a single service. This moves your management level one step higher up the stack. Instead of managing each individual VM you now can manage related groups of VMs making your management tasks much more efficient. This type of automation improves management productivity but as you move to the cloud it’s also required because the economy of scale increases as well.

Orchestrator Relatively New Addition to System Center Suite

The ability to automate operations is one of the reasons that Microsoft now bundles the System Center Suite together as a whole rather than providing each piece individually. Virtual Machine Manager provides the ability to create and manage private and hybrid clouds. However, the role of the new System Center Orchestrator 2012 is just as important. System Center Orchestrator is a relatively new addition to the System Center Suite of products and a lot of people aren’t as familiar with it as they are the long standing members of the System Center family like System Center Operations Manager or System Center Configuration Manager. Microsoft describes System Center Orchestration Manager as a runbook automation tool or sometimes it’s call an IT process automation tool. Orchestrator has evolved from the older Opalis Integration Server that Microsoft acquired in December 2009. Orchestrator is designed to automate repetitive tasks.

Most mature IT organizations have documented procedures to follow for both their day-to-day operations as well as for common troubleshooting procedures and even disaster recovery scenarios. These procedures are typically referred to as runbooks and these have traditionally consisted of a series of instructions or guidelines coupled with manual operations. Orchestrator enables you to take these manual runbooks and create automated workflows. You create Orchestrator runbooks using a graphical workflow designer that’s very similar in concept to the workflow designer used by SQL Server Integration Services (an ETL tool). You essentially drag-and-drop activities onto the design surface and link them together or create branches based on success or failure of the activities.

Orchestrator Built-in Activities

Built-in activities include Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), monitoring, file management, scheduling, e-mail notifications, database queries, and Web service invocation. Orchestrator activities can also call Visual Basic .NET, C#, JScript, and Windows PowerShell scripts. System Center Orchestrator’s allows you to automate to manual runbooks and makes the operations of your private and hybrid cloud infrastructures much more efficient. You can learn more about System Center Orchestrator at the Microsoft System Center Library.

The upcoming Windows Server 2012 R2 Windows Azure Services for Windows Server is another great example of how management automation moves the cloud beyond the foundation provided by virtualization. Windows Azure Services for Windows Server brings elements of Windows Azure IaaS on-premise to your own datacenter for managing your private cloud infrastructure. Windows Azure Services for Windows Server delivers the streamlined Windows Azure Management Portal experience to your on-premise System Center, Windows Server, and SQL Server installations to provide the consistent management experience for your private cloud and the Windows Azure cloud. Windows Azure Services for Windows Server abstracts the cloud management experience by automating much of the under-the-cover work using prebuilt VM templates, usage monitoring and a tenant portal for self-service operations. You can find out more about Windows Azure Services for Windows Server at Windows Azure Services for Windows Server Web Sites Cloud.