The Role of Cloud Orchestration in Private Clouds

cloud orchestration

Cloud orchestration is the process of automating myriad interactions and connections between end-users and the cloud, such as automating VM creation in response to user requests or trigger events. In a broad sense every cloud entity uses orchestration services whether the cloud is public, hybrid, or private.

If you are subscribing to an external cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or infrastructure-as-a-service (PaaS), then you are also subscribing to cloud orchestration services. You will need to understand how much workflow customization is available to you, and be sure that self-portal services are adequate for IT and end-users. But beyond that, your provider’s cloud orchestration will not be your responsibility.

However, when it comes to a private cloud then orchestration becomes much more top-of-mind for IT. This post will discuss cloud orchestration for private clouds.

The Private Cloud and Cloud Orchestration

Let’s be very clear here: we’re not talking about simply virtualizing an environment and slapping a private cloud label on it. Virtualization is a perfectly good way to consolidate servers and server management, and is all that some companies will ever need. However, building a private cloud requires virtualization and cloud orchestration to create a multi-tenant dynamic environment. This entity offers on-demand network access to shared storage pools and resources, rapid automated response, minimal IT management time, and a self-service portal for measured self-services. (“Measured” keeps end-users from making unreasonable resource requests.)

The cloud orchestration component arranges tasks into well-behaved workflows that automate processes like provisioning, resource management, and change/configuration tracking. Without cloud orchestration, IT must manually do these tasks. This defeats the whole idea behind the private cloud, which is automating shared resources with minimal manual involvement.

For example, an end-user uses the private cloud portal to request additional provisioning for a new department project. The orchestrator monitors policies and directs the request accordingly: to a department head for approval, or if the user is approved for direct requests then the orchestrator executes the order to provision a new VM.

Another common orchestration target is automating user rights and computer equipment for a new employee. The workflow would integrate with Active Directory to assign user rights, and orders mobile devices and computing equipment according to the new hire’s role. IT may also choose to integrate cloud orchestration with additional systems like support ticket software, chargebacks, and compliance monitoring.

Leading Cloud Orchestration Products

Several vendors provide cloud orchestration products to cloud providers of all sizes. For private clouds, popular vendors are OpenStack Heat for orchestrating OpenStack clouds, and VMware and Microsoft for VMware and Hyper-V environments. Let’s take a look at the latter two.

MS System Center Orchestrator and VMware vCenter Orchestrator automate resource creation, monitoring, and deployment for their respective hypervisors. Luckily each orchestrator also works on the other guy’s hypervisor with multi-hypervisor integration packs. MS System Center Orchestrator is included with the System Center suite, and vCenter Orchestrator is included in your vCenter license within the vSphere suite.

Let’s look at Microsoft for an example of how the orchestrators work. (VMware’s Orchestrator has different terminologies but works essentially the same way.) MS System Center Orchestrator keeps runbooks – saved workflows triggered in response to designated events such as user requests or system alerts. When a trigger occurs, the Orchestrator records the request or alert, runs the workflow steps and records them in the job-tracking log, then either completes and closes the job (such as solving an alert) or places a hold (such as emailing the end-user that his VM request requires a supervisor’s sign-off, and emailing the supervisor of same).

There are two general categories of runbooks: the monitoring category triggers from an external event such as a server alert. The action category runs set procedures in response to different events such as a VM creation request from Virtual Machine Manager, or a software update from Configuration Manager. IT can set up both types of runbooks in a GUI interface without scripting.

Not every company calls this kind of dynamic environment a “private cloud.” Some call it a Data Center OS or automated virtualization. Whatever you call such an entity, cloud orchestration tools let IT create a dynamic computing environment with highly efficient shared resources, self-service with minimal IT involvement, and highly automated workflows across hundreds to thousands of actions.

You know – a cloud.