RES Automation Manager 2012 Global Variables

Unfortunately, this post is a mixture of both good and bad news. In my humble opinion, I feel that RES have missed a trick with their implementation of Global Variables in RES Automation Manager (AM) 2012 and here’s why.

In all the furore surrounding the RES AM 2012 release, Global Variables are supposed to herald the completion of multi-tenancy implementations. For example, multiple departments and/or customers can be co-located on the same database and share the platform without any visibility or potentially any knowledge of who else is utilising the infrastructure. If you’re after an introduction into the RES AM Global Variables I suggest you take a look at Rob Aarts’s article on RESguru or watch Grant Tiller’s demonstration on REStutorials.

Resources and Global Variables

It was my assumption (obviously incorrectly) that we would be able to use Global Variables with file server resources. In a multi-tenant implementation, I wouldn’t necessarily want all administrators uploading file resources to the database and bloating the tables with BLOBS. When we add files stored on a file share to the RES Automation Database, the UNC path is stored along with the entry in the database. This isn’t necessarily a problem, assuming that all RES Automation Manager agents can resolve this path. Unfortunately, in a multi-tenant environment this may not be the case.

Enter Global Variables. Wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could use a Global Variable in the UNC path of a file resource?! As long as we make sure that folder structure is the same for each “customer” site we could set the Global Variable to the customer’s file server at the Team or if needed, Agent level. Even within a single organisation, Global Variables would enable us to use local file servers without having to implement DFS-R etc.

Being RES Consultancy Partners we could also use this process when designing our Building Blocks. For example, we could upload the required resources for a XenApp build to a file server, import the RES Automation Building Blocks and change the Global Variable(s) to point to the customer’s file server instead. No longer would we need to either perform a mass “find and replace” within the Building Block files or upload 5GB of data into a database. Happy days Smile.

As you’ve probably guessed, this doesn’t work. DOH! When we attempt to insert the Global Variable by right-clicking the file path we’re not given the option:

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Manually entering the Global Variable placeholder, e.g. ^[GlobalVariable] doesn’t work either. There is, however, a workaround.

Resources, Global and Environment Variables

Now that we know we can’t use Global Variables at the resource level, I do know that we can use Environment Variables. If we just so happen to use an environment variable and that environment variable just so happens to be set to a Global Variable’s value, it just might work…

Firstly we need to pick a variable to use and in this example I’ll use ’RESAMRESOURCES’ as it’s unlikely to clash with any other environment variables. We define the Global Variable and set the value to our file server’s share (you can always override this at a Team/Agent level or when importing Building Blocks where needed):

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Next, when adding a file resource we can browse the target file and override the UNC path and enter an environment variable. In this example I’ll use the %RESAMRESOURCES% to point to the required file server.

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All that’s left to do is assign the environment variable before any module that we want to use this resource. Fortunately, RES Automation Manager has a task to do just this. In my example I’ve created a job-based environment variable. We could always set this as a persistent machine-based variable via AM too.

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Once we’re done, our completed module will look a lot like this. Note: the job-based environment needs to be set before we execute a task that references the file server resources, in our case, the Unattended Installation of Foxit Reader task.

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When we export our Module as a Building Block we now have a fully portable module that can be imported into any environment without storing the resource(s) in the database! All we need to do know is use Global Variables to define the credentials used to connect to the file server..

Resources, Global Variables and Credentials

This is where the house of cards falls down around us.. We’ve managed to trick RES AM into using file resources with Global Variables. However, as the RES Automation Manager service runs under the Local System account, it has no access to file resources located on file servers. To overcome this issue, we need to embed the credentials in with the resources. Again, you would assume that you could use the Credentials type of Global Variables to achieve this.

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I’ve tried unsuccessfully to get this work, even my manually specifying the ^[GlobalVariable] placeholder. Perhaps I’m the only one, but what about password changes? If we embed the credentials with the resource, using a Global Variable for this would make perfect sense. Currently, we don’t change the password associated with the RES Automation Manager resources as this requires us to update each individual resource. If they were based on a Global Variable we’d have a simple way to update the password, maintain security and pass an audit with flying colours!

I can only assume that this is either technically difficult to implement or is an oversight. As a result, we’re still left have to either do a mass “find and replace” in our Building Block files when implementing RES Automation Manager at customer sites or uploading large binaries into the database. Other than this, I think Global Variables are a brilliant edition and hopefully they will be coming to RES Workspace Manager too Smile with tongue out.

Many thanks for reading. Iain

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