Over the past month, we’ve looked at the state-of-the art trends in IT operations tools, specifically:
Now let’s touch on a vital aspect of IT operations that’s at your nerve center: orchestration. We hear a lot about orchestration, but it's probably worth establishing a concise definition. In fact, we probably overuse another common term – automation – when we actually mean orchestration.
Automation vs. Orchestration
Today's environment – with its multi-tier application stacks, hybrid cloud/premise environments, the need for constant adherence to compliance regulations and omnipresent security threats – presents complexity that can be overly challenging to your IT staff. Your team is already overwhelmed by labor-intensive, repetitive and routine operations.
You can't avoid hearing about automation as a way of saving money, improving efficiencies and removing inherent errors – in general, dealing with today's challenges. In fact, we recently wrote here that “the evolutionary shift to consolidate multiple automation tools into a unified solution makes perfect sense.”
When we hear about automation, it’s typically in reference to making entire processes or workflows run. And that’s where the confusion creeps in.
The definition of automation is setting up a single task to run on its own – automating one very specific thing. This single task can be anything from launching a web server, stopping a service or integrating a web app. Areas that are ripe for automation of specific tasks include:
- Incident management
- IT service request fulfillment
- Database management
- Server provisioning
- Change management
- Disaster recovery
It should be noted that only processes that are well understood, well defined and have a standardized approach should be automated. Trying to automate a process or workflow that is inherently flawed from the start is an exercise in futility.
More often than not, orchestration is the term we mean when we refer to automating a lot of things at once. After all, automating a process requires numerous steps, potentially spanning application, mobile app and database – so orchestration is the perfect term for this larger, more complex technique.
This definition of orchestration includes the automated arrangement, coordination and management of computer systems, middleware and services. Orchestration takes advantage of – and indeed, requires the use of – multiple tasks that are automated in order to automatically execute a larger workflow or process.
The goal of orchestration is straightforward: Anytime a process is repeatable, and its tasks can be automated, orchestration can be used to optimize the process to eliminate redundancies. There are numerous areas under the ITOM/ITSM umbrella where orchestration can be applied. These include:
- IT incidents
- Service changes
- Service requests
- System-generated activities and events
- Routine, repetitive tasks and workflows – examples of which include new hire onboarding, password resets, service provisioning or decommissioning
- Ad-hoc activities
In an orchestrated environment, the majority of IT’s daily functions are automated. In fact, manual intervention by humans is the exception rather than the rule.
Benefits of Orchestration
True, this all sounds great, but what benefits does it bring? In actuality, the returns are very real. First and foremost, there are benefits in time and money savings: orchestration is effective in reducing operational costs by automating and streamlining time-consuming, repetitive and manual tasks and workflows.
Also falling under the time and money category is the natural reduction of errors. Orchestration utilizes predictable, repeatable processes that have been automated. This is a vital step in establishing a consistent, reliable IT environment and, equally importantly, it also eliminates costly human error, which is never completely out of the picture in non-automated work. This leads to the increased availability of your tiger teams to focus on more strategic business initiatives and projects.
Your lines of business will appreciate the substantial reduction in time required to deploy and provision essential services. Additionally, thoughtful orchestration in the incident management process can significantly reduce mean time to repair, ensuring that critical system outages are minimized and downtime limited.
IT Management Advantages
Today’s better ITSM solutions leverage orchestration in troubleshooting, diagnosing and actual remediation of service issues, compounding your benefits. These solutions monitor network and server usage, as well as business application status, then diagnose service issues and incorporate powerful orchestration capabilities that accelerate your remediation processes.
Critical troubleshooting data – such as log files – can automatically be attached to incidents. Appropriate orchestration can also utilize automated remedial actions – such as resetting servers, restarting applications and reconfiguring devices – dramatically shortening service restoration times.
The reduction in MTTR can have a powerful impact on ensuring consistent, reliable services that your organization depends on.