Delivering Predictable and Efficient Microsoft Office 365 Services using System Center 2012

As part of Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft SharePoint Online – Dedicated & SharePoint Online – Federal offers an online productivity experience to enterprises in a dedicated, private environment. SharePoint Online provides features and tools that customers can use to create an agile collaboration environment, including most out-of-box SharePoint 2010 features, as well as additional SharePoint Online service enhancements.

The features of the SharePoint Online service are available without the time and expense required to build out and operate an on-premises IT infrastructure. The service reduces the burden of routine IT management and frees IT resources to focus on strategic initiatives with greater business impact. Customers benefit from reduced costs associated with service updates and upgrades. In addition, this enterprise-ready service is delivered from world-class Microsoft datacenters using applications and processes that meet rigorous technical and security audit requirements. To provide this service, we operate hundreds of SharePoint farms over thousands of servers distributed at Microsoft global datacenters. These environments support some of Microsoft’s largest enterprise customers, delivering a financially backed SLA of 99.9% to millions of seats.

For all these customers Microsoft provides a wide range of standard configuration changes on demand. We also roll out monthly security updates with minimal turnaround time to mitigate any security vulnerabilities. As our service evolves, its complexity increases. And as we grow, the sheer volume of repetitive operations – particularly standard changes – becomes an attractive target for automation. Right as this opportunity was developing in our business, along came the Orchestrator component of System Center 2012.

The design tools built into Orchestrator allowed us to knit together simple proofs of concept to demo the various aspects of our platform automation. Taking things further, the ability to develop custom activities that plug right into our workflows gave us the ability to connect Orchestrator with our various management and listening systems. This, in turn, allowed us to produce solutions that not only automated the introduction of change, but did so taking into account the configuration of each targeted system.


The above diagram represents the systems and processes we use to introduce changes into the production environment: farm configuration changes requested by customers, service updates and security patches, building new customer SharePoint farms. Orchestrator provides an Automation Framework that we use to create the run books for automating these changes. We created a Configuration Repository to supply Orchestrator with input parameters and line-of-business data as needed. Thus Orchestrator becomes the single stop shop for introducing any production changes that can be viewed, logged and audited.

The process automation capabilities of System Center 2012 brought some compelling benefits to the table:

  • An easy to use management tool for engineering to design orchestrated workflows while enabling operations to visualize and inspect tasks as they execute
  • An integration and extensibility framework (through the built in Orchestrator SDK for custom integration packs) for our engineering team to build custom activities to manage the SharePoint Online platform
  • Frees up IT resources to focus on designing, engineering and optimizing the SharePoint online service versus spending time on repetitive tasks
  • Enables us to introduce changes into our production environments in a predictable manner

In summary, Orchestrator gives us a common platform that allows us to efficiently manage our operations at scale, integrate with various management systems, and orchestrate different types of events into our production systems thereby helping us deliver a predictable operations experience for our enterprise customers.

Want to know more about this work? Come to MMS 2012 or watch the sessions online! You can also save the date to watch the MMS keynotes live online.


Baskar Narayanan

Sr. Program Manager Lead

Microsoft Office 365

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