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Infrastructure Orchestration – It’s not just another magic app

Infrastructure orchestration can be a transformative influence within IT that delivers an elevated rate of improvement, increases agility and enables faster business iteration. The question is how can such value from orchestration be realised?

Delivering effective cloud orchestration is, at its core, a software development problem and needs to be treated as such and invested in using software development lifecycle management (SDLC) methods and tools. Software development is an ongoing and evolutionary process.

The cost of entry is typically high, (licensing, consulting, designing, building, test, operation) which may require a longer period for returns to be realised.

A private cloud orchestration solution is best described as a journey rather than a destination. The solution needs to exist as an entity that operates outside the regular three or five-year equipment lease cycle if it is to succeed since it is a new software development environment that can represent significant investment for the business and doesn’t deliver benefits when deployed as a point solution for a new infrastructure stack.


Approach to Orchestration

An infrastructure orchestration solution is a software development framework. It is a toolbox that allows administrators to define rules about how change is implemented in software defined infrastructure and how that change moves through the infrastructure. By its very nature (a software stack managing other software stacks) orchestration requires a software development lifecycle (SDLC) to be successful.

There is a risk around which SDLC is selected for use with the orchestration solution. A business may not have any software engineering capabilities or may already employ an SDLC that aligns well with the business objectives and is well understood by staff. That same SDLC may not be a good fit for an orchestration project because the existing SDLC may be geared to produce a different outcome for the business, especially considering that orchestration is introducing software development requirements to physical infrastructure teams. Infrastructure teams may not even be aware of what SDLC is used by the organisation or if an SDLC exists at all.

The correct SDLC selection is important because it provides the rulebook about how software is created and curated.

The selected SDLC will require investment from the business to make the SDLC operate effectively and deliver business outcomes. Specific areas of cost include governance, tooling and people.

  • Governance provides the SDLC management framework. It covers the rules and activities performed by people by which the software is developed, delivered and tested.
  • Tooling includes the tools required to develop the code and also the supporting software and hardware to allow the development to occur and receive suitable testing. An additional cost for tooling extends to the supporting reporting and tracking tools that developers typically need to track and address issues as part of an SDLC.
  • People are a significant cost for any SDLC as is the time required to accommodate the changes that SDLC brings to a team. For smaller teams it may be valid for team members to fill multiple roles; however as the requirements and agility scale upwards it can become necessary to employ more people to fill the roles as the workload increases, particularly when a fast development cycle is desired.

Platform Costs
The upfront costs for an orchestration platform includes elements such as, licensing, consulting/design, build, test and operation. Each of these areas has their own discrete cost items to consider.

  • Licensing costs will vary depending on the selected solution and the domains selected for the orchestration solution to manage.
  • Consulting and design costs will be a function of available skills within the organisation and the time available to internal staff to invest in the orchestration solution.
  • Build costs include not only time to deploy the tool as per the design but also any additional infrastructure that is required to operate and provide the orchestration solution.
  • Test costs for an orchestration solution are potentially very large depending on the level of complexity and isolation required for testing. Most organisations will not accept the risk of performing test activities in or near production environments. This then introduces a requirement for one or more isolated test environments and the additional physical or virtual infrastructure these require.
  • The ongoing operation of the orchestration tool may also represent considerable cost in terms of license maintenance fees, ingestion of change and upgrades, scaling and performance considerations and integration with Operational Support Systems and Business Support Systems.

An additional cost risk is if multiple orchestration platforms are deployed within an organisation. The previously mentioned costs around SDLC and platform costs are potentially doubled for each orchestration platform. Complexity and conflict may also emerge if those duplicated platforms are lifecycle managed using different methods. In an even worse scenario the same infrastructure elements may be managed by conflicting orchestration solutions.

Selecting the right single orchestration platform that delivers the required business outcomes, and selecting the platform that has the strongest flexibility and interoperability is critical to success.

An orchestration solution that is a point solution for a new infrastructure silo does not mitigate these risks. An orchestration solution that can exist outside the infrastructure silos as they come and go within an IT organisations infrastructure lease cycles will deliver a more comprehensive and cost effective outcome for the business.