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vRealize Orchestrator helps IT do more with less

Using an automation tool such as vRealize Orchestrator can help a busy vSphere administrator deal with the increased complexity of the virtual environment.

In 2007 VMware acquired a Swiss company, Dunes Technologies. From that acquisition came the -- now end of life...

-- product VMware Lifecycle Manager, as well as the framework and foundation for an application called vRealize Orchestrator (vRO), formerly vCenter Orchestrator. 

For an application that's been around for so long, it's only been within the last few years that people began to speak about mainstream adoption of vRO. This seems far-fetched for a product that is baked into vSphere and also provides a huge foundation for vRealize Automation, formerly vCloud Automation Center. For those customers who have already licensed vCenter, there is a pretty good chance they have vRO installed; in fact, it has been silently installed alongside vCenter Server ever since the advent of vSphere 4.0 -- just waiting for the automation gates to open up.

That time has come. Looking at thevRO VMTN discussion forum, you can see how adoption, or at least the request for help, has grown over the years. In 2011, there were more new discussions created in a single year then there were in the first three years of the forum's existence combined.  And 2012 and 2013 have each more than doubled the 2011 total. 

Doing more with less

What's driving people toward orchestration and automation and, more specifically, vRealize Orchestrator? From VMware's end, they have thrown more resources at vRO, adding new features into the core, developing more robust documentation and including workflow stabilization and high availability. But I believe the best answer lies within the ecosystem and the overall acceptance of virtualization. 

In 2008, we were all just getting used to the idea of a virtual machine, focusing efforts on gold images and utilizing the template features of vSphere to deploy VMs in a consistent and efficient manner. Fast forward to today. Has the provisioning of a VM gotten any easier?  Not really; in fact, in most cases, the complexity has increased. No more are there agents inside our gold templates handling processes like backup and recovery. We now have the ability to leverage far better backup solutions built around virtualization. However, with these new solutions come more tedious tasks to protect our virtual environment. Take the simple task of adding a VM to a backup job and combine it with monitoring, security, networking, etc., and we have a whole slew of post-deployment processes we must go through to fully provision a VM.

Applications like vRO can greatly help with this added administrative burden; vRO can supplement VMware's push for its "software defined data center," promoting automation and policy-based management by taking all of the small tasks normally performed manually and stringing them together in a robust, unified workflow that can be executed programmatically or on demand -- even from within the vSphere Web Client.

Automation fills immediate need

Another reason for the orchestration explosion is streamlining. IT departments have begun to break down silos, through both strategy and downsizing, leaving the administrator with more work to complete in the same allotted time. The creation of orchestration workflows has allowed IT departments to automate as many tasks as they can, helping them deal with things like VM sprawl and to be more proactive when it comes to troubleshooting. Utilizing automation also allows the IT department to focus more of its efforts on supporting an organization through innovation, rather than by simply keeping the lights on. 

VMware has long released their group of PowerShell cmdlets inside PowerCLI, which allows administrators to query and change their virtual environments through scripts. Using vRO does not necessarily replace this, but instead gives a choice to end users. It is often a more robust option through the use of a plug-in that can access and automate almost every part of the infrastructure from storage, networking, backup, etc. Utilizing a plug-in based architecture, vRO is able to perform automated tasks through components such REST, ssh, Powershell, SQL, and by exposing the complete vSphere API. All this functionality greatly increases the scope of automation options when it comes to developing workflows.

Whether we like it or not, automation is here to stay and VMware is not the only vendor to notice this. Throughout the last few years we've seen other huge companies such as Microsoft, IBM and HP placing their own workflow and automation tools front and center. And smaller software companies such as Puppet Labs and Chef have also made their mark inside many enterprise environments. The fact that vRO has already been installed and somewhat configured is a huge driver to adoption. Also, it doesn't hurt to have the support of a solid community that shares its experiences and vRO's open architecture. All these factors can help many administrators to automate and orchestrate their virtual environments from end to end. 

Next Steps

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This was last published in April 2015

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What automation tools are you using to make life easier in the virtualized data center? If not, why?
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I know there are a lot of different automation tools.  Microsoft just realized something to do with Powershell for Linux, some devs swear by docker, vagrant, chef or puppet.  Unfortunately I haven't had much opportunity to work with some of these.  (But they are on my programming bucket list.)
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