Modern DevOps teams often rely on infrastructure components sourced from several different cloud providers. This increases flexibility but can make it challenging to obtain oversight of your resources.
Enter cloud orchestrators: tools that allow you to interact with multiple cloud services, within a single platform. Orchestrators can also simplify interactions with individual cloud providers, such as by providing templates for commonly used processes.
In this article, we’ll explain what cloud orchestrators are and how they differ from other kinds of automation. Afterwards, we’ll explore the features of some of the leading cloud orchestration solutions.
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Cloud orchestrators consolidate cloud operations to enable efficient management workflows. They automate cloud processes, abstract away differences between providers, and provide comprehensive visibility into the current state of your resources. You’d typically use a cloud orchestrator to coordinate your environments, reduce manual management burdens, and facilitate new processes such as self-service developer access.
What is orchestration in DevOps?
“Orchestration” is a DevOps term that refers to using automation to coordinate multiple complex stages in a process.
For example, spinning up a new cloud Kubernetes cluster usually involves several distinct steps to configure your cloud platform, create the control plane, add Nodes, and provision storage; a cloud orchestrator could automate the entire sequence for you.
Arguably the best-known form of orchestration is container orchestration. Container orchestrators like Kubernetes automate the process of deploying, scaling, and administering containers. By contrast, cloud orchestrators manage your cloud infrastructure components—these are your compute instances, networking devices, storage volumes, and other cloud resources.
Many end-to-end cloud-native workflows combine several kinds of orchestration: for example, you could use a cloud orchestrator to provision a new Kubernetes cluster, which would then act as a container orchestrator to deploy your applications.
Learn more about cloud-native security.
Cloud orchestration is a superset of the tools and processes involved in cloud automation. Whereas cloud automation takes a comparatively narrow view, providing mechanisms that implement specific repetitive tasks, orchestration expands the concept to facilitate the cohesive execution of multiple connected tasks.
Returning to the Kubernetes cluster provisioning example, the tasks of creating the control plane, adding Nodes, and provisioning the storage are all candidates for automation. But to spin up a new cluster, all three tasks must be carried out with the right inputs and in the correct order. Orchestration achieves this by centrally managing the tasks, facilitating automation of the entire high-level workflow.
Orchestration also enables the centralization of authentication and access controls. Instead of assigning user credentials for each of your cloud services, you can register users once (in your orchestrator) and then grant access to the clouds they require. Similarly, by collating information from different platforms, orchestrators allow holistic “single pane of glass” monitoring of your clouds.
Cloud orchestrators have several benefits compared to ad-hoc automation or relying on the tools built into your cloud provider’s management UI:
- Automate infrastructure across public, hybrid, and private clouds. Cloud orchestrators allow you to carry out operations across your entire infrastructure from one holistic view. Unifying your infrastructure using an orchestrator allows you to automate complex workflows, such as building an asset in one cloud, deploying it to another, and then streaming metrics to an observability suite in a third location.
- Enable multi-cloud workflows. Going multi-cloud is an ambition for many organizations, but it’s often hard to achieve because individual clouds are rarely designed to directly integrate with each other. Cloud orchestrators narrow the gap by treating all clouds as one part of your broader infrastructure. Check out how you can use IaC to optimize your multicloud strategy.
- Consolidate operations with a platform-based approach instead of individual tools. Using an orchestrator means there’s only one account to log into. You interact with your infrastructure via a single consistent platform instead of relying on disparate toolchains that have to grow each time you use a new service.
- Reduce your dependence on a single service. The benefit of cloud provider abstraction helps to reduce your dependence on specific services. If you need to migrate away from a provider, you can use your orchestrator to provision replacement infrastructure without drastically changing your existing processes.
- Provide self-service access for infrastructure teams and developers. Cloud orchestrators make it easier to extend self-service infrastructure access to developers. You don’t have to provide direct access to your cloud accounts, improving security and accountability.
Now we’ve seen the benefits, let’s dive in and look at some popular cloud orchestrators available today.
There are numerous cloud orchestrator options to choose from depending on your use case and the features you require. Some of the entries on this list focus on multi-cloud management, others help run distributed systems, and a few are cloud-specific choices that orchestrate operations on individual infrastructure providers.
Spacelift is not exactly a cloud orchestrator, but it takes cloud orchestration to the next level. It is a platform designed to manage infrastructure-as-code tools such as OpenTofu, Terraform, CloudFormation, Kubernetes, Pulumi, Ansible, and Terragrunt, allowing teams to use their favorite tools without compromising functionality or efficiency.
Spacelift provides a unified interface for deploying, managing, and controlling cloud resources across various providers. Still, it is API-first, so whatever you can do in the interface, you could do via the API, the CLI it offers, or even the OpenTofu/Terraform provider.
The platform enhances collaboration among DevOps teams, streamlines workflow management, and enforces governance across all infrastructure deployments. Spacelift’s dashboard provides visibility into the state of your infrastructure, enabling real-time monitoring and decision-making, and it can also detect and remediate drift.
You can leverage your favorite VCS (GitHub/GitLab/Bitbucket/Azure DevOps), and executing multi-IaC workflows is a question of simply implementing dependencies and sharing outputs between your configurations.
Cloudbolt is a hybrid cloud management platform that focuses on automation, optimization, and cost visibility. It aims to provide a “single pane of class” that lets you monitor utilization across all your cloud accounts.
Cloudbolt analyzes your workloads and makes recommendations to improve performance and reduce cost. This can help uncover forgotten deployments and unused cloud accounts.
The platform can also enforce security guardrails that ensure consistent security standards are applied to all your infrastructure resources. The Cloudbolt interface incorporates automated security posture reports that support compliance initiatives.
Morpheus is a self-service management layer for hybrid cloud scenarios. It’s designed to centralize access to public clouds and existing on-premises environments. Morpheus also supports application-level resources including containers.
AWS, Azure, GCP, Kubernetes, Nutanix, and VMware are all supported as cloud providers. You can unify any of these options to build your own private cloud environment, then deploy your resources. There’s integrated support for self-service provisioning that allows developers to efficiently access resources as they need them.
IBM Cloud Orchestrator is part of the IBM product portfolio. It’s designed to integrate IBM Cloud with your own infrastructure policies and processes. A cloud gateway component enables connections to environments that include OpenStack, AWS, Azure, and VMware.
IBM Cloud Orchestrator is best suited to organizations that are already using other IBM solutions. It works with adjacent systems, including IBM Business Process Manager, allowing you to automate complex workflows through low-code and no-code interfaces.
The orchestrator also supports the creation of self-service task catalogs that DevOps teams can invoke on-demand.
Puppet is an enterprise-scale infrastructure automation and compliance tool. It provides a centralized dashboard for managing and monitoring your cloud infrastructure, including resources in AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and VMware accounts.
Strictly speaking, Puppet is more an automation tool than a ready-to-use orchestrator. We’ve included it on this list because you can use it to set up your own orchestration workflows that work in multi-cloud scenarios. It allows you to set up infrastructure that meets your exact requirements.
Puppet has a declarative configuration model. You define what your infrastructure should look like, then allow Puppet to apply actions that achieve that state. The state is self-healing so any discrepancies that occur in your resources will be automatically resolved.
Puppet is available in both open-source and enterprise flavors. There’s also a simpler Puppet Bolt solution that automates arbitrary processes on remote targets by running your scripts and commands.
AWS CloudFormation is an official IaC solution for orchestrating AWS. It allows you to easily automate operations across multiple AWS accounts and regions. Like Puppet, CloudFormation primarily focuses on provisioning rather than orchestration, but this can be used to help you achieve orchestration.
Infrastructure resources are defined in simple config files. You can use JSON, YAML, or CloudFormation’s own format. Once you’ve created a config file, you can use the CloudFormation UI, API, or CLI to provision the requested resources in your AWS account.
CloudFormation is a good choice if you’re reliant on AWS and don’t need integrations with other cloud providers. It takes the strain out of managing AWS at scale, without requiring any third-party tools.
Azure Automation is a Microsoft solution for orchestrating cloud operations. In addition to Azure, it can integrate with other cloud platforms and on-premises environments. It includes support for both Windows and Linux hosts.
The platform prioritizes process automation, configuration management, and visibility. It allows you to easily inspect the state of your resources, such as by monitoring which hosts have installed a particular package or update. You can then consistently apply configuration changes using PowerShell scripts.
BMC’s product catalog includes several options for orchestrating operations across clouds and environments. You can use its products to deploy services, gain visibility into your assets, and migrate between clouds.
BMC also offers automation solutions that consolidate DevOps operations and enable self-service developer experiences. The suite is ideal if you need an enterprise-grade platform that sits outside your infrastructure providers. However, the use of several distinct products could be less efficient than an all-in-one platform.
Terraform is one of the best-known IaC tools and it remains a great option for hands-on cloud orchestration. As with Puppet, Terraform doesn’t do orchestration automatically, but rather gives you the tools to set up your own workflows using any cloud provider. You can configure your entire infrastructure in Terraform files, then apply those files to create your cloud resources.
Terraform also supports policy-as-code so you can set up security-preserving guardrails. In turn, the model facilitates self-service developer access as users can run workflows within the constraints you impose.
One of Terraform’s biggest strengths is its active and well-established community. However, learning the Terraform configuration language—and figuring out how to use each cloud integration—results in a relatively steep learning curve for simpler situations where a no-code orchestrator could be preferred.
As an alternative – OpenTofu is an open-source version of Terraform that will expand on Terraform’s existing concepts and offerings. It is a viable alternative to HashiCorp’s Terraform, being forked from Terraform version 1.5.6.
There are no differences between Terraform (versions prior to 1.5.6) and OpenTofu, but this will change as new versions emerge. Initially, it works exactly the same as Terraform, with OpenTofu being a drop-in replacement for it. OpenTofu is not going to have its own providers and modules, but it is going to use its own registry for them.
Red Hat Ansible is a paid product that sits atop the popular Ansible core. While Ansible is a respected automation technology, Red Hat Ansible transforms it into a ready-to-use platform for configuring, deploying to, and centralizing cloud platforms. These automated capabilities can be combined to assemble your own multi-cloud orchestration system.
Red Hat Ansible supports several use cases including hybrid cloud and edge scenarios. It can provision infrastructure resources, apply configuration changes, and monitor live assets for security problems.
Red Hat Ansible is a good choice as an all-in-one orchestration solution. It aims to provide everything required to define and run automated infrastructure workflows while enabling self-service access by developers and operators.
OpenStack is an open source platform that’s built to support cloud operations. It can be used to deploy and support fleets of infrastructure components including bare metal hardware, cloud virtual machines, containers, and third-party services like Kubernetes.
OpenStack specifically emphasizes the concept of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). It manages your infrastructure on your team’s behalf to provide quick access, high stability, and automated fault detection.
Because OpenStack is open source, you can deploy it in any cloud or use your own hardware. Once installed, it acts as a cloud operating system that pools together your various compute, storage, and networking resources. The ecosystem’s scale means there is a learning curve to master, but OpenStack provides powerful capabilities for orchestrating large cloud environments.
Cloud orchestrators are platforms which facilitate efficient interactions with cloud infrastructure. They achieve this by combining elements of automation and visibility.
Effective cloud orchestrators allow you to provision new cloud resources, quickly rollout deployments, and monitor usage and costs. They unify your environments across public cloud providers, hybrid platforms, and on-premises infrastructure.
Spacelift can be used to orchestrate your operations across AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and your private clouds. Our platform lets you achieve sophisticated infrastructure automation with drift detection and powerful visibility. You can apply infrastructure changes straight from your Pull Requests, allowing secure self-service access to be granted to developers.
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Spacelift is an alternative to using homegrown solutions on top of a generic CI. It helps overcome common state management issues and adds several must-have capabilities for infrastructure management.