Latest posts by Robert Pearman (see all)
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- Automating Remote Desktop Services certificate installation with PowerShell - Thu, Sep 5 2019
- Conditional Access in Office 365 - Wed, Jul 10 2019
The introductory video below explains the life of Jeff, an IT manager bogged down with manual processes taking his attention away from more important tasks.
I installed version 8.4.2 on a Windows 10 virtual machine joined to a Server 2016 domain. The install is reasonably quick and straightforward; after it completes, you can have it launch the software for you.
The getting started wizard offers you the choice of using the client and server or the client only. A helpful tip at the top of the window informs me that using the client is free and also tells me that only the server is licensed. This may be important if you are looking to automate tasks on multiple client machines.
When I finished the install, it prompted me to register to get the best experience. The process links your system to a forum user account I now have to setup. Once I verified my forum username, I could complete the getting started wizard, letting me access the main interface.
Automating with a GUI ^
The interface appears quite complex at first glance, but it is easier to navigate when you are a bit more familiar with it. Clicking on Settings shows a number of tabs you can view. With the exception of "email settings" you wouldn't feel inclined to edit anything immediately.
The key thing I have found with automation is picking the right tasks to automate. They need to be repetitive tasks with little or no deviation, but this does not mean they have to be simple.
At my day job, I spend a lot of time automating tasks using PowerShell and the Windows task scheduler. One selling point of this software is you do not need any programming skills to use it.
I decided I needed to find some tasks usually needing such programming knowhow. The first task I want to create is backing up the configuration of a network switch. The Add Job window prompts me for a job name, very similar to the Windows task scheduler. I notice one of the tabs is called "Task," so I switch to that.
Clicking the Add button presents a huge list of potential tasks I can add, which I find a little overwhelming as a new user. But scrolling through each category quickly shows me all the possibilities the software has, from simple process manipulation, scheduling emails, and running pings, to tasks I would not have ever considered could be automated. Other examples include editing text inside PDFs and cropping and resizing images.
For backing up the config of the switch, I settled on using a "web macro" since the switch does not have any programming interface (SSH or Telnet), and the user needs to click several links to get to the right page.
It took a bit of trial and error, but I was then reliably able to download the configuration of this switch using a schedule. Adding a variable to the filename means I can keep a history of configuration files. Indeed, it shows not only do you not need programming experience to use the tasks but also the device or task you want to automate does not necessarily need a programming interface.
By adding a cloud transfer option, you can easily add in the steps to take that downloaded configuration file and upload it to a cloud repository like an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Simple Storage Service (S3) bucket.
While it's true you don't need any specific programming knowledge to work with the software, I think those attempting to use it might need some level of technical knowledge. Otherwise, they may drown in the vast amount of settings and submenus that even had me scratching my head for a while.
This software has huge possibilities, and while this is a positive thing, it's also slightly overwhelming for a first-time user. Although I never thought I'd say this about software, I feel it could benefit from an "expert mode" that hides a lot of tasks until you are familiar enough to use them.
I think the Office 365 and Azure features are a little too limited yet to be a main selling point, but I expect VisualCron will improve these over time. And with the back-end on-prem side of things already comprehensive, this has the possibility to become a very powerful automation suite.
If you, like me, have already spent some time building out automation with PowerShell and the Windows task scheduler, I could see this software being a good companion to work with tasks. As I explained above, my example task may not have been possible with PowerShell. And because this software can also schedule more complex tasks (those that leverage scripting for example), you could easily move those tasks into VisualCron and then benefit from the reporting options it offers, which is something missing from the Windows task scheduler.