What are the advantages of using a cloud orchestration platform?
With over 83% of enterprise software now running in cloud environments, finding a niche advantage can make you stand out from the crowd.
While there are benefits to adopting cloud platforms in general, this post introduces the specific advantages of using a cloud orchestration platform. Before we dive into the technical detail, we must first understand what orchestration is and why we need it in the first place.
What is orchestration in the cloud?
The growth in cloud hosting options has allowed companies to deploy more software faster than ever before. It’s helped fuel the rise in software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses and helped established companies save millions on data storage and hosting costs.
That said, if you follow any of the popular DevOps blogs out there, you know that cloud adoption has also introduced new challenges.
With each cloud provider offering different options for provisioning and managing servers, DevOps and Site Reliability Engineers must learn each system or build automation tools to help them manage all of their resources.
This has led to siloed teams with specialised knowledge, and it increases the time required to spin up new services or make infrastructure and network changes.
In today’s microservice-heavy software environment (where each new feature might require new compute services to accompany them), this can lead to slower deployments and a decrease in agility.
Cloud orchestration tools seek to mitigate these challenges by automating and systematising much of the process for configuring, setting up, and managing cloud resources.
For example, instead of manually clicking around the AWS interface to set up an EC2 instance, load balancer, network interface, DNS zone, and API gateway, you can simply write and run a single Terraform file.
This configuration can be added to version control so other team members can see exactly what resources are running and how they were configured.
Of course, Terraform is just one example of a cloud orchestration tool, but it illustrates the point: having a repeatable, documented method for configuring your cloud resources is invaluable for any software team.
Why do we need cloud orchestration?
Let’s look a bit more deeply into some of the specific challenges cloud orchestration solves.
First, there are many different cloud providers, and they range in complexity and service offerings.
Large hosting providers (like AWS and GCP) offer dozens of products, each with its own documentation and limitations. This means that infrastructure teams have to learn each tool before they can reliably deploy resources, making adopting new tools, and changing cloud providers much harder.
Documentation and training might work for small teams with just a few resources, but in a typical enterprise cloud deployment, there are hundreds or thousands of compute and network resources to manage.
It’s impossible for a single team to handle services at this scale without some form of automation in place.
Finally, orchestration helps break down some of the barriers between IT operations and development. Many orchestration tools (like Kubernetes and Terraform) are designed to be used by developers, so there’s a decreased demand for IT teams to make infrastructure changes.
Advantages of cloud orchestration
Let’s dive deeper into some of the advantages above and discuss how they apply in specific orchestration platforms.
Whether you’re considering a host-specific tool like AWS Cloud Formation or a vendor-agnostic one like Kubernetes and Helm, orchestration is now table stakes for any cloud deployment.
Advantage #1 - Deploy and scale software faster
While most of the focus in Agile software development has been on process design, continuous deployment, and various agile rituals, you can’t ignore the impact of infrastructure on team velocity.
For example, if you’re using a microservice architecture, cloud services are directly tied to new features.
Cloud orchestration allows you to automate the provisioning process and hand it over to your software developers.
Instead of waiting weeks for IT to approve and provision a new server, engineers can simply update a Kubernetes YAML file and have their new service running in minutes.
Similarly, companies that are growing quickly must be able to respond at a moment’s notice when a cloud service needs to scale. Cloud orchestration tools allow you to simply update a configuration file to scale horizontally or vertically.
Advantage #2 - Lower cloud hosting costs
Overspending in cloud hosting is rampant.
Almost 70% of companies spending over $5 million in annual cloud hosting costs report regularly overspending their budget, and much of this overspend is preventable.
35% of cloud computing costs are wasted on oversized and under-optimised instances.
Finding and right-sizing these resources is a big challenge.
Cloud orchestration tools can help by making it easy to see which resources are deployed, how they’re related, and what might be required to remove or optimise them.
Once your team has a plan for right-sizing their cloud resources, orchestrators allow you to easily change the size and limits on each of your instances.
Advantage #3 - minimize errors and security risks
The security model in cloud hosting is still evolving, but understanding where your team’s responsibilities start and where your cloud provider’s end is critical.
Once you understand these delineations, the next step is to build proper security practices into every resource you provision. That’s where cloud orchestration tools come in.
By automating many of the steps required to properly secure a new cloud resource (network rules, port access rules, user roles and permissions, etc.), it’s much easier to ensure that every new server adheres to the same guidelines.
While training and auditing are still essential parts of cloud security, they are imperfect and rely on human intervention. Orchestration tools that make security automatic will ensure that an engineer can’t forget the security basics the first time they set up a new resource.
Advantage #4 - raise your “bus factor”
The "bus factor" is the minimum number of team members that have to suddenly disappear from a project before the project stalls due to lack of knowledgeable or competent personnel.
During a cloud migration, you might appoint an individual or small team to lead your efforts. A small group can move fast and explore multiple options before bringing their recommendations to the team for wider adoption, but they also present a serious business risk.
What if one of the key people on this team leaves?
Cloud orchestration tools capture complex server configuration rules and logic so they can be uniformly applied in future deployments.
So, if your cloud migration team uses a tool like Terraform, other engineers who know Terraform can come in and easily replicate or pick up their work where they left off.
Using cloud orchestration tools also makes training and sharing responsibilities easier. A large organisation might use dozens of different cloud services, but if you centralise around an orchestration tool, engineers can easily move from one part of the infrastructure to another without missing a beat.
Advantage #5 - enable multi-cloud deployments
Hybrid and multi-cloud deployments are gaining popularity. Even in 2018, 86% of cloud strategists surveyed by Forrester described their deployments as “multi-cloud,” and that number is only increasing.
While many of them aren’t deploying single applications to multiple cloud hosting providers yet, the need for redundancy and reliability in software makes this an attractive prospect.
One of the challenges is that without a cross-cloud orchestration tool, this is nearly impossible to maintain.
By using a cloud-agnostic orchestration platform, you can create a single configuration file that works on any major vendor’s platform.
This is one of the big draws to using Kubernetes as all the major cloud vendors support it.
Even if you’re not looking to run a multi-cloud workload right away, having that option for the future prevents vendor lock-in and allows you to take advantage of new services more easily.
There are many advantages to using a cloud orchestration platform.
Depending on your goals and resource limitations, some will be more important to you than others, but the five most compelling advantages include:
- The ability to deploy new features and scale resources up or down more quickly
- Cost-savings by making it easier to find and optimise existing resources
- Decreased risk of manual errors that lead to security vulnerabilities
- Lower bus factor by making it easier for engineers to replicate deployment patterns
- The option to leverage multi-cloud deployments more easily
If you'd like to speak to someone about your cloud environment or how you can use cloud orchestration to improve your business, get in touch with our team today.