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What Is Cloud Orchestration? 8 Tools To Get You Started

|July 21, 2021|

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Automation in the cloud has a number of benefits that helps you save time and eliminate human error. 

Cloud automation can help you innovate faster because it frees up your engineering team to focus on innovation — rather than repetitive tasks. It can also help you save money by scaling resources up and down to match your computing needs and budget. 

But is this actually cloud automation or is it cloud orchestration?   

This guide will help you understand what cloud orchestration is, how it differs from cloud automation, and why it matters. We’ll also cover several cloud orchestration tools and show how they can be helpful to engineering teams looking to automate. 

Table Of Contents

What Is Cloud Orchestration?

Cloud orchestration is the coordination of multiple tools, processes, and APIs an organization uses in a cloud environment, from start to finish. This involves coordinating many automated tasks to occur within a single, synchronized IT process. 

Automated tasks are orchestrated by aligning appropriate resources, timing, security protocols, and other deployment mechanisms to ensure they start and run correctly.   

Cloud orchestration is often a complex, automated cloud infrastructure management technique. It brings together complex computing systems, including instances in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments, server instances in different physical locations, and automation at scale. 

That coordination takes place in what’s referred to as an orchestration layer. The orchestration layer governs, controls, and coordinates service delivery among servers, networks, security protocols, virtual machines, and storage options. 

Cloud platform users generally have no access to the orchestration layer, which is only accessible by cloud provider engineers who maintain and update it. 

But what does orchestration look like? 

Picture an orchestra about to play classical music. You can spot all the different instrumentalists, percussion sections, string, brass, woodwind, and the music conductor. Each instrumentalist is good at what they do. 

If each musician played their own piece, it would no longer be an ensemble. Chaos would ensue. Their conductor unifies them, shapes their sound, and controls the tempo, as well as their interpretation of the music. 

Cloud orchestration uses the same principle (and name, even). 

  • Each instrumentalist and their instrument represents an automated task in cloud computing. 
  • The music conductor is the orchestration layer. 
  • The beautiful classical piece that results from that high-level coordination is the seamless delivery of services an organization achieves when its cloud workflows are so flawless that its customers don’t notice any downtime.    

Now, when people refer to cloud automation, they are often talking about cloud orchestration. So, what’s the difference between cloud automation and cloud orchestration?    

Cloud Orchestration Vs. Cloud Automation

Automation refers to a single task running on its own, while cloud orchestration involves multiple automated tasks functioning in harmony. 

Cloud automation involves single tasks that do not have to be related. A cloud orchestration process brings together multiple related workflows and tools.  An example of a single task in cloud computing is launching a web server or terminating server instances when a task completes. 

An orchestration process might include starting servers correctly, making sure they are highly available, following compliance regulations, using auto-scaling, backup, and failure recovery, and terminating the process once it's finished.

The following is a visual representation of a blue/green deployment orchestration:

Deployment Orchestration Diagram

Credit: Launchdarkly

However, cloud orchestration and cloud automation work together, which is why they are often used interchangeably, even if they are not the same thing.  

Cloud Orchestration Use Cases: When Might You Want To Use Cloud Orchestration?

You can use a cloud orchestration solution to deploy new apps, test environments, patch processes, and ensure compliance. It can also help eliminate the risk of human error in workflows that involve frequent, repeatable tasks. 

It is interesting to note that you can orchestrate multiple automated tasks to create a standard procedure that you can repeat creating standard processes.  

Here is an example.   

Say you want to spin up a new environment for an application. You'll need to create tens to hundreds of automated tasks for that. Examples include OS configuration with a scripting tool, deployment automation using another tool, and automating the addition of elastic balancing, new instances during auto-scaling events, and so on. 

However, those automations must be carried out in a particular order, with specific roles and permissions, and within a particular environment. Coordinating all the steps and processes manually would be time-consuming, error-prone, and chaotic. 

Instead, you can use an orchestration tool to create a template for configuring, provisioning, deploying, and creating new environments. You can then add monitoring, backup, and security services to complete the repeatable process.  

What Are The Benefits And Limitations Of Cloud Orchestration?

Orchestrating automated tasks offers cost, time-to-market, security, and compliance benefits. 

Cloud orchestration benefits include:

  • Orchestration provides visibility and control into processes that are highly complex and automated. 
  • It also helps create standard procedures you can use over and over. That can help you create consistent workflows, environments, and other parameters for deploying, testing, and monitoring new code or apps before they go live.
  • Whenever you orchestrate workflows, you create a repeatable process that will save you time.    
  • It also automates repetitive tasks, freeing your engineers to innovate.
  • Cloud orchestration also removes the risk of human error and the inefficiencies it can cause, such as security update delays. 
  • With human error mitigated, your organization can also enjoy faster time-to-market, which can help boost your competitive edge among customers.
  • Still, preventing unnecessary mistakes helps reduce compute resources you would otherwise use to diagnose and patch problems. 
  • High-quality orchestration ensures the proper permissions and compliance parameters are implemented to secure your applications.  
  • All these benefits can lead to cost savings for your entire organization.

You may also encounter a few issues when setting up and using orchestration. Some cloud orchestration challenges may include:

  • Cloud orchestration is a specialist skill. This could require hiring specialized talent, at a significant cost, if you do not have it in-house.
  • Again, cloud orchestration involves complex deployment clusters, which translates into multiple dependencies you need to track and understand what they mean so you can optimize your system accordingly.  
  • Some orchestration tools aren't optimized for security out of the box. You need to hire specialists to mitigate the risks or optimize it yourself.
  • You need to maintain a high-speed internet connection between your private cloud and public cloud if you are using a hybrid cloud setup. Some places and situations can make that challenging.   

However, choosing one of the best cloud orchestration tools can simplify the process. It can also provide you with the visibility and control your administrators need to ensure everything is running smoothly.

8 Powerful Cloud Orchestration Tools

Unlike cloud automation solutions which are actual tools, cloud orchestration solutions are more platforms than plug-n-play tools. Orchestration platforms offer Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) services. You can pick an open-source solution or a managed orchestration service. 

Here are some orchestration tools available now.   

1. AWS CloudFormation

AWS CloudFormation

Amazon Web Services provides CloudFormation as a platform for creating, provisioning, and managing a collection of AWS and external resources in an orderly, repeatable, and predictable manner. With AWS CloudFormation, you can deploy a broad range of legacy and modern applications.  

2. IBM Cloud Orchestrator

IBM Cloud Orchestrator

The IBM orchestrator platform will be ideal for you if you want to use policy-based tools through a self-service portal when configuring, deploying, integrating, and adding service management to your orchestration workflows. With this tool, you can orchestrate workflows across hybrid, public, and private clouds.  

3. RedHat Ansible

RedHat Ansible

The Ansible Automation Platform is a role-based access enterprise platform for implementing organization-wide automation. You can control your infrastructure using a visual interface, a human-readable automation language, and reusable content. Ansible also offers pre-composed roles so your IT staff can use it with ease.     

4. Microsoft Azure Automation

Microsoft Azure Automation

Azure Resource Manager templates define infrastructure and configuration needs for your projects using JSON files. ARM templates use declarative syntax to do that through one command, just like AWS CloudFormation. Furthermore, ARM can deploy resources in parallel to finish faster than serial deployments.

5. Terraform 

Terraform

With Terraform, users can manage cloud services using the HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL). You can build, version, and modify the infrastructure. It is also easily the most popular open-source Infrastructure-as-Code, providing support for over 200 platforms, SaaS providers, public cloud, and private cloud. 

6. Kubernetes 

Kubernetes

If you are interested in orchestrating Docker containers, this is a good option. Kubernetes is an open-source system that automates Linux container processes. With it, you can automate many of the manual workflows involved in deploying, scaling, and managing containerized apps.   

7. Cloudify

Cloudify

Cloudify is also an open-source platform. It is an excellent choice if you need to configure, deploy, and remediate apps and network processes in multi-cloud and stack environments. It offers a self-service, real-time, and single CI/CD plugin you can integrate with other tools such as AWS CloudFormation, Terraform, Ansible, and Azure ARM.  

8. Morpheus

Morpheus

The Morpheus self-service provisioning engine enables IT teams to template how they access public cloud providers such as AWS and Azure, as well as on-premises providers such as Nutanix and VMware. This platform is ideal if you are looking for multi-cloud orchestration and automation.

Automate With Cloud Orchestration

Cloud orchestration aims to streamline the automation of a complex infrastructure. The goal is usually to save users money and time, boost productivity, reduce time-to-market, and improve competitive advantage.

Orchestration is often the power behind the automation throne. It takes place in the backend, right on an orchestration layer. But you can use one of several excellent orchestration tools available now to enhance visibility and control through a self-service portal. 

What these tools may not do is help you connect the dots between your product architecture and cloud spend. That’s where a cloud cost intelligence platform, like CloudZero, comes in.

CloudZero provides greater visibility into your cloud costs, enabling your engineering teams to drill into cost data from a high level down to the individual components that drive your cloud spend — and see exactly what AWS services cost you the most and why.

With detailed cloud cost intelligence, you can make informed product, engineering, and business decisions. Request a demo today to see how CloudZero can put your engineering team in control of cloud spend.

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