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What Is The Difference Between Automation And Orchestration

Updated: Apr 10

What Is The Difference Between Automation And Orchestration

The terms "automation" and "orchestration" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are different concepts. This article describes some of the differences between them.

Both concepts aim to make repetitive tasks easier to perform. The difference is in scope. Automation is usually used to mean focusing on narrow, relatively small tasks, such as installing an app on a server. Meanwhile, Orchestration is used when multiple systems need to be configured in a coordinated way to enable a greater system-level outcome, such as what MetalSoft is doing by deploying both servers and switches at the same time.

Another distinction in scope is with automation being used in set-and-forget scenarios, as opposed to orchestration, where operations can also be undone. In the example above, the automation task to install the app says nothing about uninstalling it. Whereas, in MetalSoft, the deletion of a tenancy and the secure erasure of servers, and the deletion of a switch port configuration are just as important as the original task.

Automation: Fine-Tuning Individual Tasks

At its essence, automation refers to the process of making individual tasks self-sufficient and self-executing. Whether it is launching a web server, integrating a web app, or categorizing emails into folders, automation is about isolating a specific task and allowing it to function without direct human intervention. While it can undoubtedly improve efficiency at both personal and enterprise levels, automation is essentially about simplifying standalone processes.

Orchestration: Harmonizing Task Sequences

In contrast, orchestration is about weaving together a series of automated tasks into a coherent and synchronized workflow. In the realm of IT, orchestration is akin to conducting an orchestra, where each instrument (automated task) contributes to a harmonious symphony (a complete IT-driven process). The focus is optimizing the collaboration between various tasks and systems, ensuring they work seamlessly across different environments. You describe the desired result; however, the system still goes through decision-making processes to orchestrate the whole flow.

In the modern landscape, where technology intertwines with business at every juncture, orchestration emerges as a critical enabler of efficiency and success. Imagine a team deploying complex IT infrastructure, a task that involves a series of interdependent steps. Each misstep could result in downtime, security vulnerabilities, or inefficiencies. Enter orchestration, acting as the conductor in this intricate symphony. It automates the deployment, configuration, and management of each element, from servers to networks, safeguarding against errors and creating a well-tuned environment. In this way, orchestration empowers developers to focus on innovating within the environment while the CI/CD pipeline orchestrates the intricate stack, accelerating development and delivering a robust result.

Distinct levels of Orchestration and Automation

In a way, Orchestration is a superset of automation. In fact, you could say it coordinates automation tasks. Many speak about “upstream orchestration solutions” and “downstream automation.” Of course, there can be multiple levels of orchestration and automation, and one can have an automation task calling an orchestration solution to deploy a VMware cluster with a certain configuration, for example. The automation task is very atomic in this case, and it would be a high-level construct.

While this can get confusing fast, it is important to remember that the various abstraction layers being used are typically aligned with business processes and are delineated by the natural responsibility boundaries of the various groups and processes within an organization.

For example, an application group using Kubernetes would automate the deployment of a Kubernetes cluster and the associated application by calling a single operation from a complex orchestration solution that handles Kubernetes bare metal deployment offered by the infrastructure team. From the app team’s perspective, this is automation, as the complexity level is low from their perspective. This example could be a single line in Terraform. On the other hand, from the infrastructure team’s point of view, it is orchestration: a complex system interacting with servers, storage, network, allocating IPs, ensuring tenant separation, and so on.

Bringing It All Together

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital transformation, mastering orchestration and automation dynamics is paramount. Together, they empower businesses to fine-tune operations, unlock efficiencies, and create a dynamic ecosystem where manual intervention is minimized, and human expertise is maximized. As industries continue to embrace the digital future, both understanding and effectively implementing these concepts can be the key to staying ahead in a competitive landscape, especially when it comes to infrastructure management.

Managing a data center without automation can be extremely challenging. The multitude of tasks and configurations involved can lead to errors, downtime, and inefficiencies. This manual approach slows down operations and limits growth. Here's where MetalSoft data center orchestration comes in. It combines automation and coordination to simplify data center management. With orchestration, tasks become smoother, downtime decreases, security improves, and adapting to changes becomes easier. In a tech-driven world, data center orchestration is the key to a more efficient and reliable future.

While you are here, why not take a closer look at how MetalSoft can revolutionize your IT operations?


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