cloud orchestration (cloud orchestrator)

Contributor(s): Alan Earls

Cloud orchestration is the use of programming technology to manage the interconnections and interactions among workloads on public and private cloud infrastructure. It connects automated tasks into a cohesive workflow to accomplish a goal, with permissions oversight and policy enforcement.

Cloud orchestration is typically used to provision, deploy or start servers; acquire and assign storage capacity; manage networking; create VMs; and gain access to specific software on cloud services. This is accomplished through three main, closely related attributes of cloud orchestration: service, workload and resource orchestration. An orchestration platform can integrate permission checks for security and compliance.

Cloud orchestration technology must work with heterogeneous systems, potentially servicing a global cloud deployment in different geographical locations and with different providers. Many cloud orchestrator users run public cloud and private deployments.

Cloud orchestration vs. automation

Automation is a subset of orchestration, which means that orchestration provides coordination among and across many automated activities. Automation focuses on making one task repeatable rapidly with minimal operator intervention; orchestration on the whole.

Cloud orchestration and automation
Automation and orchestration work together to deliver services and applications on cloud infrastructure.

Given the many moving parts in cloud, orchestration brings high availability, scaling, failure recovery, dependency management, and numerous other tasks and attributes into a single process that can tremendously reduce staff effort. Orchestration also provides visibility into resources and processes that simple cloud automation lacks; for example, a business can regulate capacity via preset resource templates for application deployment and track who requests what resources.

Cloud orchestration platform benefits

Cloud orchestration is of interest to many IT organizations and DevOps adopters as a way to speed the delivery of services and reduce costs. A cloud orchestrator automates the management, coordination and organization of complicated computer systems, services and middleware. In addition to reduced personnel involvement, orchestration eliminates the potential for errors introduced into provisioning, scaling or other cloud processes. Orchestration supports the delivery of cloud resources to customers and end users, including in a self-service model where users request resources without IT's involvement.

Orchestration software helps IT organizations standardize templates and enforce security practices. It is also a good defense against VM sprawl -- providing visibility into, and control over, cloud resources and, implicitly, costs. Because the orchestrator platform oversees interactions of many disparate elements of the application stack, it can simplify the communication and connections from one workload to other apps and users, as well as ensure links are correctly configured and maintained. Such products usually include a web-based portal, so orchestration can be managed through a single pane of glass

The centralized nature of an orchestration platform enables administrators to review and improve automation scripts.

In advanced organizations, developers and line-of-business workers can turn to cloud orchestration software as a self-service mechanism to deploy resources; administrators can use it to track the organization's reliance on various IT offerings and manage chargebacks.

Cloud orchestration vendors

Many vendors offer cloud orchestrator products. DevOps teams can also implement cloud orchestration in numerous ways via automation and management tools to fit with their processes and methodologies.

When evaluating cloud orchestration products, it is recommended that administrators first map the workflows of the applications involved. This step will help the administrator visualize how complicated the internal workflow for the application is and how often information flows outside the set of app components. This, in turn, can help the administrator decide which type of orchestration product will help automate workflow best and meet business requirements in the most cost-effective manner. 

In general, cloud orchestration tools or software operate similarly across public, private and hybrid clouds, though the specifics of a given use case might favor the features of one over another. VMware's vRealize Suite, for example, includes a hybrid cloud management platform that automates the delivery of cloud infrastructure, applications and services; an operations component to help with planning, management and scaling; real-time log management and analysis; and automated costing, usage metering and service pricing.

Some of the other cloud orchestration vendors and their products include the following:

  • Amazon Web Services CloudFormation
  • Cisco CloudCenter (formerly CliQr)
  • CloudFX
  • Flexiant Cloud Orchestrator
  • Fugue
  • IBM Cloud Orchestrator
  • Ingram Micro Cloud Orchestrator
  • Microsoft Azure Automation
  • Microsoft Cycle Computing
  • Morpheus
  • OpenStack Heat orchestration engine
  • Saltstack
  • Zymr
This was last updated in December 2017

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