DevOps Orchestration: Looking Beyond Automation
December 01, 2022

Gilbert Martin

In recent years, organizations across the world 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 & 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 an 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 build 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-automation of 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 on 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 of 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, which 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.

Gilbert Martin is VP of Customer Success and Solutions Engineering at Opsera
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