Make PowerShell Easy with Automation Manager

As a managed service provider (MSP), you likely run a lot of repetitive tasks across your customers’ systems.There are tools available to automate these tasks—like Microsoft’s PowerShell, an open-source project that allows you to code functions that automate certain processes. However, these can often be overly complicated and extremely time-consuming to learn and operate. That’s where Automation Manager, a built-in part of SolarWinds remote monitoring solutions, comes in—it takes the pain out of automation so you can be free to deal with the more pressing, high-level tasks that demand your attention.

What is PowerShell and how does it work?

PowerShell is a user interface designed by Microsoft that gives you control over your operating system. It is a more powerful version of Microsoft’s Command Prompt and was initially created for the purposes of configuration management and task automation. PowerShell is a good tool for IT operators, as it helps users solve a lot of tedious administrative tasks quickly and automatically.

Given MSPs are responsible for many systems and many devices, it’s important they don’t waste unnecessary time on tasks that can be automated. PowerShell lets you learn about and control services on both individual local computers and larger systems, including remote computers.

Although PowerShell is a powerful tool, it is quite complicated and involves a serious learning curve to utilize effectively. For MSPs who try to provide their customers with the best, most efficient service, the difficulty of learning to use PowerShell is an important element to keep in mind.

PowerShell works by using cmdlets (the components that make up commands) to automate tasks. PowerShell lets you create scripts by combining multiple cmdlets into a command, which are used to automate tedious tasks both on individual devices and on multiple devices across a network. Commands can then be connected with the pipe operator “|” to create what is known as a pipeline. PowerShell then uses this pipeline to pass the outputs of cmdlet commands from one to the next with a consistent interface. This ensures they retain their structure and don’t require extra parsing once the commands are rendered on screen.

In essence, PowerShell is an automation tool that can have a major payoff if you’re willing and able to put in a good amount of upfront work to reap the benefits.

What are PowerShell commands?

To get a list of all the available cmdlets and commands in PowerShell, you can type the « Get-Command -Type Cmdlet » command into the console. However, given there are an overwhelming number of cmdlets, we’ve pulled out a few basic PowerShell commands you need to know when you first start working with PowerShell. These commands also demonstrate how tricky it is to navigate PowerShell.

The most basic PowerShell command is “Get-Command,” which lists out all the commands that are currently available to you. Given this list includes all the possible cmdlets and commands, it can still be long and unwieldy. If you have a good sense of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s better to filter your search to focus your results. Another simple PowerShell command that can be extremely helpful to both beginners and those with experience is “Get-Help<command>,” which gives you a brief description of an identified command and tells you how to use it.

Two more useful PowerShell cmdlets are “Get-Item” and “Get-Content.” With the “Get-Item” cmdlet, you can set the parameters and receive whatever item you want returned to you, whether it’s a folder, file, script, or something else. On the other hand, the “Get-Content” cmdlet returns the actual content of the item you specify. These cmdlets aren’t exciting on their own, but as you get more familiar with PowerShell, you can use them as part of more complex commands.

One last important PowerShell command is “Invoke-Command,” which lets you run commands across single or multiple computers either remotely or locally. To use this cmdlet, first type in “Invoke-Command,” then follow it with the complete path of the script or command you want to use.

How do I write in PowerShell?

Writing in PowerShell is a complex process involving many steps. Putting cmdlets together to form a function is referred to as writing a script. To perform a certain function, run the script that contains the cmdlets that (when combined) create your desired outcome. Here are the steps for writing a basic, one-line script—in this case, one that checks the last boot-up time for an operating system.

  1. First identify the information you want to check and figure out where it is stored in your system. The name of where the information is stored will be used in your script. For example, it could be called “Win64_OperatingSystem.”
  2. Open the script pane (also called the Integrated Scripting Environment [ISE]) on the computer.
  3. Type in the series of cmdlets that will allow you to perform your function. In this case, type the series of cmdlets that will let you check the last boot-up time. For this particular example, write the following script: Get-WmiObject -Class Win64_OperatingSystem –ComputerName localhost–Select-Object -Property CSName,LastBootUpTime.
  4. Test the code by pressing the “Run Script” button.
  5. Based on the results of your test run, you can specify your script further (and make it more comprehensible) with the addition of extra cmdlets.
  6. Finally, save your script as a PowerShell file, giving it a logical name. For this example, you could save it as “C:\Get-LastBootTime.ps1.”
  7. Once you save your script, you can run it just by typing the saved name into the ISE.
  8. If you want to use the command on more than just the specified computer, you can set ComputerName parameters that will allow you to name the computer you want to run the script on.
  9. To improve the usability of your script, you should create a strong help file for your script that includes a .SYNOPSIS, .DESCRIPTION, .PARAMETER, .EXAMPLE, and .LINK to provide as much information as possible to someone who might want to run it.
  10. Finally, test your script again to make sure all your information appears correct. It should now be usable by anyone on the system.

What is the challenge with PowerShell?

While PowerShell is a powerful tool, it presents a lot of challenges for users—even those who are already familiar with command line tools. The large number of online articles providing assistance on different elements of PowerShell is a good indication of how difficult the tool can be to use and master. The main challenge is needing real data programming experience to use PowerShell. You also need to devote large amounts of time to writing and testing your scripts across different Windows systems since the tool is not integrated across all Windows systems. This means your scripts and commands need to be individually tested on each operating system.

Even users with data programming experience still have a learning curve due to PowerShell’s use of specific cmdlets to write scripts. For MSPs, the excessive complexity of PowerShell can end up hindering the quality of service they provide to their customers.

What is Automation Manager?

Automation Manager from SolarWinds MSP is a no-code tool that lets you easily automate processes for almost anything on your system. With Automation Manager, you can set up sophisticated automated tasks without any data programming experience—let alone the need to learn complicated new scripting languages or proprietary code.

Not only does Automation Manager come with hundreds of common tasks that are ready to be used right out of the box through our Automation Cookbook, it also comes with more than 500 automation objects that can be used to build your own tasks using the drag-and-drop editor. Thanks to Automation Manager, you can easily complete repetitive low-level tasks on auto-pilot, meaning your technicians are free to work on other tasks that require more advanced skill sets. For an MSP that needs to provide efficient and effective service to all its customers, it’s important to have an easy-to-use tool that can take care of the many tasks that don’t require hands-on involvement.

Automation Manager gives you the power to customize nearly everything, improving your ability to serve customers with efficiency. Not only does it allow you to automate repetitive, low-level tasks, it also lets you fix problems more quickly (often before your customers even find out about them) by setting up automatic fixes for problem scenarios. Automation Manager also lets you create automatic onboarding processes for new devices and endpoints on your customers’ networks, as well as apply complicated automation rules to those devices in just a few clicks. In short, Automation Manager is a tool that makes automation simple.

How does Automation Manager enable you to bypass PowerShell?

The reality of using PowerShell is it can be overly complicated and time-consuming. With the simplicity of Automation Manager anyone can automate tasks, whether or not they have any previous data programming experience. In fact, commands that would take hours to write with PowerShell can be created in a matter of minutes with Automation Manager and its drag-and-drop functionality. Instead of needing to remember over a hundred cmdlets to write scripts, Automation Manager’s drag-and-drop feature allows you to simply use the sidebar to search for the correct object for the task you’re setting up. You can then drag it into the main screen and select which specific tasks you want that tool to engage with—all without ever needing to write or memorize any code.

If you have data programming experience and are interested in writing your own code, Automation Manager can still provide a lot of value over PowerShell. Automation Manager gives you the flexibility to either create your own code or import your own scripts from PowerShell. But unlike PowerShell, Automation Manager is integrated across Microsoft systems. That means you don’t need to manually test your scripts on each Windows system—which saves both time and energy.

No matter your level of data programming experience, Automation Manager can make your job easier and more efficient. For MSPs who want to be able to provide the most effective service to their customers, Automation Manager offers a better way to automate processes across devices and systems.

Find out more about how automation can help your MSP business. Download our free ebook here.