Cisco Domain Ten: Domain 3: Automation and Orchestration
Continuing my tour of the Cisco Domain Ten (SM) framework for simplifying data center transformation, with this blog, I’ll build upon my previous blogs and introduce Domain 3, which is concerned with “Automation and Orchestration“.
I’ve asserted previously that having an automated, virtualized data center is a necessary – but insufficient – basis for cloud – and Cisco Domain Ten portrays this very well. That said, automation and orchestration in my view is one of the 2 or 3 most important domains to focus on when transforming a data center, and when planning a cloud architecture. Automation is quite simply fundamental to delivering benefits such as cost reduction, elasticity, rapid service delivery and agility to your end users/ stakeholders/customers. So what are the key problems we in Cisco Services can help you with in this domain?
First, though, let me clarify some of the terminology used in this space. I “grew up” working in service provider network management, where initially (being honest!) we confused the task of “configuring” (individual) devices with the more holistic act of “provisioning” the complete service. I thought I’d got it. Then a few years ago, the term “orchestration” became part of the technology vernacular, particularly in the data center. Orchestration in my mind reflects the increasingly complex multi-layer/multi-device/multi-system/multi-faceted nature of data center services today. Let’s think about it – to deliver a new service (application), you may have to provision and orchestrated across multiple application components, patch revisions, create a new virtual machine (one or many) via your hypervisor(s), never mind configure a range of server, virtual switch (Cisco Nexus 1000V), data center switching, firewall and load balancer devices. Do you really want to do this manually?!
Many of you will undoubtedly select a commercially available orchestration product. And invest substantial time making that selection. In Cisco today, while our Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud product fulfils the need of domains 3, 4 and 5 (Orchestration, User Portal and Service Catalog respectively), it’s the Cisco Process Orchestrator component of this solution that provides the intelligent, flexible and most importantly programmable engine to support your orchestration needs. In our customer deployments of Cisco Intelligent Automation, we have found that customers invariably specify that we help them design and deploy custom features i.e. features specific to their requirements and business goals. This means – for me at least – that the highly flexible and programmable workflow-based nature of the Cisco Process Orchestrator is probably the most important aspect of this solution. So it’s wise to carefully consider which solution meets your needs best.
However, let’s now consider what in practice turns out to be a more significant set of challenges. Here is the analogy: It’s one thing to choose the car. It’s another thing to be able to drive that car. Likewise, when I worked in service provider network management, it was one thing to design a user interface that showed a series of SNMP MIB values, but it required a different type of engineering skill-set that developed a user interface that genuinely delivered productivity and insight to the end user.
So when I hear about the challenges of cloud orchestration, selection of the orchestration solution is I would argue the easier part. The more significant challenge is making it deliver for your cloud services. First, you have to get right is your service catalog (more on this later). Then for each IT service you plan to deliver, you need to translate the service definition into a series of application/server/device actions. Multiple systems, multiple operating environments, multiple management interfaces. And no doubt each with their own “nuances” or “black art” approach to configuration. And you need to support these in your orchestration engine. You often require deep intellectual property to make this translation – it’s not sufficient to just know how the orchestration engine works.
This is where Cisco Services brings the real value to your team. Our team involved in the orchestration domain know all about cloud services design and implementation. They know about applications, software components, hypervisors, and network, storage and server devices. Oh – and they also know how best to program your orchestration engine to realise the services you need to transform your approach to IT delivery. So don’t just choose a vendor that provide management and automation tools. Make sure you choose a partner that can deliver orchestration and data center intellectual property and expertise.