Orchestration software: The functions and vendors to watch
A collection of articles that takes you from defining technology needs to purchasing options
Purchasing orchestration software is a daunting task. Orchestration software is a software package that should function across multiple IT silos and interact with a lot of primary IT systems. One mistake buyers can make when choosing orchestration software is to start looking at the name on the front rather than the function on the inside. It is easy to get caught up in the features or vendors before fully understanding what an organization really needs. The purpose of orchestration software is to bring an organized workflow to our tasks -- admins must follow the same mentality when looking to purchase orchestration software as well.
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Organization and IT deployment size
The size of your organization and the scope of your deployment are the first factors to consider when purchasing orchestration software. Although this factor always seems to be the most obvious, in reality it's one of the easiest tripping points. Most software packages, including orchestration, come in multiple licensing levels. Often, buyers make decisions based on what they need today and then tomorrow. The problem is when tomorrow comes. It is easy to buy software that we expect to last for the next three to five years, but in reality how often do companies keep the same version of software or even same vendor that long?
While it's a good idea to purchase software that gives you the ability to grow, buyers must take a deep look at their IT environment and right-size the purchase based on the IT deployment rather than a gut feeling or vendor preference. Although you might intend to stay with a particular software vendor for many years, the reality is that things change. If one makes such an over-sized investment in a vendor, they may find themselves locked into a path that can prevent the enterprise from embracing new technologies, as the rate of change in IT is aggressive. In deciding on orchestration software, buyers must take additional time to right-size the chosen tool, as this has to be one of the nimbler pieces of the overall IT infrastructure. New technologies, such as containers and cloud services, are entering into IT systems and the orchestration tool must keep up with these and whatever additional technologies emerge. Pay close attention to the interfaces and modules the orchestration software vendor has and the pace at which they release new ones they release new ones.
Features to look for in orchestration software
Once IT deployment size is determined, look at the core features and target of the orchestration software. For a mostly Windows-based environment, does it make sense to look at products that are more Linux-based? While OS should not be the sole reason for a product choice, it is critical because it affects what interfaces and tools are available to work with existing automation pieces. It makes the most sense that Windows-based products will work the best with Windows operating systems, and the same goes for Linux-based products. That is not to say that Windows-based orchestration tools can't work with Linux or that Linux-based tools can't work with a Windows guest -- it has more to do with the amount of effort required to cross those operating system lines. This brings up another factor -- complexity.
Orchestration is designed to make workflow and processes easier and more efficient, but it is only effective with the right tools. An orchestration product bridges two groups that use to be very uniquely separated, the dev and ops teams. If the chosen tool only serves one of those groups and creates unnecessary complexity for the other, the business has not gained much overall. For example, a product may have tremendous features but if it requires highly specialized and not-intuitive knowledge to operate, where is the value? Orchestration tools are not as simple as click and drag, but finding something that can offer relative ease of use should be the goal. A great example of this is OpenStack, an excellent but high-level open source cloud framework, which can be challenging even for veteran IT workers. That also brings up another key consideration -- open source products.
Pricing: Open source or paid versions?
Open source products can offer some great features and functions. They also help to keep the paid software model in price check which benefits all. However, the challenge with open source in the production environment is the support model. Community support works great for noncritical systems, but not so much for critical business systems. Since orchestration software should interact with all other core systems, is it wise to refer to a discussion board rather than an assigned vendor expert for technical support? The free aspect of unsupported community open source tools garner a lot of initial attention, but the selection committee should ask themselves how much will it cost to be offline? If a system is offline for days or even weeks, would the initial cost savings of free open source be worth it? The other concerns regarding open source tools are the complexity to deploy and how extensive the agents will be to ensure portability for workloads. Add-ons and features are easier to get with support available through paid software versions.
The price of orchestration software is, however, a fundamental factor in this buying decision, whether open source options are considered or not. The form, features and flexibility of the tool are big factors in the base product cost and cost of its ongoing support. With orchestration software, you're paying for process improvement rather than for a new function or application. This can make orchestration software harder to quantify for the costs, because even the product itself can seem nebulous. The purpose of an orchestration tool revolves around the savings and efficiencies it can offer, rather than the features it brings. Look at the savings this investment can bring in terms of process and efforts. Orchestration is what brings workflows and processes together and optimizes them rather than simply introducing new features and functions. While this can be hard to track, it can add up in an enterprise IT setting.
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