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Automate or Orchestrate?
Nov 6, 2014

For most IT organizations, times are changing faster than the equipment they use.

 

The days of configuring routers and switches with a serial cable attached to a console port or installing server operating systems with a CD-ROM are a thing of the past, and it won’t be long before console ports on switches and routers disappear altogether. Why? For one, network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) would rather save a few pennies by replacing those pesky ports with real I/O ports, which offer much higher margins and better port densities. But the real reason console ports are becoming obsolete is that there are better ways to set up and configure these devices—zero-touch provisioning (ZTP), for instance, is preferred to manually setting up an IP address on every device. Once that hurdle is cleared, anything is possible over a management network—download a new software image, install a default configuration, or point to an SDN controller, among other things.

 

These days, few devices are fully configured at deployment anyway. VLANs and ports, for instance, are configured dynamically, as needed.  On one end of the “dynamic configuration” spectrum is SDN; on the other end are dynamic setup and configuration tools and frameworks. Automation frameworks such as Chef, Puppet and Ansible are preferred over manual methods of dynamic configuration, since manual methods typically take a long time to complete and test.  The automation frameworks are also far more agile, more reliable and less error prone than the manual methods of the past.

As if agility, reliability and accuracy weren’t enough, IT shops have also realized that these automation frameworks are much less costly than employing a staff of professionals to manually install and maintain the systems. Plus, these systems integrate well and are a critical part of orchestration systems such as OpenStack or VMware vCloud.

 

So what’s the difference between automation and orchestration? Think of “automation” as accomplishing repeatable tasks without human intervention, while “orchestration” is the process of stringing together a series of these tasks to accomplish a process or workflow. It’s like grinding meat (a task) vs. making sausage (a process).

 

So how does this apply to IT? OpenStack and VMware vCloud are orchestration systems; they coordinate the instantiation, installation, provisioning and management of IT infrastructures including pools of compute, storage and network resources. These orchestration systems can essentially manage an entire data center, including servers, storage, and networking equipment such as virtual and physical switches, routers and firewalls. They can also set up complex network connections such as IPsec VPN tunnels and implement firewall rules and ACLs.

 

Juniper Networks enables all these functions on existing IT infrastructure. Contrail OpenStack integrates seamlessly with Contrail Networking, which can communicate with custom scripts built on top of Junos OS-based routers, switches, firewalls, the Contrail vRouter, or even the latest addition to the Junos-based portfolio, the vMX virtual router. To learn more about these products and how they work together, check out http://www.juniper.net/us/en/dm/virtualrevolution.