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An IT Guide to Cloud Automation and Orchestration Tools

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Gartner expects that 75% of all databases will be housed on cloud platforms by 2023, with 75% of mid- to large-sized enterprises using multi-cloud or hybrid-IT strategies by 2021. Here’s how IT can meet these evolving needs.

The Impact of Cloud Computing

Most organizations rely on cloud services, resources, and platforms for one reason or another –reduction in capital expenses, reliable scalability, flexibility in providing new services, or to quickly deploy new technologies. These capabilities are essential to digital transformation and underlie most modernization projects.

But the growth in cloud environments has put a strain on IT teams who often find themselves managing increasingly complex environments –custom scripts to integrate legacy mainframes, multi-cloud to avoid vendor lock-in, server sprawl, and unreliable processes– with insufficient IT resources.  

In order to adapt to these new demands, IT teams can leverage automation and orchestration tools to simplify and optimize the management of hybrid-cloud, multi-cloud, or cloud-native environments.

What is Cloud Automation?

As the cost of cloud-computing drops, more cloud-based tools are being adopted, multiplying the number of tasks IT must accomplish. Cloud automation tools are used to reduce the volume of manual tasks required to manage cloud resources and environments. 

Cloud automation tools effectively enable IT to accomplish more with less, reducing operational expenses, minimizing errors, and preventing delays. Cloud automation tools can also be used to implement infrastructure-as-code, removing the need to manually configure and manage critical resources.

Cloud automation tools can be used to:

  • Configure and install systems, containers, or virtual machines
  • Provision and deprovision servers for auto-scaling
  • Allocate resources for workloads to optimize performance

Whether IT needs to back-up data, update applications, or keep track of deployed instances, automation tools can reduce the need for human intervention, giving IT more time to work on higher-value projects that impact long-term goals.

What are Cloud Orchestration Tools?

Cloud orchestration tools enable IT to integrate, monitor, and manage cross-platform processes and the infrastructure those processes rely on. Cloud orchestration tools make it easier to assemble automated tasks into end-to-end processes, often without the need for additional coding.

Cloud orchestration is important for two reasons:

  1. Automated tasks don’t exist on their own. If a new application is being deployed, IT must configure and provision the right resources, set up permissions, provide regular updates, and more. Orchestration allows IT to coordinate these tasks into end-to-end processes.
  2. IT is increasingly heterogeneous. Most organizations need to maintain on-premises infrastructure or data centers. These legacy systems do not easily integrate with cloud-based systems without the use of custom scripts. Cloud orchestration tools provide methods to quickly integrate disparate applications and platforms under a single solution.

Many cloud providers offer automation tools to streamline configuration management for instances (Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, VMware, Google Cloud, for example). But these tools aren’t designed for cross-platform processes, forcing IT to create and manage custom scripts or succumb to vendor lock-in.

Cloud orchestration tools offer a way for IT to integrate a variety of disparate applications and systems, and to assemble end-to-end processes that can be managed and monitored from a single location. This enables IT to quickly deploy new technologies and to increase ROI on existing resources by creating processes that were otherwise unachievable.


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Automation vs. Orchestration: What’s the Difference?

There’s an awful lot of discussion about the differences between automation and orchestration, but it’s important to stay away from either-or simplifications. Automation and orchestration are related concepts –you can’t really have orchestration without automating processes.

For example, automation exists because the number of tasks and processes IT is responsible for has grown exponentially –there’s no feasible way for IT to manually execute everything that has to be done on a daily basis. Likewise, the number of applications and systems IT is responsible for has grown, so that it’s no longer feasible for IT to rely on custom scripts to integrate a growing number of solutions and processes.

Looked at this way, orchestration is a necessary step in the evolution of computing, just as automation is. With an automation tool, users can automate a cloud-based ETL task; with an orchestration tool, users can build an end-to-end process that includes provisioning cloud infrastructure through a tool like Puppet or Ansible, authenticating users with Active Directory, and monitoring those resources through an open-source tool like Nagios. The DevOps team can then quickly integrate new sources of data without creating the process from scratch, and without having to write custom scripts.

How Do I Know Which One I Need?

“Customers are striving toward an orchestrated, end-to-end, intelligent, event-driven form of automation, delivered with an effective combination of automation tools with multiple machine learning applications and packaged software.”

– Gartner, Magic Quadrant for Robotic Process Automation

IT teams using PaaS or IaaS solutions are likely already using some form of automation to streamline cloud management processes. This usually means vendor-specific automation tools, third-party solutions, or custom scripts. Given that custom scripts are time consuming and vendor-specific tools create silos that increase complexity, this leaves us with third-party tools.

Multiple vendors have, over the course of several years, developed automation solutions that act and behave like orchestration platforms. Gartner refers to these tools as Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms (SOAPs) while other research firms and vendors refer to them as intelligent process automation or enterprise workload automation.

The effect however is the same –these tools provide direct integrations and low-code API accessibility that enable IT to rapidly integrate new tools and technologies, allowing users to assemble reliable, cross-platform processes.

Orchestration tools provide the capabilities organizations require to be successful in the cloud, with the added advantage of being able to quickly adapt to new market demands and technology trends (microservices, containerization, distributed computing).

So to answer the question, instead of focusing on automation for a single system, long-term IT and business goals are best served by orchestration solutions that can quickly integrate and automate a range of tools and technologies.

Benefits of Cloud Orchestration Tools

Cloud orchestration tools provide a single location for IT to automate, monitor, and manage processes that span private cloud, public cloud, or on-premises infrastructure. IT teams can coordinate existing infrastructure automation tools (Terraform, Chef, Ansible), consolidate cloud management tools (Saltstack, Rackware), and unify control over IT processes and business processes.

Orchestration tools provide a range of capabilities that can include DevOps tools for continuous integration and continuous delivery, as well as real-time monitoring and auto-remediation. Orchestration tools are designed to be extensible, providing support for numerous operating systems (Windows, Linux, etc.) and scripting languages (Python, PHP, Java, etc.), making it easier to pass configuration files when deploying IT infrastructure assets in distributed environments. Additionally, orchestration tools can be deployed using AWS CloudFormation or as a SaaS solution.


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Brian is a staff writer for the IT Automation Without Boundaries blog, where he covers IT news, events, and thought leadership. He has written for several publications around the New York City-metro area, both in print and online, and received his B.A. in journalism from Rowan University. When he’s not writing about IT orchestration and modernization, he’s nose-deep in a good book or building Lego spaceships with his kids.

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