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Cloud Orchestration vs. Cloud Automation: What's the Difference?

Posted On: June 08, 2017

Topic: Cloud & Hosting Solutions

"Cloud orchestration" and "cloud automation" are two terms that are often used interchangeably, and it's true that the distinction between them is a subtle one: Both refer to configuring and running various types of IT infrastructure in the cloud.

However, as today’s organizations are moving more of their operations into the cloud, understanding the meaning behind these technical terms becomes more important. For teams who want to improve their IT processes, delineating the difference is crucial in order to have a successful DevOps workflow. So how exactly are the two terms different, and what challenges do they present for DevOps teams?

What Is Cloud Automation?

Simply put, cloud automation refers to the automation of discrete tasks that are intended to deploy resources and infrastructure in the cloud. This could refer to tasks as diverse as launching or configuring a web server, halting a service, adding new instances during an auto scaling event, setting up a virtual machine or installing an operating system image.

Because the world of DevOps is always a busy one, engineers and system administrators seek to automate as much of their workflow as possible in order to save time and effort. As such, cloud automation is typically accomplished via various cloud infrastructure automation tools, which may be as basic as a shell script or as complicated as a specialized framework.

What Is Cloud Orchestration?

As opposed to cloud automation, which describes the low-level tasks that must be executed in order to construct a given cloud environment, cloud orchestration refers to coordinating automated tasks in order to create a logical workflow. To put it another way, DevOps engineers are responsible for automating tasks, but orchestrating processes, which consist of a number of related tasks.

Orchestration is intended to take the smaller, more mechanical tasks, automate them, and combine them in service of some broader goal or intention. Cloud orchestration may involve coordination among multiple systems in multiple locations, interacting with the underlying infrastructure and resources via software abstractions.

Key Challenges for DevOps Teams

Normally, the automation and orchestration of processes is difficult enough, but the challenge becomes even greater when doing so in the cloud. DevOps teams that want to streamline their processes via cloud orchestration should first create a map of their workflow in order to understand the workflow's inner workings and complexity. This map will help them decide which automation and orchestration tools are best suited for their purposes.

Once this outline has taken form, teams face the additional challenge of writing a number of templates that pull together automated tasks into a single workflow. Creating these templates is a laborious, time-consuming process, but the work will pay off as the templates are used and reused over time, enabling teams to streamline and to remove technical uncertainty and ambiguity from their processes.

Final Thoughts

The cloud is definitely here to stay, and as the costs continue to decrease and the benefits add up, more companies are making the switch by moving their data and infrastructure to the cloud. Companies who have recently moved to the cloud, or who plan to do so in the near future, would do well to familiarize themselves with cloud automation and orchestration in order to optimize their processes, reduce duplicate code and deploy their products more quickly.