DevOps Orchestration: Looking Beyond Automation

DevOps orchestration has emerged as the logical next step of automation. Let's dig deep and learn the ins and outs of DevOps orchestration.

In recent years, organizations worldwide have started leveraging DevOps to deliver high-quality products at high speed. Every DevOps team is busy automating everything, with constant discussions about continuous integration, continuous delivery, automated deployments, GitOps, and Infrastructure as Code. Though automation has enabled the business to realize some of the benefits of DevOps, the dozens of non-collaborative tools in their DevOps toolchain made the task of automation a technically complex and arduous task. As DevOps automation reached its limitations, DevOps orchestration has emerged as the logical next step of automation. Let's dig deep and learn the ins and outs of DevOps orchestration.

What Is DevOps Orchestration?

DevOps orchestration is the process of automating a set of several independent automated tasks to streamline and optimize the entire DevOps workflow. It is the automated coordination and management of your entire DevOps practices and automation tools you have implemented to accelerate the software development life cycle (SDLC). This significantly minimizes production issues, accelerates time to market, improves the efficiency of your automation tools, and increases the ROI of your DevOps investments. DevOps orchestration includes continuous integration, continuous delivery, continuous deployment, containerization, cloud-based services, monitoring, and analytics. 

Is DevOps Orchestration Different From DevOps Automation

In the DevOps ecosystem, orchestration and automation are used interchangeably quite often. Though both the DevOps concepts are overlapping to some extent, they are different. 

DevOps automation is the process of automating a single manual task or a set of related, repeatable tasks. Some of the DevOps processes that can be automated include deploying an application, provisioning and deploying changes to production environments, software testing, infrastructure and log management, and performance monitoring. 

 On the other hand, DevOps orchestration refers to the process of automatically streamlining and managing multiple automated tasks to create a dynamic DevOps workflow. So, orchestration combines all the automated elements in the DevOps lifecycle, such as continuous integration, continuous deployment, continuous delivery, and automated testing. 

While automation is simply the process of automating mundane, day-to-day tasks, orchestration involves many dynamic elements and requires advanced logic to:

  • Make the right decisions based on the output from an automated task.
  • Adapt to evolving circumstances and conditions.
  • Segregate tasks into different steps and actions.

At its core, orchestration is automating automation. And one cannot orchestrate manual, non-automated tasks. Orchestration comes into the picture when automation reaches its limitations. 

Pitfalls of DevOps Automation

DevOps automation is enticing. And why not? It saves time, increases quality, optimizes costs, and nevertheless relieves DevOps teams from mundane tasks. But your organization may fall prey to the automation pitfalls if the DevOps processes are not automated properly or over-automated. While the right level of DevOps automation improves production efficiency, the over-automation can impede innovation in the DevOps program. Here are some common pitfalls of DevOps automation that organizations need to avoid:

1. Automating Everything in Testing

Test automation is a key aspect of the DevOps lifecycle. It enables teams to improve the code quality and move it more quickly from one phase to another in the DevOps lifecycle. However, a rush to automate everything in testing can prove harmful to your DevOps objectives. By automating the testing functions, you may be expecting green CI/CD pipelines, good test coverage, and empowered testing teams. But you may end up gaining the exact opposite – jammed CI/CD pipelines, error slippages, and slow feedback. Your organization can strike the right balance in test automation with simplified testing processes, shorter test iterations, and a quality engineering mindset.

2. Over Automation in Builds

Build automation, when done right, compiles source code into binary code, packages it, conducts automated tests, and merges the build with the main code. However, the problem arises when the team adds multiple tests to the existing set of build workflows. Multiple alerts and notifications for each code check-in make the simple workflow complicated and time-intensive. Also, addressing numerous notifications overwhelms developers, giving scope for missing even the most important alerts. So, one must ensure the right level of automation in building processes. Assess the code check-in frequency, branching strategy, and the team’s capacity to strike the right build automation.

3. Exaggerated Infrastructure Automation 

Infrastructure automation is the key component of DevOps automation. However, over-automating your infrastructure can result in unmanaged environments, IT inefficiencies, and high costs. Ensure that your infrastructure automation decreases downtimes, improves self-service capabilities, and maintains a high uptime.

4. Overwhelming Automation in Deployment

Seamless deployment is the true outcome of a DevOps methodology. However, overwhelming deployment automation can throw a spanner into your whole release cycle, hampering the release, putting operations in firefighting mode after every release, and making roll-back processes time-taking and tedious. Deployment automation works well when you have daily or weekly releases. Otherwise, hybrid deployment automation (manual + automated) suits well. 

5. Complete Security Automation 

Security is integrated within the DevOps pipeline to improve code quality. However, a single automation error can bring catastrophic damage to the company. Though automating routine security checks can be a good practice to prevent potential breach attempts, there are many areas where automation can open doors for more security issues. 

Leveraging automation for security systems like Network Firewalls, Intrusion Detection, Prevention Systems, and Patch Management Systems increases the risk of cyber threats. So, it is advised to intervene with human counterparts in critical security automation tasks. Also, validate all the automated changes to improve security stance. 

When You Should Implement DevOps Orchestration

DevOps orchestration can be logically implemented when you are in the process or have completed implementing automation in your DevOps lifecycle. Start automation for a local solution, and after achieving successful results, then orchestrate the best practices such that they unify continuity into one robust process. This is the ideal moment to implement orchestration because automation can only go to a limited level in maximizing efficiency. So, you need DevOps orchestration to take your releases to the next level. When you feel that automation has reached its limitations, that is when you need to implement DevOps orchestration. 

When your DevOps workflow comprises many tools, projects, plugins, and services, your whole team should work in a streamlined process to cover all the DevOps tasks. And when your dev team moves from one tool to another, you may face the potential risk of reinvestment. This is the situation where you need DevOps orchestration solutions that have the ability to promote DevOps processes and make iteration more speedy. With DevOps orchestration, you can continue running your original process without any changes and just integrate tools, projects, plugins, and services into the orchestration engine. DevOps orchestration can be promoted step by step, making improvements to the DevOps process by gradually adding or replacing the tools, plugins, or projects for a smooth migration. 

7 Benefits of Using a DevOps Orchestration Platform

The present-day DevOps ecosystem is comprised of complex deployment and challenges. DevOps engineers, daily, need to deal with clustered applications, containerized applications, diversified production environments, multiple cloud platforms, and applications with complex dependencies. This is where the DevOps orchestration platform comes in handy to simplify the processes and ensure all the tasks are streamlined. With an orchestration platform, you can deploy automation tools and also combine everything into a unified workflow.

1. Accelerate Automation  

With DevOps orchestration, your DevOps team can ensure seamless and speedy delivery of new builds into production as almost all the labor-intensive, repetitive tasks are automated. As a result, the team can divert their focus on business-critical projects rather than spending on building pipelines and repetitive tasks.

2. Foster Collaboration

The DevOps orchestration platform consolidates all the activities into a single workflow and updates them constantly. This effectively builds seamless collaboration and communication between developers and operations teams, with everyone in sync throughout all the steps. 

3. Improve Product Quality  

DevOps orchestration enables your teams to implement continuous quality control activities such as approval checks, scheduling, security testing, and automatic status reporting. This continuous testing ensures that code errors are identified and resolved before they reach the end user and become major issues. 

4. Reduce Costs 

With DevOps orchestration, you can significantly save costs on the IT infrastructure and employees required for DevOps workflow. You can also easily expand the footprint of your cloud services and have control over your cost allocation. 

5. Improve Visibility Across the SDLC

When tasks are siloed, and the information is spread across different notes, it becomes challenging to build real-time visibility throughout the project. However, with DevOps orchestration, you can easily coordinate all the DevOps tasks, centralize data of all operations, and give complete visibility of the progress to key stakeholders throughout the software development lifecycle. 

6. Boost Time to Market 

DevOps orchestration imbibes optimal automation throughout the DevOps lifecycle and facilitates the automatic movement of code through certain procedures, such as testing, and on to the next stage of a release pipeline. This way, the product reaches the end-user faster without having to wait for another employee to finish the manual duties. With this high level of automation, your DevOps team can focus on developing more products and pushing them to market more quickly, which consequently results in cost savings and revenue gains. 

7. Effective Security 

Developers, security engineers, and the operations team frequently access project information in different ways. So, you need to implement independent access controls clearly defined by role. Managing and monitoring these controls can be an arduous task. However, you can easily implement and manage these controls with DevOps orchestration platforms, thereby improving security across the project lifecycle. 

How to Choose a DevOps Orchestration Platform

DevOps tools have become the key elements of the modern software ecosystem. In the present-day customer-centric world where end-users demand fast, reliable, high-quality software products, these tools enabled organizations to significantly bring down the time between software development and delivery. And DevOps orchestration tools help businesses to implement optimal automation across the software development lifecycle to handle complex, resource-intensive activities like provisioning, load-balancing, scalability, and security. This results in a streamlined, dynamic workflow that significantly reduces overall costs increases productivity, and enhances cross-team collaboration.

However, choosing the DevOps orchestration platforms that best suit your business objectives can be challenging. Your orchestration tool selection depends on a wide variety of considerations, such as your current DevOps posture, financial resources, business objectives, and organization size. So, to make it easy for you, we have curated a list of features that you need to consider while you choose your DevOps orchestration platforms:

  • High compatibility: Choose orchestration tools that are compatible with a wide range of DevOps tools and environments. Your tool must support integration with continuous integration tools and version control systems like Jenkins, GitHub, Docker, and Bitbucket. Moreover, the tool must foster partner ecosystems to provide support for building apps that aren’t in its scope.
  • Optimal usability: DevOps orchestration tools are for handling complex DevOps processes like configuration of build processes. So, the best tools are simple to learn and easy to use, besides being enriched with features that facilitate effective collaboration.
  • Simplified user interface: Your DevOps orchestration platform’s UI/UX interface is the first point of contact for your team. So, look for tools that facilitate easy navigation with a clean, simple, and user-friendly interface. 
  • Cost-effective: Affordability is the key factor that affects the tool buy-in decision-making. So, look for tools that are cost-effective and provide value for money. 
  • Integrated automation: An orchestration platform, to be effective, must have automation pervasively integrated into the core of its operations. This is especially crucial for the tools that significantly impact productivity and cost savings. Some of the best DevOps orchestration tools that provide high automation are Jenkins, Bamboo, and Terraform. 
  • Cloud agnostic: There's no question that the cloud is the place to be. Therefore, DevOps orchestration tools that facilitate the 'build once, deploy everywhere' feature are the need of the hour. In addition to on-premise system deployment, look for tools that also support cloud deployments. 
  • CI/CD pipeline: DevOps primarily relies on continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline that facilities the development and delivery of well-tested, high-quality software at high speed. Therefore, your DevOps orchestration tool must be embedded with robust CI/CD pipelines.   
  • Container management: Your DevOps orchestration tool must effectively run microservices and containerized applications. This is one of the key features that orchestration tools must pose, as Kubernetes and containers are the most popular ways to modernize legacy applications and deliver software at scale. 

Some of the best DevOps orchestration tools include:

  • Jenkins
  • Rancher
  • Dockers
  • Nomad
  • GitbLab CI
  • GO CD
  • Bamboo
  • Terraform
  • Ansible 

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Relevant Blogs:

7 DevOps Security Best Practices for 2023 

Anticipating Your Business Problem With Infrastructure as Code in DevOps 

What Is DevOps Monitoring and How to Implement It in Your Organization 

DevOps: How to Adapt It to An Agile Methodology

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