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5 Enhancements to SQL Runbooks in the Azure Preview Portal

5 Enhancements to SQL Runbooks in the Azure Preview Portal
SEPTEMBER 18, 2015

Introduction
Runbooks are your SQL Server Agent for Azure SQL Database. Lately, Microsoft have been making quite a few changes to how to create and manage Runbooks in the Azure Preview Portal. In this article, I'll have a look at 5 of the most exciting features that pertain to Azure SQL Database.

1. Graphical Runbooks
For me, the best thing about authoring Runbooks in the new Preview Portal is the ability to create Graphical Runbooks. Graphical Runbooks gives you an "SSIS'esque" interface to create and manage your Runbooks. You can have Runbooks to call other Runbooks, get runbooks to run in parallel and set conditions as to whether or not control will proceed from one Runbook to another. All of this programming is laid out graphically so that it is very easy to visualize what is happening.

2. Add Powershell Cmdlets to Design Surface
While on the topic of Graphical Runbooks, another new feature is the ability to add Powershell cmdlets directly to the design surface. All of the available cmdlets are listed on the left hand side of the UI, and you just need to right-click the cmdlet in order to add it. Once added, there is a graphical interface that lets you add parameters to the cmdlet. Below, I've shown the addition of a Start-Sleep cmdlet and the parameters that can be configured.

3. Webhooks
Webhooks give you the ability to invoke a Runbook through an http reuqest. Webhooks allow you to expose Runbooks to other applications and allow them to be run using an http post. As you can see below, setting up a Webhook is a trivial process.

4. Better Test Pane
Azure people seem pretty divided over the UI of the Azure Preview Portal. After years of web development, it seems inherently evil to me to force people to scroll horizontally. In the Azure Preview Portal, you do that a lot as you open up new "blades". I vacillate between getting annoyed at this scrolling, and thinking that there is just so much information to show that it does work sometimes (I know - way to ride the fence). One area where the blades/horizontal scrolling does work is in the Test Pane, which is your interface to test your Runbook, see if there are any errors and swear at it when it errors. In the Azure portal, the Test Pane only occupies 1/3 to 2/3 of the screen. In the Azure Preview Portal, you get an entire new Blade for the Test Pane so you can see a lot more of what is going on.

5. Integration with the Gallery
Microsoft (as well as members of the Azure Community) have come up with a ton of great Runbooks to help get you started as well as do some routine tasks. You now have the opportunity to choose from this library of Runbooks when creating a new Runbook. Just by Searching for "SQL" you can see that there is a lot of great starter code that will really reduce your development time and effort.

Wrap Up
It is definitely getting easier to create Runbooks. With the new Graphical Interface with the ability to add Powershell cmdlets, Webhooks and useability enhancements, Runbooks are becoming a first class citizen of the Azure SQL World.

Pie in the Sky

I have been working with SQL Server for 15 years and have done everything from reporting to database design to ETL to architecture to administration. The way I see it, the cloud is the future, and SQL Azure is a great platform. Here are my musing on the subject.

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