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Orchestration software: The functions and vendors to watch

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Why orchestration services are important in the DevOps age

Automation and orchestration services are critical for modern IT systems to function well. Learn more about how these functions facilitate IT processes and workflows.

As technology has evolved from a business function to a business enabler and now to a business driver, the necessity of IT has skyrocketed. The timeliness and scale of IT and the services that IT provides are too critical to the business to allow for anything to slow the process down. Because of this, the systems that traditionally worked in the past simply can't keep up with what businesses need today. IT admins still need to be involved but just how they are involved is changing.

IT departments have turned to automation to help address some of these challenges. Rather than the technician repeating the same tasks over and over, administrators create scripts and other automation tools to complete several steps or a task very quickly. This enables IT teams to become more responsive to company needs and also gives IT an element of scalability and timeliness. As businesses move into DevOps, task-based IT automation has started to show its limitations. Orchestration services connect task-based concepts and flows within IT to the greater business, using automation to deliver IT services.

Orchestration and automation are two IT terms that often get confused even though they have different meanings and scope. Automation is creating the ability to repeatedly perform a task or the several steps to complete a task. Automation can be very complex in scope but it is still typically focused on a single task to accomplish a goal, such as deploying a server. Many people think orchestration is simply combining many of those tasks into a larger script or task, but it's more than that. Orchestration services takes those tasks and puts them into a process or workflow that can include several automation tasks but also may include steps and resources to streamline the overall workflow or process.

Task automation is ideal when it concerns several steps in one area. Once you go beyond that one area or influence, automation simply won't work anymore. In traditional business, this is called a workflow because it is a process for a product that moves between multiple groups or departments in a sequence of stages from initiation to completion of the product. The same logic and workflow can be applied to IT and applications. The reason this can be done is fairly simple, not everything technology-related is simply IT.

Orchestration services and DevOps

Orchestration services connect task-based concepts and flows within IT to the greater business, using automation to deliver IT services.

DevOps is a change to IT culture that combines the practices of the developers, operations and quality assurance (QA) testers into something that can produce results greater than the sum of the parts. A DevOps environment is where orchestration services can most benefit a company. Traditional automation at this level would still be limited by the natural barriers between the groups, but orchestration is designed to work both within those barriers and above them.

Orchestration services can not only overcome barriers but take advantage of them as well. When you look at what DevOps encompasses from the developers, QA and operations, it demonstrates a natural workflow process for an application deployment. With all that considered, why should the advantages of these workflows be limited to just one silo of influence?

Since the DevOps groups have to navigate between three different worlds, so should their tools. That is where workflow orchestration services come in with the ability to pull together multiple automation pieces from the different DevOps tool sets. This means each group can still use the products and automation they have currently while engaging an overarching umbrella designed to pull everything into one workflow. For the DevOps teams, this means internal change can happen slowly as tools -- and the skills to use them -- for unique environments can be retained while orchestration services leverage interfaces already available. Teams can design long-term plans that include adopting the native tool sets that the orchestration tools provide. This process prevents the rip-and-replace methodology around IT service delivery tools and allows the DevOps teams to quickly create automation tasks and engage them into an orchestration platform without having to stop and recreate everything.

Orchestration and automation

Automation tools can stand alone but orchestration cannot exist without automation to drive the tasks and events. While they are separate tools and have different roles and functions within an organization, they are joined together in the orchestration equation.

This means that once a business adopts an orchestration product and embraces the new workflow, they must continue to perform automation, leaving automation tools in place and building upon them. The ability to use these different tool sets in the process of application delivery is critical for DevOps success.

Admins should note that adopting an orchestration platform does not replace automation -- it brings what exists into a cohesive platform. That is great today but tomorrow's orchestration needs will require additional automation resources especially as workflows become more important in the DevOps environment.

Workflows are becoming critical because they help to establish safeguards and checkpoints for the DevOps teams as they can remove missing steps and configuration issues in the application creation through to the deployment process. When workers apply orchestration to the workflow, they are removing part of the human element from the workflow. This process helps to remove some of the risk of human error and allows for focus on more critical tasks and approvals in the workflows rather than simple day-to-day tasks. The end goal is for the developer to request the resource, and when it's approved, the requested resources become provisioned from the virtual environment through automation. Once deployed the virtualized resource is networked and deployed with the necessary software that has been installed through automation but controlled by orchestration. The virtualized resource is then added into the monitoring and operational tool sets through more automation but under the control of orchestration. Orchestration doesn't do the work of automation -- it controls it.

IT is no longer an island that can operate independently -- it is a business driver and needs to follow and take advantage of established business workflows and processes. If organizations want to control or stop shadow IT, their tools and processes must respond to a changing customer base. Automation was the first step for IT-- orchestration is the next step as IT continues to evolve and build upon its successes.

Next Steps

Read about the orchestration tools that build infrastructure automation

Learn how cloud orchestration and integration will force IT to keep changing

Learn how to manage the challenges of NVF orchestration

This was last published in November 2016

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Buyer's Guide

Orchestration software: The functions and vendors to watch

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How has orchestration benefited your IT infrastructure?
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Hi Brian,

Totally agree with the distinction from Automation and the centricity of orchestration in the new stack and new working environments of today. Not only is orchestration a must for handling the efficiency and multi-dimentionality of today when it comes to connecting the virtual resource environment and IT/SDLC {human} processes, Orchestration also provides for a much needed connection between backend legacy systems and modern front end systems. these are often the stumbling block in enterprise digital transformation processes. well written, Thank you.
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