Uptime Blog

Orchestration vs Automation: Which Does Your Business Need?

Stephen Herd ON Feb 23, 2022

Digital transformation is accelerating rapidly to include virtually all enterprise functions. Organizations of all size, across all industries, are leveraging digital technology to enhance customer service and improve work efficiency. Integrating automation into core business functions has become a must to stay aligned with the ongoing digital revolution.

The growing migration to the cloud has resulted in the distribution of company data and applications across multiple locations. This means that many complex business processes must leverage IT resources from the cloud and on-premises. This is where automation and orchestration can greatly improve the performance and efficiency of these complex tasks.

Let’s discuss how automation and orchestration differ from and relate to one another, and explore examples to demonstrate how you can combine both methodologies to achieve your goals.

Orchestration vs Automation: What is the Difference?

Many people, including some IT personnel, use the terms automation and orchestration interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction. Automation refers to automating a single task, while orchestration refers to making multiple tasks work in harmony to achieve a goal.

Orchestration can be considered a form of “automating automation”. Let’s say an organization creates software to automate 30 tasks, but each automation step requires manual input. This organization has successfully automated, but they have not implemented orchestration.

Defining Automation

Automation is the practice of performing a task or series of related tasks without human intervention. By automating repetitive or time-consuming tasks, organizations can significantly improve their efficiency. For example, development teams may have a resource that dedicates part of their work week to updating logs, and moving details from one system into another; but this is a perfect task to automate. This approach leaves the monotonous and mundane tasks to computing systems, empowering humans to focus their efforts and energy on innovation and creative problem-solving.

Automation used to be a nice to have feature, but with the increased use of digital technologies to facilitate business processes, it’s now a necessity.

Automation offers numerous benefits to businesses, such as:

  • Decreased human error due to limited manual input.
  • Increased speed and efficacy of related processes.
  • Reduced labor costs.
  • Reduced need for employee training.
  • Increased customer satisfaction through faster and more consistent service.
  • Improved overall quality of services delivered.

Automation in Action

Tasks are strong candidates for automation when completing the task is a drain on resources, or it’s susceptible to human error.

Automating a process begins with defining its logic. What is the trigger and what event does it cause? For example, when a user changes their account password, a confirmation message is automatically sent to the user’s email address.

The next step is to fully define and understand the procedure required to complete the task. When an automation replaces a manual process, it often requires meeting with multiple stakeholders to understand the process and any dependancies it has. Once you have a complete understanding of requirements, you’re ready to map the workflow and implement the automation.

To better understand the benefits of using automation, let’s consider some use cases:

  • When web traffic reaches a certain threshold, a load balancer can be enabled to distribute traffic into multiple servers.
  • For IT support ticket systems, managing and assigning requests and sending reminders can be automated based on specific ticket criteria and system input.
  • Customer queries can be routed to relevant departments or service representatives.
  • An automation script can be used to back up essential files, change file names when uploading them to a server, and resize images according to a predefined size.
  • A customer-submitted inquiry can trigger a copy sent to their email address upon submission of a form.
  • A script can be used to deploy endpoint detection and response (EDR) agents on all connected endpoint devices across the network.
  • A command can change a variable name on all JavaScript code files.
  • Automated reports can be created and distributed based on specific input.

Defining IT Orchestration

Orchestration entails the combination of a series of automated processes to produce a consistent result, wherein each step triggers without the need for human intervention.

Largescale IT environments commonly use orchestration when there is a need to combine automated processes from various applications, services, and middleware. It is especially crucial in supporting larger workflows that feature IT services distributed across on-premises and cloud locations.

The expansion of supply chain networks and the explosive growth of cloud adoption make process orchestration a must. Most enterprises use hybrid environments to support their core business functions. Therefore, proper orchestration is required to successfully integrate and interconnect distributed services and applications.

Orchestration in Action

Orchestration is more complex than automation. Automation entails the completion of a single process or task based on a manually pre-defined criterion. However, orchestration requires the human to define the desired output of the process. In the event of changing or unexpected events, the computer system may make decisions other than what the human instructed.

Types of orchestration include:

  • Cloud orchestration: Automating all tasks required to handle the connection, management, and configuration of applications, data, and services in the cloud.
  • Network management orchestration: Automating device configuration across the network (switches, routers, servers, and firewalls).
  • Security orchestration: Ensuring various security tools can work together to detect and prevent cyber threats.
  • Datacenter orchestration: Automating all processes and functions and eliminating manual processes to ensure the data center’s highest efficiency.

Imagine you need to prepare a cloud environment to install a new application. This requires performing various tasks in a particular order:

  1. Install the operating system and configure it properly.
  2. Assign user roles and permissions in the new system.
  3. Install the required software development kit, such as Python or Java, and configure it in the new system (for example, set the environment variables path).
  4. Install other software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, or SQL Server.

Manually completing these processes can be daunting, and installing and configuring various services and applications typically requires considerable time. We can instead create a single template containing all required configurations, then execute it as needed using orchestration.

Consider these additional orchestration scenarios:

  • Conducting various automated tests on software projects.
  • Deploying multiple applications in the cloud and adjusting their configurations.
  • Managing incidents and performing remediation.
  • Logging systems access from unusual locations.
  • Managing vulnerabilities.

How to Use Automation and Orchestration Together

Organizations tend to decide between automation or orchestration, but they are not necessarily opposed to one another. In fact, they complement each other and can be used in combination.

For example, orchestration and automation have become widely used to fight the growing number of cyberattacks. Using automated tools, a security team can aggregate security logs generated from various security solutions and combine them with cyberthreat intelligence feeds from different sources to have a holistic view of emerging threats.

Using automation and orchestration in conjunction provides the following key advantages:

  • Enhance business scalability, especially when working in the cloud environment.
  • Reduce the time needed to enter the new markets. By using automation and orchestration, a company shortens the time required to develop new products and services and gains a significant competitive advantage against its competitors.

Do automation and orchestration depend on one another in order to be useful? Yes and no. Strong orchestration relies on effective automation, but automation can be valuable with or without orchestration. As well, effective automation is only one piece of the orchestration puzzle.

By definition, orchestration accomplishes more complex tasks than automation. However, both have their roles, and neither is necessarily “better” than the other. Though it may seem as though orchestration is a more advanced form of automation, for many tasks, the complexity of creating an orchestration or setting up an orchestration platform far outweighs the simplicity of creating a basic automation. But when the need for multiple layers of automation starts to stack up, orchestration becomes an attractive option.

Almost every organization can benefit from some form of automation. Orchestration requires specific use cases and a higher initial investment.

How Does xMatters Help?

xMatters workflows help automate and orchestrate a vast array of IT tasks, such as:

  • Directing support tickets
  • Mitigating and preventing a full disk error
  • Detecting and rolling back a faulty deployment
  • Restarting an unresponsive service (as seen in the image below)

Restarting an unresponsive service | xMatters workflow

xMatters helps automate daily operations so IT engineers and support staff can focus on critical tasks and enhancing business value.

Conclusion

Automation and orchestration both ensure work is completed without continuous manual intervention. However, as developers, we have the power to tailor these two methodologies in terms of both tools and intent.

Consider automation as a sub-component of orchestration. Orchestration can be complex to configure, so it is likely wise to continue using automation for a single task or process. However, when several automated processes must run in conjunction to complete a single workflow, putting effort into orchestration ultimately saves time.

Combining automation and orchestration enhances business scalability, especially in a cloud environment. Their use reduces the time needed to develop new products and discover new markets. That is a principal competitive advantage. Then, as organizations reduce time spent on repetitive tasks, they can focus more on innovation and long-term goals.

Your organization likely needs both automation and orchestration to support all sorts of digital business functions. Leveraging xMatters, teams can automate workflows and orchestrate their operation processes so more time can be dedicated towards high-value work. Try xMatters for free today to learn more!

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