Cloud automation refers to software, tools, and processes that help reduce the manual effort in deploying and maintaining cloud-based IT infrastructure. In other words, it’s about automating tasks on your cloud servers.
Why Is Cloud Automation Important?
The easiest way to understand the importance of cloud automation is to imagine what would happen without it.
Today, if a customer orders new VPS Hosting from Liquid Web, our technicians don’t have to allocate the hardware and software resources manually, install the OS, cPanel, and other server software, and finally test that everything works as it should. Instead, all these cloud management tasks are now entirely automated with scripts and deployed for our customers, self-serve style.
Now you might wonder whether all our cloud services and tasks are automated. The answer is no. Since many environments are tailored specifically to our customer's needs, there’s too much variability to automate everything.
Automation works best with repetitive tasks that can be well-defined ahead of time. In such cases, automation reduces the manual effort and allows our engineers to focus on more strategic tasks that require an individual approach.
Why Is Cloud Automation Important for Enterprise Businesses?
When it comes to enterprise businesses, cloud service automation is even more essential.
With the increase in scale, manually configuring cloud environments requires hundreds or even thousands of hours every month. Automation in cloud computing can reduce such workloads by order of magnitude.
In addition, cloud automation provides customers instant access to new cloud-based products and services rather than waiting for the manual setup of their cloud environment. In fact, not using cloud automation tools today would be considered a significant drawback for any cloud vendor.
What Is Agile Cloud Automation?
Agile cloud automation promotes adaptability within the automation process. Nearly all modern software development uses some aspects of the Agile methodology.
The definitive principles are minor changes and iterative development. Teams of engineers quickly get to a working prototype and continuously refine it to make it better, validating their assumptions in the process.
The Agile process is a continuous life cycle of:
- Gathering requirements
- Customer feedback
Short, Agile-like software development cycles, where deployments happen manually, are usually called continuous delivery. However, when the delivery process is automated with the help of cloud platforms, it’s referred to as continuous deployment.
Cloud automation platforms naturally align with and accelerate Agile development by enabling quick, iterative changes. When leveraged together, they can add flexibility to business processes, reduce IT costs, and improve the customer experience.
What Is Cloud Orchestration?
Cloud orchestration is a process of turning automated tasks into a well-defined workflow. By default, cloud automation performs tasks as they get triggered by various scripts. So, for example, tasks A, B, and C will execute in that order.
With cloud orchestration, however, it’s possible to ensure that task C runs before B and task A after B. In addition, the whole workflow can be performed in a specific timeframe, resulting in fewer errors. It is the evolution of cloud automation.
Companies use cloud orchestration to manage complex processes across hundreds of domains, systems, and teams. It allows engineers to reduce repetitive, manual cloud server and data center tasks to a minimum.
Cloud Automation vs. Cloud Orchestration
Now you know how automation is implemented in various multi-cloud environments and why it has become so ubiquitous, implemented anywhere from Microsoft Azure to Google Cloud to Liquid Web’s VMware Private Cloud.
While cloud automation is very effective in accelerating software development, using it for deploying hybrid cloud environments or other complex cloud infrastructures can be challenging since most tasks require a specific order.
That’s where companies can rely on cloud orchestration. But how do the advantages and disadvantages of cloud automation compare to cloud orchestration?
Advantages of Cloud Automation
Nearly any enterprise that uses cloud server management tools can benefit from cloud automation.
So what is automation in cloud computing, and how can it help your company? Here are just a few cloud automation advantages:
- Agility: The ability to scale and quickly adapt to changing needs.
- Speed: Faster deployment of cloud infrastructure.
- Control: Better centralized management of existing cloud environments.
- Security: Improved access rights and more granular levels of security in cloud environments.
- Resiliency: The continuous monitoring of cloud services minimizes downtime.
- Management: Easier CI/CD (continuous integration / continuous delivery) ensures more efficient, stable, and organized software development and fewer errors.
- Cost: Version control and other cloud management tools help reduce the overall cost of the cloud server infrastructure.
With well-configured cloud services automation, companies can deploy, integrate, and manage their systems quickly and effectively.
Disadvantages of Cloud Automation
Considering all the cloud automation advantages, it might seem like cloud automation is the right system for every company.
There are, however, a few disadvantages to keep in mind:
- Configuration: While cloud providers now offer some automation processes by default, others need to be manually set up by customers.
- Errors: Cloud automation can increase the number of errors if a process is set up incorrectly and lacks oversight.
- Limits: Although it might be tempting, you can’t automate everything. Some tasks are either too custom or complex to be turned into an automated process.
- Cost: Some frequent tasks help decrease server management costs by being automated. But trying to automate every task, including infrequent ones, could lower the overall ROI.
Now that we know what cloud automation is and some of its benefits, let’s talk about Cloud Orchestration.
Advantages of Cloud Orchestration
Cloud orchestration further improves the advantages of cloud automation and makes it easier to maintain modern cloud environments.
Some advantages of cloud orchestration include:
- Efficiency: Provide better insight into resource utilization and eliminate over-provisioning.
- Simplicity: Simplify automation workflows across hybrid server environments and help maintain security protocols.
- Delivery: Improve the speed of delivery of services while lowering the overall cost.
- Self-service: Enable customers to order additional services without any IT intervention.
Other advantages of cloud orchestration are available to some companies, from improving organization-wide security to providing a connector between public and private environments.
Disadvantages of Cloud Orchestration
Just like cloud automation, cloud orchestration has a few disadvantages that might persuade a few companies to use it selectively.
Some cloud orchestration disadvantages are:
- Complexity: Automating apps, workloads, resources, and other tasks with orchestration can quickly get complicated, making the system difficult to troubleshoot.
- Centricity: Cloud orchestration is a centralized process, which might slow down independent tasks and processes waiting for a controller to respond.
- Maintenance: Keeping multiple dependencies up to date elevates the risk of unexpected errors.
To sum up, what makes cloud orchestration great can also become a problem under certain use cases.
Challenges of Cloud Automation
While, in most cases, the benefits of cloud automation far outweigh its disadvantages, companies need to be aware of some challenges to automation implementation.
Some examples include:
- Multi-cloud environments: Setting up automation with several cloud vendors in a hybrid environment is not straightforward.
- Lack of training: Cloud orchestration is still a relatively new paradigm, and most companies need to invest in training their engineers to take full advantage of it.
- Compliance: Whether it's HIPAA or another compliance framework, ensuring that every part of a cloud automation workflow follows regulations can be an opaque and time-consuming process.
Cloud Automation Use Cases
Now, with cloud automation advantages, disadvantages, and challenges discussed, it’s important to note the most popular cloud automation use cases.
Cloud automation can help route web traffic across multiple servers to ensure optimal resource utilization. Load balancing limits delays and improves the overall responsiveness of websites and applications.
Additionally, websites and applications won’t go down when one of the servers in a cluster is offline, with other servers picking up the load. This process means that restarting or replacing servers becomes much more manageable.
Development and Testing
With cloud automation, developing and testing new updates in multiple environments becomes easy. The software can be tested in browsers and various operating systems and be updated and released continuously with fewer errors.
IaC (Infrastructure as Code)
One of the most common uses of cloud automation is managing cloud infrastructure. This management means deploying virtual machines (VMs) and managing storage volumes, networks, load balancers, and other server components.
Cloud automation allows the creation of templates and workflows that can get triggered at any moment, even by customers themselves.
Popular Cloud Automation Tools
There are lots of cloud automation tools that help build and test new software as well as deploy cloud server infrastructure.
Kubernetes is a widely-used, open-source system for automation that manages containerized workloads and services. Most cloud providers offer branded versions of Kubernetes today, from Google to Microsoft to Amazon.
Puppet is one of the oldest tools still used in cloud computing. It’s a powerful server cluster and management automation tool. The code is open-source, but an enterprise version is also available.
Docker is containerization (not to be confused with virtualization) software used to automate applications' deployment and management within an isolated environment.
With Docker, developers can pack and ship an application with all the needed files, libraries, and dependencies as a Docker container. That container can be ported to any Linux system with cgroups support within the kernel.
Why You Need Cloud Automation
Cloud automation is the right choice for many businesses looking for stable and continuous management of their cloud server infrastructure. However, this article has merely scratched the surface of cloud automation's benefits.
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