PowerShell Workflow Automation in Azure: Tips and Tricks to Save Time and Effort

Are you tired of spending hours on routine tasks in Azure? As a system administrator or developer, you know that time is precious. But what if we told you that there’s a superhero that can save you time and effort? That’s right – we’re talking about PowerShell workflow automation in Azure! With just a few lines of code, you can streamline your tasks, deploy and manage resources, and monitor performance. And the best part? We’re here to share some insider tips, tricks, and scripts that will help you unleash the power of PowerShell automation in Azure. So get ready to supercharge your workflow and say goodbye to tedious tasks!

What is PowerShell?

Have you ever heard of a language that can automate tasks and manage systems with just a few lines of code? Meet PowerShell – a scripting language and command-line shell that’s like a superhero for system administrators. And if you’re using Azure, PowerShell is like your sidekick that can help you create and run runbooks – automation workflows that can perform all sorts of operations on Azure and other environments. With PowerShell, you can even enforce the configuration of your Azure resources using desired state configuration (DSC), which is a fancy way of saying you can make sure everything is set up just the way you want it. But that’s not all – PowerShell is also versatile enough to change the configuration of your Microsoft Office 365 tenant. So if you want to save time and automate your work, PowerShell is the ultimate tool in your utility belt!

PowerShell Workflow Automation in Azure: Tips and Tricks to Save Time and Effort

PowerShell automation is a powerful tool for managing resources in Azure, and knowing some tips can help make the process even smoother. Here is the list of useful tips and tricks for PowerShell automation in Azure:

1. Use InlineScript

The use of an inline script block in PowerShell automation is very helpful because it allows you to run one or more PowerShell commands as a traditional PowerShell script instead of a PowerShell workflow. Here is an example of how to use the InlineScript block to stop a Windows service:

Workflow Stop-MyService 
    $Output = InlineScript 
        $Service = Get-Service -Name MyService
Write-Output "Stopped service $($Output.Name)."

In this example, we create a workflow called “Stop-MyService” that stops a Windows service named “MyService”. The InlineScript block contains the PowerShell commands to get and stop the service. We then assign the output of the  InlineScript block to the $Output variable and use it to display a message that the service has been stopped.

Another example of using a InlineScript block is to pass values into the block using the $Using scope modifier. Here’s an example:

Workflow Stop-MyService 
    $ServiceName = "MyService"
    $Output = InlineScript 
        $Service = Get-Service -Name $Using:ServiceName
Write-Output "Stopped service $($Output.Name)."

In this example, we define a workflow that stops a Windows service with the name stored in the $ServiceName variable. We then pass the value of the $ServiceName variable into the InlineScript block using the $Using scope modifier. The InlineScript block contains the PowerShell commands to get the service and stop it, and we assign the output to the $Output variable to display a message that the service has been stopped.

2. Do not use positional parameters for cmdlets.

In PowerShell automation, it is recommended to not use positional parameters for cmdlets. This is because using positional parameters can make your code harder to read and understand, especially for others who might be working with your code.

Positional parameters are parameters that are defined by their position in the command, rather than by their name. For example, in the following command:

Get-ChildItem C:\Windows -Recurse<code>

The parameter -Recurse is a named parameter and -Path is a positional parameter. The -Path parameter takes the position of the first parameter and is used to specify the path to the directory to search.

However, if you were to use positional parameters for cmdlets with many parameters, it might become difficult to know which parameter is being passed in a particular position.

By using named parameters, you can make your code more readable and understandable, and it will be easier for others to work with your code. It also makes your code more flexible, since you can change the order of the parameters without affecting the code’s functionality.

For example, the following command specifies the same parameters as the previous command, but uses named parameters instead of positional parameters:

Get-ChildItem -Path C:\Windows -Recurse<code>

Using named parameters makes it clear which parameter is being passed and helps avoid confusion.

3. Use Parallel Processing

Parallel processing is a powerful feature that can greatly improve the performance of PowerShell workflow automation. When you execute a workflow, it processes the activities in sequence, one at a time. However, some activities may take a long time to complete, causing delays in the overall execution time of the workflow.

Using parallel processing, you can execute multiple activities simultaneously, reducing the overall execution time. PowerShell supports parallel processing in workflows through the use of parallel and foreachparallel constructs. These constructs allow you to execute activities in parallel, asynchronously, or concurrently.

For example, suppose you have a workflow that needs to execute (multiple copy commands) several activities that retrieve data from different servers. You can use parallel processing to execute these activities concurrently, thereby reducing the overall execution time of the workflow.

The syntax for using the Parallel keyword to create a script block with multiple commands:

Parallel { <Activity1> <Activity2> } <Activity3>

The following workflow runs these same commands in parallel so that they all start copying at the same time. Only after they are all copied is the completion message displayed.

Workflow Copy-Files { Parallel
Copy-Item -Path "C:\LocalPath\File1.txt" -Destination "\\NetworkPath"
Copy-Item -Path "C:\LocalPath\File2.txt" -Destination "\\NetworkPath"
Copy-Item -Path "C:\LocalPath\File3.txt" -Destination "\\NetworkPath"
Write-Output "Files copied." }

Use ForEach -Parallel construct to process commands for each item in a collection concurrently.

Workflow Copy-Files 
$files = @("C:\LocalPath\File1.txt","C:\LocalPath\File2.txt","C:\LocalPath\File3.txt") 
ForEach -Parallel -ThrottleLimit 10 ($File in $Files) 
Copy-Item -Path $File -Destination \\NetworkPath 
Write-Output "$File copied." 
Write-Output "All files copied." 

4. Avoid dependency on local server resources in your Runbook Worker if you are using Service Management Automation.

SMA (Service Management Automation) is a feature of System Center Orchestrator that allows you to automate tasks and processes using PowerShell runbooks or workflows. A local server resource is any resource that is stored or accessed on the same machine as the runbook worker such as a file, registry key, service, etc.

Avoid interacting with local server resources in the runbook code because they might not be consistently available across different runbook workers. SMA can randomly select an available runbook worker to service a runbook request unless you specify a particular runbook worker for a runbook. This means that your runbook might run on a different machine at different times, and the local server resources might vary from one machine to another. For example, if your runbook depends on a file that is stored on the C drive of one runbook worker, it might fail if it runs on another runbook worker that does not have that file.

You should use resources that are remotely accessible by the runbook worker. For example, you can use network shares, cloud storage, etc. You can also use the InlineScript command in your PowerShell workflow runbooks to run commands on remote machines using PowerShell remoting.

5. Use checkpoints in a workflow

In PowerShell workflows, the use of checkpoints allows the workflow to resume from where it left off in case of unexpected errors or interruptions. Checkpoints help in maintaining the integrity of the workflow, and it reduces the amount of time and effort needed to restart the entire workflow.

For instance, suppose you have a PowerShell workflow that performs a series of long-running tasks, such as downloading large files, processing data, and sending emails. If an error occurs while the workflow is running, it will fail, and you will have to start the entire workflow from the beginning.

By using checkpoints in your workflow, you can save the state of the workflow at specific points and allow the workflow to resume from where it left off if an error occurs. This means that if an error occurs while processing a particular file, for example, you can restart the workflow from the last successful checkpoint instead of starting the entire workflow from the beginning.

To use checkpoints in your PowerShell workflow, you can use the built-in Checkpoint-Workflow cmdlet. This cmdlet creates a checkpoint file that contains the state of the workflow at a particular point. You can specify the checkpoint name, location, and description as parameters.

Here’s an example of how to use checkpoints in a PowerShell workflow:

workflow MyWorkflow 
    $FileList = @("file1.txt", "file2.txt", "file3.txt")
    foreach -parallel ($File in $FileList) 
        Checkpoint-Workflow -Name "ProcessFiles" -Description "Processing $File"
        # Perform some long-running task on $File
        if ($Error) 
            Write-Error "Error processing $File"

In the example above, the workflow processes a list of files using the foreach -parallel loop. Checkpoint-Workflow is used to create a checkpoint file after processing each file, which saves the state of the workflow at that point. If an error occurs while processing a file, the workflow will break out of the loop and resume from the last successful checkpoint when restarted.

6. Do not use the Switch parameter on PowerShell Workflows

Do not use the Switch parameter as Windows Workflow Foundations, which powers PowerShell workflow, does not support it. Windows Workflow Foundation requires all parameters to have a value, but a switch parameter does not have a value unless explicitly set to True or False.

Instead of using a switch you should use the Boolean parameter and assign its default value of False. You can use the -ParameterName:$True or -ParameterName:$False syntax to pass the value of the Boolean parameter when calling the workflow.

For example, instead of using a switch parameter called AsByteArray, you can use a Boolean parameter called AsByteArray with a default value of False:

PowerShell Workflow test-Runbook { Param ([bool]$AsByteArray = $False) <Commands>}

To call this workflow with the AsByteArray option enabled, you can use:

PowerShell test-Runbook -AsByteArray:$True

7. Do not use interactive commands or commands that expect a console

An interactive command that expects a console might cause errors or unexpected behavior when running your PowerShell scripts or workflows in an automated or unattended mode. For example, if you use Write-Host in a PowerShell Workflow, it might not display the output correctly because PowerShell workflows run on Windows Workflow Foundation, which does not support console output. Similarly, if you use a command that prompts for user input, such as Read-Host, it might block the execution of your script until the input is provided.

You can use commands that work with standard input and output streams such as Write-Output, Write-Error, Write-Verbose, etc. For example, instead of using Write-Host “hello world”, you can use Write-Output “hello world” and redirect the output to a file:

PowerShell Workflow Test-Runbook { Write-Output "Hello World" > hello.text}

8. Avoid creating runbooks that are expected to execute for an excessively long time period

A runbook is a set of commands or actions that automate a task or a process in Azure Automation. Azure Automation has a limit of 3 hours for each runbook job execution. If a runbook job exceeds this limit, another worker server will pick it up after unloading it from the current worker server. This might cause delays or errors in your automation workflow.

You should design the runbook to start a new instance of itself before the 3-hour limit is reached if you want to create a runbook that monitors a condition or an event continuously. You can use the Start-SMARunbook cmdlet for Service Management Automation runbooks or the Start-AzureAutomationRunbook cmdlet for Azure Automation runbook to start a new runbook job.

For example, you can use a loop to check the elapsed time of your runbook and start a new instance if it is close to 3 hours:

PowerShell Workflow Monitor-Runbook {
$startTime = Get-Date while ($true)
    # Perform monitoring actions here
    # Check elapsed time 
    $elapsedTime = (Get-date) -$startTime 
    if ($elapsedTime.TotalHours -gt 2.5) {
        # Start a new instance of this runbook
        Start-AzureAutomationRunbook -Name Monitor -Runbook
        # Exit the current instance 
    # Save the state with a checkpoint 


PowerShell Automation in Azure can be an effective way to increase productivity and streamline management tasks in a cloud environment. However, with the right knowledge and tools, users can create powerful and flexible automation solutions to meet their specific needs.

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