Application Workflow Orchestration Tools: The Modern Nail
IT professionals sometimes underestimate the importance of automating and orchestrating business applications in production. They may not be aware of the critical role that application and data workflow orchestration plays in operationalizing data and analytics projects by ensuring the flow of data from beginning to end, or they believe it’s something they or someone else can do later.
Downplaying the importance of orchestration, especially early in a project, can lead to critical issues for its applications and business services.
There’s a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin that comes to mind. In 1758 in “The Way to Wealth” he wrote in part about how for the want of a nail the shoe was lost, highlighting how important it is to pay attention to even the smallest of details in order to have a successful outcome.
The moral of this story is that fundamental things — done well or poorly — can have major consequences. In terms of IT projects, every decision can have a ripple effect down the line. I view workflow orchestration as the “nail” of application development and data pipeline projects. It’s essential from the start, not just an afterthought.
If you don’t implement application and data workflow orchestration from the beginning, that decision could massively limit your ability to scale application development, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence projects. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, choosing not to consider orchestration at the beginning could leave your project as one of the 85% of big data projects that fail.
Why Is Application and Data Workflow Orchestration Important?
As companies attempt to ingest, store, execute, and analyze data to improve their business, they often turn to automation as a means of streamlining the process. When automation tools are selected without taking a strategic approach that includes the needs of IT operations (IT Ops), the result is increased complexity and lack of manageability.
In the fourth step of his “Data Engineering Essentials, Patterns and Best Practices” report, Gartner analyst Sumit Pal describes the importance of orchestrating and automating data pipelines: “Data needs to be moved, wrangled, and massaged into the right format before being consumed by downstream systems.” Orchestration connects the different sources and systems of a data pipeline to ensure a cohesive flow of data through a workflow from beginning to end.
Done right, workflow orchestration ensures the steps of a data or application workflow are occurring in the correct sequence and at the right time to successfully deliver a business service. Look for platforms that offer a single point of control for scalable, API-driven application and data workflow orchestration. They help organizations reduce complexity by automating the process end to end. This allows you to leverage the technology and data you already have and integrate it with the latest business applications that can provide you with critical insights.
What Does ‘Good’ Look Like?
Now that we’ve established why implementing application and data workflow orchestration early is vital to success, you’re probably wondering what to look for in a platform. Here are some must-have capabilities to keep in mind when deciding which platform is right for your business.
Visibility is one of the most critical attributes of a robust application and data workflow orchestration platform. It should provide a comprehensive view of applications, data sources, and critical systems of record from mainframe to cloud. Being able to see workflows from end to end helps improve identification and remediation of current and potential issues.
Hybrid and Cloud Integration
As the use of private, public, and hybrid cloud environments grows, you need an application and data workflow orchestration platform that can work seamlessly; leverage the flexibility and scalability of cloud ecosystems; give you end-to-end visibility of workflows across hybrid environments; and provide the same high level of automation regardless of the cloud technology you use.
Good service-level agreement (SLA) management capabilities enable proactive workflow planning and troubleshooting and help prevent delays to business services. You need the ability to determine how potential delays or errors in workflow execution will affect business SLAs. This gives you a better business perspective so you can make more informed management decisions and minimize the risk of SLA violations for your business-critical applications. Ultimately, that minimizes disruptions to your business.
Managed File Transfer Capabilities
Your business operations depend on the movement of files between multiple applications and systems of record. Finding an orchestration platform that manages file transfers is vital. Using separate products to manage file transfers and application workflows requires manual scripting and intervention, which creates unnecessary risk and results in potential SLA violations. A good application workflow orchestration platform integrates file transfers with related workflows, streamlining the entire process.
Security and Governance
Production workflows, by definition, manage business-critical services. You must be confident that the right people are accessing and manipulating workflow components in accordance with your business practices.
With a robust and granular security model, you get the controls required for roles and users to secure access to the right resources and functions. Comprehensive auditing, reporting, and version control gives you all the information needed to track and analyze events of interest. The ability to codify and apply standards ensures that workflow artifacts meet your operational best practices and security guidelines.
Ideally, application workflow orchestration should be incorporated into the development process as early as possible. To do this, Dev and Ops must work together as the code is being developed, adopting a Jobs-as-Code approach. Using automation API capabilities, developers and DevOps engineers can make workflows versionable, testable and maintainable. That gives everyone involved the ability to collaborate in defining, scheduling, managing and monitoring application workflows in production. In turn, that means IT departments can reduce costs and improve the quality of their applications by finding defects and bugs earlier in the development cycle.
While these are only a handful of the features you should look for when deciding which application and data workflow orchestration platform is right for you, it’s a great target list to start.
Improved Business Outcomes
Clearly, orchestration is vital to the success of your business. Implementing an application and data workflow orchestration platform can not only streamline your data pipelines, it can help you meet or exceed your SLAs, meet your business requirements at scale, and improve your overall business outcomes.