Blog Post What is a Service Orchestration and Automation Platform (SOAP): Six Key Components

This article deep dives into Gartner’s new SOAP category, with the goal of understanding key differentiating capabilities, a little history, and how it helps enterprises achieve IT orchestration and automation across their business.

service orchestration and automation platform blue hand holding all processes

Gartner recently published their Market Guide for Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms (SOAP). This category defines an evolved breed of solutions designed to choreograph and manage applications and infrastructures across an enterprise-wide hybrid IT environment.

According to this Gartner Market Guide, “I&O leaders must use platforms for service orchestration and automation to drive customer-focused agility as part of their cloud, big data and DevOps initiatives.”*

SOAPs help I&O leaders with orchestration of automation via a combination of run-book automation, workflow automation and resource provisioning. In addition, they enable self-service adoption, integrate with DevOps toolchains, and improve real-time automation. Highly notable, SOAPs accomplish this by interpreting and executing sequences built across and between on-premises, private cloud, and public cloud environments.

A Little History About SOAP and how it’s Different

Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms represent an evolved version of several existing solutions that have matured into more complete automation platforms. Many of the vendors listed as representative vendors in Gartner’s report, including Stonebranch, have roots in workload automation.

It is important to note that not all workload automation solutions or SOAPs are created equal. One of the foundational elements found within a SOAP is the ability to run workflows in real-time via event-driven triggers. In addition, Gartner notes that “traditional [non-SOAP] workload automation strategies are unable to meet the needs of heterogeneous IT environments that include cloud-native infrastructure and big data workloads.”*

In other words, enterprises have moved beyond time-based batch jobs or manual scripts to simply eliminate routine tasks on old mainframe or distributed servers. Real-time, hybrid IT, DevOps, self-service, big data – these are the terms that enterprises are now including in their automation requirements.

The evolution and differences go further. SOAPs possess several unique characteristics that can help you to differentiate them from other IT automation platforms and offerings.

The Key Differentiating Capabilities of Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms (SOAPs), According to Gartner*

  1. Workflow Orchestration: Orchestration of workflows across a heterogeneous landscape. Many automation tools have the ability to run workflows, with varying limitations. They may only be able to automate within certain environments, or they may not provide the monitoring your team needs. They may also rely on several IT departments or teams for the initial workflow design. These teams each use unique tools to perform their part of the workflow design process which could cause errors and increase the time needed to get to production. SOAPs bridge the gaps in this process by providing a visual rendering of workflows and identifying and fixing any task discrepancies as part of the workflow design process.
  2. Event-Driven Automation:  Real-time, trigger-based automation of IT processes. SOAPs can perform tasks not only based on time-based triggers but based on certain conditions being met, also known as event-based triggers. Consequently, SOAPs remove much of the manual work traditionally done by IT ops teams. This is accomplished by launching conditional workflows based on an initial input, comparing the new data to workflows rules, and performing a specific action. Using SOAPs, your IT operations team can completely free themselves of a daily plan, while simultaneously reducing their manual workload.
  3. Self-Service Automation:  Do-it-yourself workflow creation for various user types. We already established that SOAPs bridge the gap between IT teams, but their uses extend well beyond this. These platforms also empower users of all kinds, from DevOps to infrastructure architects to business analysts and beyond. This is accomplished by empowering new end users are able to trigger automation workflows from within the environments or native tools where they are most comfortable.
  4. Scheduling, Monitoring, Visibility, Alerting: SOAPs broaden your view of how and where workflows are running (in some cases, in real-time), as well as extending your visibility to other users and areas of IT, and thus, the business. SOAPs connect disparate environments and tools, enabling them to offer the combined monitoring of those environments and tools from one central point of visibility.
  5. Resource Provisioning:  On-demand provisioning of computing, storage and network resources. Resources could refer to various operating systems, cloud storage, virtual machines, distributed servers, mainframes, networks, and everything in between. As a side note, some vendors, including Stonebranch, offer infrastructure-as-code features that help enterprises to create workflows that are designed for self-service and cost savings. The most important benefit of this functionality is the cost savings associated with simplifying and standardizing these processes across the business.
  6. Managing Data Pipelines:  End-to-end file-transfer automation and orchestration for big data and analytics. Receiving, processing, and sending data is possible within many types of tools, to a limited extent. The true power that a SOAP brings is its ability to orchestrate by connecting the dots between a variety of solutions, including ETL, data processing, and visualization tools. In addition, SOAPs allow these pipelines to be created as-code (what Stonebranch refers to as Jobs-as-Code), in order to version, maintain, test and integrate with other solutions.

Real-Time Hybrid IT Automation: Universal Automation Center

Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms have cemented their place at the table as the gold standard for IT automation. In turn, alternative automation software solutions will inevitably attempt to pivot in this direction without the necessary functionality or experience to support their offerings. These alternative solutions may offer a visually stunning platform for monitoring and visibility, but only limited integrations. They may have real-time automation capabilities but may lack the multi-departmental support a DevOps-based IT strategy requires. And finally, they may claim to be cross-environment but fall short of expectations, causing new silos and more IT challenges.

Stonebranch’s Universal Automation Center offers the best features of workload automation, combined with the self-service capabilities of a service orchestration and automation platform. Users can rely on the features offered by the most modern workload automation solutions, as well as the cross-environment visibility and monitoring offered by a SOAP. Universal Automation Center achieves this quality of offering through real-time hybrid IT automation.

When it comes to IT automation, Universal Automation Center’s core components align almost exactly with Gartner’s definition of a service orchestration and automation platform. According to Gartner, “service orchestration and automation platforms (SOAPs) allow I&O leaders to design and implement business processes through a combination of workflow orchestration, run book automation and resource provisioning across an organization’s hybrid digital infrastructure.”*

Each of the six components mentioned above aligns to Stonebranch’s real-time hybrid IT automation approach, as seen in the figure above. Our Universal Automation Center was a service orchestration and automation platform before such a subcategory of IT automation existed. In addition, Universal Automation Center offers endless integration capabilities via an open-source approach that removes limits on just how much of the business it can orchestrate. UAC can also be easily installed as a SaaS offering fully in the cloud.

Stonebranch has been building solutions that combine the power of workload automation with the end-to-end visibility and hybrid functionality of service orchestration platforms for over 20 years.

Looking to the future of IT and IT automation, SOAPs will become essential components of the landscape of digital business. As you evaluate which vendor offers the SOAP that will best fit your enterprise-wide needs, consider the decision’s lasting impact on your organization.

* Market Guide for Service Orchestration and Automation Platforms, by Analysts Manjunath Bhat, Daniel Betts, Hassan Ennaciri, Chris Saunderson, published 17 April 2020 – ID G00721991

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