What is IT Orchestration?
The definition of IT orchestration is, essentially, automating a lot of things at once. After all, automating a process requires numerous steps, potentially spanning applications, mobile apps, and databases. Orchestration includes the management of computer systems, middleware, and services. To automatically execute a larger workflow or process requires the use of multiple tasks that are individually automated.
Today's IT environment comprises multi-tier application stacks, hybrid cloud and on-premise environments, and faces omnipresent security threats. The complexity can be overwhelming to your IT operations team. Whether you manage your environment—or leverage the expertise of a managed services provider—orchestration is at the core of your management solution.
We've all heard that this product or that service leverages orchestration to significantly reduce the cost of operating your IT environment. It is true that it is an important tool and can deliver significant cost savings. More importantly, it allows you to free up your key IT staff to concentrate on planning and otherwise creating strategic business value.
Automation vs. Orchestration
Given the importance of orchestration, it's probably worth establishing a concise definition, but first, let’s start by talking about another common term—automation. Normally, when we hear about automation, it’s typically in reference to making entire processes or workflows run. Therefore, it can be easily confused with orchestration.
The difference is clear, however. In fact, automation enables orchestration.
The definition of automation is actually setting up a single task to run on its own—that is, 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 are:
- incident management;
- IT service request fulfillment;
- database management;
- server provisioning;
- change management; and
- disaster recovery.
What is important here is 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 isn't rigidly defined is an exercise in futility. Once we have processes and workflows that execute cleanly and predictably when automated, we can start to assemble these processes in a larger, much more productive fashion. That’s where orchestration comes in.
The definition of orchestration is, essentially, automating a lot of things at once. After all, automating a process requires numerous steps, potentially spanning applications, mobile apps, and databases. Orchestration is the perfect name for this larger, more complex technique.
Orchestration includes the management of computer systems, middleware, and services. To automatically execute a larger workflow or process, it requires the use of multiple tasks that are individually automated. This is the savings multiplier.
The Goal of Orchestration
The goal of orchestration is straightforward:
Anytime a process is repeatable, and its tasks can be automated, you can implement orchestration to optimize the process to eliminate redundancies. There are multiple areas in any given IT infrastructure where you can apply orchestration with increasing returns. These include incident:
- service change requests; and
- responses to system-generated events.
Any routine, repetitive task, or workflow—new hire onboarding, password resets, service provisioning, or decommissioning—is a prime target for automation of individual tasks and orchestration of the overall workflow. The majority of IT operations’ daily functions are automated in an orchestrated environment. In fact, manual intervention by humans is sometimes the exception rather than the rule.
Do the benefits live up to the hype? In this case, yes—the returns are very real. First and foremost, there are benefits in time and money savings. By automating and streamlining time-consuming, repetitive and manual tasks and workflows, orchestration reduces operational costs.
The reduction of errors is another natural outcome. By utilizing predictable processes in predictable situations, orchestration enables a consistent, reliable IT environment. Just as importantly, it eliminates costly human errors, leading to reduced concerns about regulatory compliance and incurring other unintended consequences.
How MSPs Can Help
Your service delivery teams will appreciate the substantial reduction in time required to deploy and provision essential services. Additionally, implementing thoughtful orchestration in the incident management process can significantly reduce mean time to repair (MTTR), ensuring that your critical system outages are minimized and downtime is limited.
This is an area where an experienced managed services provider (MSP) excels. They have the expertise to leverage orchestration where appropriate—in troubleshooting, diagnosing, and actual remediation of service issues and you reap the benefits.
MSP’s monitor network and server usage as well as business application status. They also, diagnose service issues and incorporate powerful orchestration capabilities that accelerate the remediation processes. Your critical troubleshooting data—such as log files—can automatically be attached to incidents. Appropriate orchestration can utilize automated remedial actions—such as resetting servers, restarting applications, and re-configuring devices—dramatically shortening service restoration times. High levels of orchestration can allow your MSP to offer SLAs that would be impossible to meet with your IT operations staff, however skilled, especially when they’re saddled with repetitive, routine, and mundane task work.
Thoughtful and careful orchestration delivers a powerful impact, ensuring the consistent, reliable services that your IT organization depends on to get business done.