10 top automation and orchestration tools

Tools that automate and orchestrate network chores can perform tasks quicker and more accurately than an admin.

interconnecting gears / process / automation / machinery / mechanism / efficiency

IT process automation sells itself: automating tasks is not only cheaper than paying a human to perform repetitive activities, but it’s also more efficient and predictable.

While it’s possible to develop automation tools in-house with enterprise staff, that can be challenging, so ultimately, to embrace automation in a big way, it may be necessary to enlist commercial software tools.

Some tasks are simpler to automate than others—managing IT systems, provisioning physical and virtual machines, managing server configuration, identifying policy drift—and many IT systems are now built with features that make it easier to move along the path toward automation without seeking commercial platforms.

In addition, over the past decade, it has become possible to automate a wide range of systems. For example, the relatively low learning curve for Windows PowerShell and Python make it possible for admins to start working with automation.

For more complex automation challenges, though, acquiring the general technical ability to build the automation as well as acquiring an understanding of processes being automated can be an obstacle to the do-it-yourself route.

So for many businesses to take the next step, they need orchestration—the complex process of taking automation tasks and defining how and when they execute, monitoring task-execution performance, and developing more advanced automation processes through workflow-based decision trees.

Orchestration can also help bolster change-management processes, as changes can be applied to test groups, passed through peer review, applied broadly, and even rolled back if necessary. Changes applied through orchestration can also be easily audited and reported on to satisfy business or regulatory requirements.

Each business is different, with a varying mix of security concerns, workloads, and needs for visibility all playing into the requirements for the appropriate automation and orchestration platform. What tools are available and what value can they bring to your organization? Here’s a look at 10 such products to help with the process of finding the right one.

ActiveBatch

One tool that has had ample time to grow and mature is ActiveBatch. Notable in its current feature set are a wide range of integrations and low-code capabilities intended to help non-developers gain value without a steep learning curve. In addition to automation through integration with popular applications and services, ActiveBatch supports managing scheduled script execution or even scripts triggered by system events, file changes, changes to records in a database, or incoming email. It can incorporate change management and revision tracking, as well as comprehensive audit logging of both changes to automation tasks and to task execution.

Ansible

An automation suite from Red Hat, Ansible supports a variety of platforms including Windows environments, not just the Linux community. A big part of Ansible’s platform is enabling scale, both in terms of the systems being managed and the complexity of designing and managing automation workflows. Ansible embraces the modern application stack, including management of container-based infrastructure. It can leverage container platforms to host container-based execution environments as a jumping-off point for automation tasks, enabling rapid deployment, scalability, and just-in-time deployments. Ansible facilitates more complex automation deployments by enabling the building of automation content collections that group multiple dependent automation sets into a set that can be deployed as a single task.

BMC

BMC TrueSight Orchestration is an IT process-automation suite that brings a huge library of pre-built workflows and scripts to jumpstart automation, as well as application adapters that facilitate integration with existing IT systems. BMC also offers a graphical workflow designer to help visualize process flows and refine logic-based decision points and system interactions. It can leverage container-based infrastructure for deployment, enabling both elasticity and flexibility. TrueSight also integrates with existing service-desk applications to help helpdesks resolve common issues quickly or to provide end users with self-service capabilities.

Chef

Chef can provide enterprise tooling for automated management of core infrastructure and applications. It exposes configuration details of systems throughout the enterprise on a single dashboard, allowing analysis of weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and inconsistencies in the infrastructure. This broad picture facilitates more efficient configuration management and automation. Chef also supports compliance validation using industry-standard frameworks and can provide a simplified path to achieving compliance. Chef supports collaboration between teams as well as access control using standards such as LDAP and SAML that can be used to keep systems running efficiently.

MicroFocus

Microfocus Operations Orchestration provides a graphical workflow designer, an analytics dashboard to visualize compliance and process execution, and a plugin library to streamline interaction with common platforms and applications. It also offers robotic process automation (RPA) to automate human interactions like key presses and mouse clicks, which can be helpful for systems that don’t support an API or command-line interface. MicroFocus also includes CloudSlang code-based automation-task development. CloudSlang is an open-source project, that provides community support to gain value from the experience of other users.

Microsoft System Center

The elephant in the room is Microsoft System Center, which includes System Center Orchestrator, an enterprise-level automation platform built for managing on-premises or private-cloud resources. One advantage is that System Center is widely used in enterprise data centers, so there’s a good chance many businesses already have this option available. System Center’s popularity makes it attractive to software vendors looking to add value to their products by making System Center plug-and-play with their management tools. It integrates tightly with other Microsoft solutions, both on-premises and in the cloud.

Puppet

Puppet’s entire business has been built around automation, and its list of capabilities shows maturity in meeting customer needs at scale. It brings visibility to security and compliance of as well as drift from known good states. Puppet is also extensible, offering the Puppet Forge marketplace for modules developed by Puppet, its partners, and end users. The modules can be searched by operating system, Puppet version, or the level of support Puppet provides. The company also offers Puppet Comply—toolsets focused on compliance—and Puppet Relay—tools focused on cloud resources.

Resolve

Resolve Actions offers automated management ranging from IT service management and Level 1 helpdesk requests to enabling cloud operations like virtual-machine provisioning to initiating remediation steps based on observable system events. It provides out-of-the-box integrations with third-party products as well as a pre-built automation that can yield immediate useful results. Resolve Insights auto-discovers service and application relationships in order to build a dependency map and more quickly identify and measure how proposed changes will affect operations and service delivery.

Terraform

Terraform can automate build-out of infrastructure either on-premises or in cloud environments but can also be run on its own or alongside other automation solutions. Terraform can be used to manage systems, monitor compliance, or manage the configuration of networking components such as load balancers and firewalls.

VMware vRealize Automation

One of the newer offerings in VMware’s catalog of data-center tools is VMware vRealize Automation, which brings extensive support for automating components of VMware-based infrastructure. When coupled with other VMWare platforms it can support self-service management of hybrid-cloud components, automated provisioning of container-based applications, and automation of virtual networks.

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