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IT Automation, Orchestration, and its value today and in the future

By Michael Gallagher 

Increased productivity is shared goal across the entire business world. IT is no different. There is not a single industry that wouldn’t see incremental benefits associated with automating and/or orchestrating every day, repetitive IT tasks. While the terms automation and orchestration are commonly used together, they are in fact different and before we discuss their individual benefits, I think it’s important to understand how they are different.

Automation is focused on accomplishing specific tasks repeatedly without having to rely on human intervention. Think scripting to mimic commands and steps an admin would use via the command -line interface.

Orchestration, on the other hand, is a much broader concept. Orchestration is defined as the coordination of multiple or a series of automated tasks as part of a larger workflow. This orchestrated workflow often crosses over from IT to the business.

For example, let’s consider the need to automatically deploy additional servers, storage, etc. in support of a scalable application environment. Workload scaling involves the creation of new VM instance(s), operating system (OS) deployment(s) and the provisioning of backend storage environment(s) at a minimum. While automated tasks are used in lieu of human intervention to accomplish the deployment, administrative resources ideally “orchestrate” this workload scaling through by coordinating all the automated tasks as part of a larger workflow. Additionally, orchestration of the workflow usually encompasses additional aspects required to effectively scale the environment like, approval routing and the use of approval gates along with the defining of roles and permissions. Simply stated, orchestration leverages automation to provide an even higher level of productivity and agility within the environment.

Allowing technology to take on non-value-add tasks reduces the overall number of resources required to support an environment. It also frees up your valuable, skilled experts so they can focus more of their time on areas of higher value to the business.  But automation and orchestration are more than just a quest for increased efficiency.  Yes, time and cost are the main drivers’, additional benefits like process reuse and standardization also provide value. Rather than having to reinvent the wheel for every new task or project, automation allows you to leverage previous work and provides standardization of processes adding rigor and governance.

The Future of Automation and Orchestration….

Automation is more than just a buzzword; it’s rapidly becoming a reality across all business sectors. While IT automation is hardly a new idea, the technology is still in its relatively early stages. Even the most full-featured automation/orchestration tools continue to depend on IT professionals to develop and maintain the various automation aspects, like scripts, templates, policies, and workflows. As we move to cloud and hybrid IT infrastructure automation/orchestration becomes even more important. At face value the definitions associated with cloud automation/orchestration aren’t very different. Cloud automation streamlines tasks or processes to improve efficiency and reduce manual workload just like automation does in your on-premises environment. While cloud orchestration arranges and coordinates the defined tasks into a unified approach to accomplish intended goals. I would argue that they become even more important and valuable as you move to a cloud or hybrid IT infrastructure model. Just think of the potential savings you could see in the “pay as you go” cloud model by having the capability of automating scaling down workloads. Furthermore, when you add in multi-cloud and SaaS environments into your IT landscape your IT team’s ability to oversee and manage the entire IT landscape becomes even more diverse and complex. Without leveraging automation, they will simply be unable to keep up and you will be forced to add resources and increase your costs. 

Just as we see our IT infrastructure requirements progress IT automation is seeing progression from single actions to discrete sequences and, ultimately, to an autonomous IT deployment that will take actions based on user behavior and other event triggers leveraging AI. Over time IT automation is beginning to leverage AI to act with greater intelligence and autonomy. IT automation platforms are likely to rely heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies in the future allowing for the removal of IT resources from the “care & feeding” duties associated with maintaining automated processes. Our future will likely involve automation/orchestration tools with the ability to synthesize data on configurations, performance and other information across the IT landscape and process these inputs to discover and determine “normal” system operations benchmarks. They will then monitor for any deviations which if identified would automatically trigger corrective actions. IT automation systems leveraging AI insights will lessen the importance of deliberate, human-made automation rules, instead relying on autonomous choices guided by IT infrastructure capabilities, high-level business costs, and compliance and regulatory requirements.

About the author

Michael Gallagher is Business Development Manager for Cloud for LRS IT Solutions. He has more than 30 years of experience selling IT products and services. By keeping his head in the Cloud, Mike focuses on providing down-to-earth solutions for his clients.