Start virtual machines in a lab in order by using Azure Automation runbooks

The autostart feature of DevTest Labs allows you to configure VMs to start automatically at a specified time. However, this feature does not support machines to start in a specific order. There are several scenarios where this type of automation would be useful. One scenario is where a Jumpbox VM within a lab needs to be started first, before the other VMs, as the Jumpbox is used as the access point to the other VMs. This article shows you how to set up an Azure Automation account with a PowerShell runbook that executes a script. The script uses tags on VMs in the lab to allow you to control the startup order without having to change the script.


In this example, VMs in the lab need to have the tag StartupOrder added with the appropriate value (0,1,2, etc.). Designate any machine that doesn't need to be started as -1.

Create an Azure Automation account

Create an Azure Automation account by following instructions in this article. Choose the Run As Accounts option when creating the account. Once the automation account is created, open the Modules page, and select Update Azure Modules on the menu bar. The default modules are several versions old and without the update the script may not function.

Add a runbook

Now, to add a runbook to the automation account, select Runbooks on the left menu. Select Add a runbook on the menu, and follow instructions to create a PowerShell runbook.

PowerShell script

The following script takes the subscription name, the lab name as parameters. The flow of the script is to get all the VMs in the lab, and then parse out the tag information to create a list of the VM names and their startup order. The script walks through the VMs in order and starts the VMs. If there are multiple VMs in a specific order number, they are started asynchronously using PowerShell jobs. For those VMs that don’t have a tag, set startup value to be the last (10), they will be started last, by default. If the lab doesn’t want the VM to be autostarted, set the tag value to 11 and it will be ignored.

#Requires -Version 3.0
#Requires -Module AzureRM.Resources

    [Parameter(Mandatory=$false, HelpMessage="Name of the subscription that has the lab")]
    [string] $SubscriptionName,

    [Parameter(Mandatory=$false, HelpMessage="Lab name")]
    [string] $LabName

# Connect and add the appropriate subscription
$Conn = Get-AutomationConnection -Name AzureRunAsConnection

Add-AzureRMAccount -ServicePrincipal -Tenant $Conn.TenantID -ApplicationID $Conn.ApplicationId -Subscription $SubscriptionName -CertificateThumbprint $Conn.CertificateThumbprint

# Find the lab
$dtLab = Find-AzResource -ResourceType 'Microsoft.DevTestLab/labs' -ResourceNameEquals $LabName

# Get the VMs
$dtlAllVms = New-Object System.Collections.ArrayList
$AllVMs = Get-AzResource -ResourceId "$($dtLab.ResourceId)/virtualmachines" -ApiVersion 2016-05-15

# Get the StartupOrder tag, if missing set to be run last (10)
ForEach ($vm in $AllVMs) {
    if ($vm.Tags) {
        if ($vm.Tags['StartupOrder']) {
            $startupValue = $vm.Tags['StartupOrder']
        } else {
            $startupValue = 10
        } else {
            $startupValue = 10
        $dtlAllVms.Add(@{$vm.Name = $startupValue}) > $null

# Setup for the async multiple vm start

# Save profile
$profilePath = Join-Path $env:Temp "profile.json"
If (Test-Path $profilePath){
    Remove-Item $profilePath
Save-AzContext -Path $profilePath

# Job to start VMs asynch
$startVMBlock = {
    Import-AzContext -Path ($profilePath)
    Invoke-AzResourceAction `
        -ResourceId "$($devTestLab.ResourceId)/virtualmachines/$vmToStart" `
        -Action Start `
    Write-Output "Started: $vmToStart"

$current = 0
# Start in order from 0 to 10

While ($current -le 10) {
# Get the VMs in the current stage
    $tobeStarted = $null
    $tobeStarted = $dtlAllVms | Where-Object { $_.Values -eq $current}
    if ($tobeStarted.Count -eq 1) {
        # Run sync – jobs not necessary for a single VM
        $returnStatus = Invoke-AzResourceAction `
                -ResourceId "$($dtLab.ResourceId)/virtualmachines/$($tobeStarted.Keys)" `
                -Action Start `
        Write-Output "$($tobeStarted.Keys) status: $($returnStatus.status)"
    } elseif ($tobeStarted.Count -gt 1) {
        # Start multiple VMs async
        $jobs = @()
        Write-Output "Start Jobs start: $(Get-Date)"
        # Jobs
        $jobs += Start-Job -ScriptBlock $startVMBlock -ArgumentList $dtLab, $($singlevm.Keys), $profilePath
        Write-Output "Start Jobs end: $(Get-Date)"

    # Get results from all jobs
    if($jobs.Count -ne 0) {
        Write-Output "Receive Jobs start: $(Get-Date)"
        foreach ($job in $jobs){
            $jobResult = Receive-Job -Job $job -Wait | Write-Output
        Remove-Job -Job $jobs -Force
        Write-Output "Information: No jobs available"

Create a schedule

To have this script execute daily, create a schedule in the automation account. Once the schedule is created, link it to the runbook.

In a large-scale situation where there are multiple subscriptions with multiple labs, store the parameter information in a file for different labs and pass the file to the script instead of the individual parameters. The script would need to be modified but the core execution would be the same. While this sample uses the Azure Automation to execute the PowerShell script, there are other options like using a task in a Build/Release pipeline.

Next steps

See the following article to learn more about Azure Automation: An introduction to Azure Automation.