IT Automation vs. Orchestration Differences & Use Cases

Park Place Hardware Maintenance

Jordan MacPherson - global Network and Server Management leader - headshot
Jordan MacPherson November 28, 2022

Once upon a time, many devices weren’t capable of handling more than one task at a time. In the days of flip phones, for instance, you could make a phone call but do nothing else at the same time. Today, our devices offer true multitasking capabilities thanks to advanced processing abilities. Orchestration and IT automation promise to bring those same capabilities to your enterprise infrastructure.

Automation vs. Orchestration

It’s tempting to think of IT automation and orchestration as the same thing. After all, they work similarly. However, the truth is that they differ greatly from one another. They complement one another and, when properly combined, help you reduce IT costs, improve revenue, increase productivity, and enhance workflow.

illustration of IT automation and orchestration

What Is IT Automation?

IT automation is precisely what it sounds like – the transformation of manual processes into automatic ones. It removes human intervention from much of your IT administrative needs. However, there’s a bit of a misunderstanding here about how automation works.

For instance, many people assume that it makes entire processes run without the need for human input, but that’s not always the case. Automation works with repetitive/repeatable actions that don’t require unique inputs. Automations can be for single tasks, or even complex multi-step tasks that take inputs from earlier steps to define an output.

What Is Orchestration?

When most people speak of workflow automation, what they really mean is orchestration. Orchestration is the process of automating many different tasks at the same time to streamline entire processes or workflows. It’s more complex than automation because it involves converging several automations to determine one or more outputs.

Fundamentally, orchestration is made of triggers and verifications. In other words:

  • Triggers: How and when a task is completed
  • Verifications: Check that a task is completed and communicate as necessary

Orchestration vs. Workflow

Workflow is defined as the flow of work within a process, from start to finish. Each step within that workflow can be automated, but orchestration is required to ensure that those steps occur at the right time, and in sequence, to accomplish the desired outcome.

Orchestration vs. Configuration Management

Configuration management is tied to provisioning and involves using a tool like Puppet or Ansible to configure a system, such as a server. Configuration management is an essential part of network and server management, especially for acquisitive organizations. Orchestration, on the other hand, involves the automation configuration, management, and coordination of different systems, and can even apply to applications.

how orchestration works in network operations center

Orchestration vs. Provision Management

In most cases, provision management refers to obtaining systems (including computers or virtual hosts) and then installing the libraries or services required on those systems. Orchestration is the art of getting those systems to work together. So, in the question of orchestration vs. provisioning, the latter must come first, and then orchestration is used to ensure that those systems play well together to accomplish a shared goal.

What Is the Purpose of Automation and Orchestration?

As demonstrated above, automation and orchestration are different but related. They work together to achieve common goals, including:

  • Scaling new technologies that are too large for manual processes, such as cloud deployments
  • Handling quickly growing demand for IT and business capabilities
  • Maintaining legacy systems while adopting new technologies
  • Managing cultural IT changes due to the rise of Agile or other new methodologies

A great illustration of automation vs. orchestration is easily perceptible in how a new hire setup is processed within many organizations. Once a new hire is logged (input), the HR system creates the new employee record (automation), an active directory account is created for the new employee (automation), a hardware requisition ticket is logged (automation), and the payroll system is configured to pay the new employee on a set cadence (automation). Orchestration is used to pull the employee’s new hire inputs and coordinate several automations that prepare the organization for their arrival.

When to Use Orchestration vs. Automation

So, when should you use orchestration vs. automation? It all comes down to the scope of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Do you need to achieve a repetitive and repeatable action, like integrating a web app or channeling an email to a predetermined folder? If that’s the case, then automation is what you need. However, if you need to manage multiple actions in sequence and/or series, then orchestration is what’s required.

technicians discussing what is orchestration vs. automation

How Orchestration Works

Need to orchestrate automated processes to streamline your workflows, reduce labor, and improve productivity? It all begins with the right plan. It’s critical to be strategic and choose the right processes to automate, and then use orchestration to complete.

The processes in question should be repeatable, essential, and they should also be prone to human error. The processes should also have a high impact – automating and orchestrating them should measurably free up your IT team’s time to focus on other tasks.

Understand that in many cases, orchestration is the desired result of automation. In that case, the automation and orchestration processes should be treated as an evolutionary progression – what you’re automating will eventually be orchestrated to further remove human error from the mix, and to save additional time, effort, and energy. Failure to orchestrate automated processes can mean not realizing the benefits that you had intended.

What Is an Orchestration Tool?

Orchestration is far more complex than automation. As such, it makes sense to use a tool that helps handle said complexity. These tools are often results-specific, and you will find plenty of options on the market. The general types of orchestration tools include:

  • Cloud orchestration tools
  • Service orchestration tools
  • Release orchestration tools

Your orchestration tool of choice should be selected based on what you’re trying to achieve, as well as a deep understanding of the automated processes involved.

Free Your IT Team Up for More Strategic Initiatives

ITSM orchestration and automation all serve the same goal of freeing up human hours for more strategic thinking to replace routine IT chores. However, the delivery can come from different flavors of automation/orchestration tools depending on the structure of your team.

You Prefer In-house Network Management:
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ParkView Managed Services™ are IT infrastructure managed services that pair automation and orchestration with the human-touch of a trusted third party to eliminate the need for hands-on internal network management. Our network management services simplify the management of multi-vendor, hybrid environments, to ensure outstanding end-user experiences for your organization.

Contact us today to explore how we can act as a force multiplier for your team!

Jordan MacPherson - global Network and Server Management leader - headshot

About the Author

Jordan MacPherson,
Jordan is responsible for guiding the global Network and Server Management offerings for Park Place’s ParkView Managed Services division. His responsibilities include collaborating with Sales, Marketing, Enterprise Operations, and the R&D team to develop and bring to market Park Place’s world-class managed services. He brings 12 years of global experience in planning, monitoring, and delivering IT Services, including nearly 10 years as a Team Lead and Strategic Applications Developer with MSP IntelliNet before its acquisition by Park Place. Jordan is a graduate of Ohio University.