Automation vs Orchestration in an Effective DevOps Culture

Editor’s note: Datapipe was acquired by Rackspace in 2017.

Welcome to the latest post in our ongoing blog series on DevOps and automation. In this series, we’ve covered topics like how an effective DevOps culture can lead to better automation and why a personal touch is still important, even with the rise of automation. Today, I’ll be covering how automation is different than orchestration, and the role both play in an effective DevOps culture.

On the surface, the difference between automation and orchestration may seem like semantics, but understanding this difference is key for IT teams looking to implement a DevOps culture and improve their IT processes. Both automation and orchestration take the burden of managing mundane, day-to-day operations off IT teams so they can focus on strategic, value-add activities. However, when we refer to automation, we’re referring to a single task or function that is accomplished without human intervention, while orchestration describes the arrangement of these automated tasks into a consolidated workflow. To put it simply, automation is concerned with individual tasks, while orchestration is concerned with processes.

One of the main benefits of the DevOps approach is its ability to shorten an application’s time to market by uniting development and operations teams, creating standardized processes that reduce the time it takes to get an application up and running. These standardized processes are developed through the orchestration of several different automated tasks to create a repeatable, reusable workflow. In an effective DevOps culture, automation and orchestration work hand in hand to streamline application deployment. In other words, orchestration aims to optimize and standardize processes and automation is a tool to accomplish that goal.

According to TechTarget, orchestration of an application involves two fundamental elements:

  1. Deploying application components, including software and database components; and
  2. Creating a network connection to allow for intercomponent communication and connections to users and other apps.

TechTarget notes that these elements can be difficult for teams to accomplish on their own because they “involve interconnecting processes running across heterogeneous systems in multiple locations.” Luckily, there are cloud orchestration tools that “simplify the intercomponent communication and connections to other apps and users and ensure that links are correctly configured and maintained.”

Orchestration in a DevOps environment typically involves procedural, or “script-based” tools, which are a simple set of commands used to deploy and connect an application. These script-based tools have the advantage of being easily derived from manual processes, but since they focus on the process and not the process’ outcome, it’s important to ensure the script is as comprehensive as possible, and that team members are aware of conditions that the script won’t be able to handle. There are numerous orchestration tools available, so researching which one is right for your organization is vital. A managed service provider that has experience in DevOps can provide a recommendation on which tool best fits an IT team’s orchestration needs.

Knowing the difference between orchestration and automation is crucial when building an application in a DevOps environment. When used together, they create standardized processes that shorten the time it takes an organization to get an application up and running – an all-important goal in any fast-paced industry.

To read more blogs in our DevOps and automation series, click here. Have questions or insight to share? Drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook.


Jatil serves as Director of Product Development in Devops and Automation for Rackspace, the same position he held at Datapipe, Jatil leads the development of Trebuchet, a platform helping clients to adopt modern cloud and application practices and manages the team of developers bringing the vision to fruition. He writes about DevOps, automation tools, development and how technology can help enterprises. Outside of Datapipe, Jatil is a technology enthusiast, always keen to learn what’s new and how it works.