Combining the Power of the Shell and the Graph
Over the last few months, I’ve written many times about using Microsoft Graph API calls in PowerShell scripts to get real work done. Among the many examples are:
- Reporting the activity of Microsoft 365 Groups and Teams.
- Reporting user activity across multiple workloads.
- Investigating Azure AD Access Reviews.
- Decrypting SharePoint Online documents protected with sensitivity labels.
- Calculate counts of distribution list members.
- Sending email with the Graph.
- Creating organization contacts in user mailboxes.
- Working with Planner data.
In addition, Microsoft has stirred the pot by announcing that they won’t support the Azure AD Graph from June 2022. This affects the Azure AD PowerShell module, one of the most heavily used modules for Office 365 tenant management. And we have examples where Microsoft introduces new features, like tenant privacy controls, which can be controlled only through Graph API calls.
As a result of this activity, I’ve received several questions about how to decide when to use Graph API calls in scripts. And as I due to speak about combining PowerShell and the Graph at the (free) TEC 2021 event in September, it seemed like a good idea to formulate some thoughts about how I approach the issue.
Four Steps to Consider
I use a simple four-step process when writing scripts to automate some aspect of Office 365:
Sketch out the solution: Understand what source data is available and how to access it. Define the expected output and the processing needed to achieve the result. Make an initial selection of PowerShell modules and Graph APIs which might be useful, understanding that some data is only accessible to the Graph (and might need a beta API). Do an internet search to see if anyone has already written code to do what you want or something similar. Never reinvent the wheel if someone else has one to use.
Code in PowerShell first: It’s often wise to write the initial code in PowerShell before introducing any Graph APIs. The code you write might work well enough to be the solution you need without doing any further work. This is often the case when a small amount of data is involved, in which case you don’t need the additional overhead necessary to introduce Graph API calls.
Speed Things Up: Usually, the biggest advantage gained through using Graph APIs is speed, especially when fetching large numbers of objects like user accounts or groups. The next step is to find places in your code where large delays occur to run calls like Get-UnifiedGroup and replace those cmdlets with Graph APIs.
Adjust for Production: Every tenant has their own idea of how to run PowerShell scripts in production. After developing a script which can run interactively, you might need to change it to run as a background process and deal with issues like certificate-based authentication (never store passwords in scripts). Because of the need to adjust scripts for production usage, the code I write for books and articles is to illustrate principles rather than being fully worked-out answers.
The most important point in the checklist is the internet search for code. If you don’t find a suitable script to remove the need to create anything new, you’ll probably find the basis or starting point for what you want to do. It astounds me that people post questions in forums when it is perfectly obvious that they haven’t done the basic research to uncover details which can help solve their problem. Unfortunately, too many people expect answers to be handed to them on a plate and aren’t prepared to learn through experimentation and failure. I spend most of my time in the latter state.
Take Things Slowly
The Microsoft Graph isn’t scary. It’s there to be used and like any other tool, it should be used at the right time. PowerShell gets most things done really well when it comes to tenant management. It has its limitations, some of which the Graph can fill in. Starting with simple tasks and moving forward to more complex issues is a great way to learn how to use the Graph with PowerShell. Your task is to provide the brainpower to combine the two to get things done most effectively.
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