IT Automation vs IT Orchestration

From time to time, I continually hear these two terms used interchangeably.  Most of the time, the terminology works and the audience still understands.  However, a few times, I feel the terms are used incorrectly, and I thought I would explain my thoughts on why they are different.  I do believe that there is a difference between the two.

In the IT realm, automation is becoming more and more prevalent.  Network Engineers are becoming more apt to learning languages like TCL and Python to automate mundane and tedious tasks.  Take, for example, taking a switchport to an isolated VLAN.  Let’s say you find a computer with a virus that can spread itself quickly.  You need it on the network for troubleshooting, but you don’t want it to talk to anyone else, so you move the port to a special VLAN.  Instead of pinging the IP Address to ARP the mac address, then look at the mac-address-table for a port, tracking down the switch, looking for the port, and then assigning that port to a VLAN, let’s say you script it.  Just send the script your IP Address, and it’s done.  THAT is automation.  You just consolidated multiple steps into one or two steps to be performed “automatically”.

But, Aaron, you ask….. that’s what orchestration does also.  Well, I don’t believe so.  Orchestration is the arrangement or control of multiple systems.  How would orchestration help with the above example?  Let’s say I have a management system for my antivirus.  And, let’s say my management system uses automation to raise an event/alarm saying that a virus was found.  Wouldn’t it be neat, if I had a system that looks for those automated events, and then kicks off my automation script?  That’s orchestration.

I see “Orchestration” being the arrangement or control of “Automation” systems.  If Automation is about doing something automatic within a “system”, then Orchestration allows me to manage and arrange multiple automation processes between systems.  I can come up with other use-cases for examples, but then I’ll just be rambling.

Do you disagree?  Let me know.

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