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A good IT orchestration system saves time for users and admins

Rather than fight with business workers about runaway IT resource consumption and complex demands on tight deadlines, let an orchestration platform control the process.

IT orchestration benefits the administrators running systems and security and the business that relies on them. So, it's a worthwhile investment for all.

Orchestration is not automation, although it uses automation to complete tasks. Orchestration enables users to follow a workflow that delivers to them a service or compute item. Along that workflow, automation enables a computer to repeat a task flawlessly on demand or on a schedule. Orchestration envelops the whole lifecycle and management of required infrastructure for that user.

A well-designed IT orchestration system takes away the frustration and manual intervention to create VMs or other IT resources, as well as the long waits and paperwork for app owners who need them from IT. The whole process is subject to workflows, which implement business logic and decisions into practices. They can also include approvals, resource allocation limits and other customizations.

Cloud orchestration
This cloud orchestration example shows how the user request goes through business logic and rules to an automated back end that delivers the systems.

IT orchestration payoffs

IT orchestration decouples the technical aspects of provisioning a server from the end user.

IT orchestration decouples the technical aspects of provisioning a server from the end user and allows nontechnical people to request the IT back end that enables business. An approved end user, project manager or other worker can log in to a corporate self-service portal and request a VM or even an entire service composed of several disparate components. Servers or infrastructure are spat out at the other end, ready to go. Behind the scenes, the cost is assigned to an appropriate cost center and the server detailed in a configuration management database. Some well-designed orchestration portals include selections for the workflow, such as Mirror the network of the following server or I know which virtual LANS I need. Including options instead of setting a rigid path helps people who are not technically inclined easily build servers.

IT orchestration improves IT lifecycle management, cost management and sprawl prevention. As mentioned previously, automation feeds orchestration, and the benefits of automation are clear. For example, an automated task always uses identical versions of the files it needs, while an IT support team performing the same task manually could use variations saved in the system.

Set up IT orchestration

IT orchestration environments comprise:

  • IT resources;
  • service catalogs;
  • workflows and business logic;
  • isolation mechanisms for businesses and groups, such as multi-tenant cloud infrastructure;
  • back-end automation; and
  • a self-service portal.

Resources. Resources include compute, network and storage, which all must be managed and accounted for, because someone has to pay the bills. Most orchestration platforms support multi-tenancy so that several separate companies or lines of business coexist in isolation on the same hardware resources.

Service catalogs. Users pick and assemble what they need from these virtual books of services. Example catalog items include Windows Server 2016, Red Hat Linux 7 or MyCompany SQL Server. This catalog is a book of base templates. The IT orchestration platform can add additional tools and configurations depending on requirements.

Workflows and business logic. Workflows are the logic through which a request is routed to completion. In a simple example, a user requests a VM with two CPUs and 4 GB RAM. This resource amount falls below the threshold where it would require approval, so the orchestration platform sends commands to the back end, where the VMs are built and delivered without further gating. If a user requests a VM that exceeds the threshold for authorization, such as four CPUs and 8 GB RAM, the platform directs the request to a senior admin for review. In actual practice, IT orchestration logic can be complex and fine-grained.

Back-end automation. Automation is where the magic happens. Automation is stitched into the business workflows. In the examples above, the VM creation is a simple scripted build, with the user account populated as part of the process. Many IT orchestration systems have a workflow engine built in to support more complex interactions.

While some automation platforms have a drag-and-drop form designer, there is always an underlying programming language, and at some point, the administrator will get her hands dirty. IT teams picking up orchestration should be versed in the automation tools that will support the orchestrated workflow, whether that is Chef, Puppet or another product.

Self-service portal. The self-service portal is the most important part of the IT orchestration system from the end user's point of view. The portal is a cloud shopping basket, where the user can buy VMs and services, configure them to desired specifications and then submit them for approval or build, depending on the workflow.

Editor's note: Check out these concepts in action with the IT orchestration tutorial  that covers the basics on Embotics vCommander, including how the system fits together, as well as the administrator and end-user experience.

This was last published in December 2017

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