Automation or Orchestration?

Have you ever wondered what the difference between automation and orchestration is?

Wikipedia defines automation as use of various control systems for operating equipment. The definition I prefer (because it’s easier to understand in network automation environment) is elimination of well-defined repeatable manual tasks – the emphasis being on well-defined and repeatable.

What about orchestration? According to Wikipedia, it’s automated arrangement, coordination, and management that defines the policies and service levels through automated workflows, provisioning, and change management. Yet again, a simpler definition might make more sense: grouping of automated tasks in coordinated workflows.

Let’s make this a bit less abstract:

  • Enabling an interface? Automation.
  • Configuring a VLAN on a switch? Automation.
  • Creating interface descriptions based on LLDP neighbors? Automation.
  • Creating a VLAN service by enabling edge interfaces, configuring access VLANs, creating VLAN-to-VXLAN mappings, and testing the end-to-end connectivity? Orchestration.

Alternatively (for a more down-to-earth example):

  • Squeezing grapes = automation
  • Making wine = orchestration

Makes sense?

More information

  • I was talking about the difference between the two in the Network Automation 101 webinar (also part of the Ansible for Networking Engineers online course), and in the Building Network Automation Solutions online course.
  • The Building Network Automation Solutions online course also includes a pretty comprehensive “how do I get started” section that you might find useful if you’re trying to migrate from being a CLI jockey to becoming an automation-focused engineer.

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  1. Or - as an alternative analogy - automation = playing the instrument, orchestration = conducting the symphony
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