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IT orchestration can help bridge gaps to unite divided business units

The last 10 years have been liberating for IT as automation has matured, allowing us to better manage a growing number of devices and improve accuracy on repeatable processes. I began in IT as a Unix administrator and PERL programmer, making scripting and automation my life. Scripting tools like PowerShell and

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graphical user interface tools like AutoIt have brought that same automation to Windows administration. Automation is even built into many appliances and software platforms, but there is still a weak link in the IT process: people.

The networking team can automate the creation and distribution of networking and security settings within the environment; the server team can automate the creation of virtual servers; and the domain and domain name system (DNS) administrators can automate the creation of accounts and publishing of DNS records. With all of that, we still have the human interface to work with and the politics that company that. Within IT, we can build silos that serve as speed bumps on the business road to success. We used to do this on purpose to force people to slow down and place an emphasis on accuracy over expediency. This was the IT version of "measure twice, cut once," which was a great principle, but one that can often be accomplished without painful delays. So, as IT groups point fingers and businesses plead for more responsive services, how do we bridge the gap? The answer is orchestration.

The concept of orchestration is far from new. However, previous generations of IT orchestration were focused within silos. Almost 10 years ago, I helped develop a platform to orchestrate the movement of code from development to test, then to staging and on to production. Developers, quality assurance analysts and system administrators had the ability to orchestrate the movement of code from one environment to the next -- within predefined boundaries and a limited time window. But this did not create new application environments; it only automated the movement of code within existing environments. That was the problem with most early orchestration tools -- they were limited to working inside the box. Within a small set of circumstances, or even within just a single application, their limited reach also limited their impact and business value.

However, the advancement of automation in almost every facet of technology has created a fertile ground for orchestration. With most automation tools providing application programming interfaces or "hooks" to allow outside tools to interact with them, the barrier of entry for orchestration tools has been lowered. Tools no longer have to be capable of provisioning both storage and network devices, they only need to be able to communicate with the storage and networking tools that have already automated those functions. This allows orchestration to rise above the clutter of multi-vendor and multi-discipline automation and focus on the process and workflow that allow the business to squeeze value out of their IT investments. Where automation simplified the process of performing steps one, two and three, orchestration will take a series of data points and use those as triggers to kick off the automated process. In some cases, orchestration may even contain the intelligence to determine that step one was not necessary and move directly to step two. This intelligence allows the business to define when and how services can be requested, while allowing the IT organization to control how those requests are satisfied. The business is once again standing proud at the helm, steering the ship, while IT is able to control the factors that make their services reliable and secure. Orchestration is righting the ship.

Orchestration may not save the world, but it can save an organization. What organization doesn't struggle with aligning business and IT? Misalignments cost the business opportunities, and missed opportunities cannot be replaced. When business ruled over IT, standards were lax and reliability was non-existent. When IT ruled over the business, processes became too rigid and inflexible to allow the business to adapt and respond to the marketplace. Orchestration can be the conduit that allows both IT and business to provide value in their areas of expertise. When that happens, the organization wins.

This was first published in December 2013

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