DevOps tools have become one of the linchpins of the modern software industry. In the age of the customer, they foster fast, reliable, high-quality software delivery models, collapsing the cycle time between software development and deployment. Additionally, DevOps orchestration tools ramp up automation across multiple layers of processes to handle complex, resource-sensitive tasks like provisioning, scalability, load-balancing, and security to create a dynamic workflow that can’t simply be cobbled together.
The best DevOps orchestration tools use automation to streamline and optimize entire IT-driven processes, workflows, and infrastructure. This reduces overall costs, increases productivity, and improves cross-team collaboration by allowing people to work better as a cohesive unit.
When choosing DevOps orchestration tools, it’s essential you understand how to make an informed purchase decision. This article highlights the best orchestration tools that shorten the speed between a great idea and its excellent execution.
The Best DevOps Orchestration Tools Shortlist
Here’s the list of the best DevOps orchestration tools that I’ll cover in this article.
Best DevOps Orchestration Tools: Comparison Criteria
Below is the summary of the evaluation criteria that guided my selection of the top ten tools.
User Interface (UI): A tool’s UI/UX interface is typically its first contact with its customer. Therefore, I looked for easy navigation with a clean, inviting, and user-friendly layout.
Usability: DevOps orchestration tools handle fairly complex tasks like configuring build processes. The best tools are relatively simple to use and easy to learn and paired with rich features to work and collaborate effectively.
Integrations: The best DevOps tools have the ability to support a wide range of popular tools and environments. It should offer compatible support for CI tools and version control systems like GitHub, Jenkins, Bitbucket, and Docker. It must build partner ecosystems to provide apps that aren’t in its wheelhouse.
Value for Pricing: Affordability is always a vital factor in making business purchases. Therefore, I look for cost-effectiveness and the value for money a tool provides.
DevOps Orchestration Tools: Key Features
These are the key features DevOps orchestration tools need to remain competitive.
Integrated automation: In order to be an effective orchestration platform, a tool needs to have automation pervasively interwoven into the fabric of its operations, especially those that have a disproportionate impact on productivity and cost-effectiveness. Examples include test automation and testing tools such as Jenkins, Terraform, Bamboo, among others.
CI/CD pipeline: DevOps tools are largely synonymous with continuous integration and continuous delivery functionality. Therefore, an orchestration tool should be equipped with robust CI/CD pipelines that facilitate the creation and delivery of well-tested, high-quality software at high velocity.
Support for cloud-native technologies: Let’s face it, software has migrated to the cloud. Thus, orchestration tools strive to make the “build once, deploy everywhere” mantra a reality. So, in addition to on-premise system deployment, support for cloud computing should be a centerpiece.
Container management: Orchestration tools must be adept at running microservices and container-based infrastructure. This feature is important as Kubernetes and containers have become the preferred way to modernize legacy apps and build software at scale.
Overviews Of The 10 Best DevOps Orchestration Tools
In this section, I go over each DevOps orchestration software solution, providing a brief description, then highlighting significant features and noteworthy use cases.
1. Kubernetes – The most popular container orchestration platform for managing node clusters at scale
Kubernetes has become synonymous with container orchestration at scale. Kubernetes is far and away the number one choice for enterprise teams managing containerized and microservice-based apps.
Kubernetes provides the capacity to handle the critical tasks necessary to ensure high availability and keep node machines operational. Some of these include provisioning, service discovery, load-balancing, fault tolerance, and redundancy. It also has auto-scaling and self-healing capabilities by default.
Kubernetes is widely associated with Docker but it can be used with other container runtimes. Kubernetes affords you the opportunity to run it on-premises or as a cloud-native service. It provides a lot of simple ways to accomplish tasks, such as deploying applications to clusters, and environment configuration through declarative infrastructure in YAML files.
While Kubernetes has simplified an ordinarily complex container management process, its learning curve is still steep for most, in addition to being resource-hungry.
Dynatrace is renowned as one of the best orchestration platforms for application performance management (APM). Dynatrace has something for everyone and its vast ecosystem of DevOps and application monitoring tools is impressive. However, its true calling card is observability.
Dynatrace analyzes the behavior of applications but goes much further by drilling deeper into components. Therefore, Dynatrace is ideal for businesses that want to gain visibility into dependencies, performance metrics, and root causes of intractable problems.
As an AIOps, Dynatrace uses its proprietary AI-centered software intelligence platform to collect data while performing real-time monitoring to detect hidden patterns responsible for the root causes of underlying issues. Using its digital performance management (DDPM) system, network administrators can auto-discover their entire IT ecosystem in a matter of moments.
It supports over 600 technologies, most of them critical to DevOps activities such as a slew of Amazon offerings, Ansible Tower, Azure Kubernetes Services, Bitbucket, Docker, Linux, Prometheus, and many more.
This versatile range allows Dynatrace to serve DevOps engineers throughout the software development lifecycle, including relevant activities like continuous integration, continuous delivery, version control, and container orchestration.
However, Dynatrace requires a significant investment in time and effort to develop the skills necessary to master it.
On the plus side, it offers simple and transparent pricing that starts with the following price points: Full-stack monitoring ($69 per month for 8 GB per host); infrastructure monitoring ($21 per month for 8 GB per host); digital experience monitoring ($11 per month); application security ($12 per month for 8 GB per host); and so on.
3. Ansible – A simple and easy-to-use automation and configuration-management tool
Ansible is an open-source, simple to use, and agentless automation tool from Red Hat. It has a light footprint, requiring less maintenance overhead because it doesn’t need any Ansible agent to be installed or deployed on the host machine.
Ansible is used to manage, scale, and automate complex deployments. It is often used for app deployment and continuous delivery pipeline automation. It can be used by those with little or no scripting or coding experience because it uses the declarative configuration in YAML-based files known as Playbooks.
However, you need to use SSH, which is already a dependency, for communication and have Python installed. The downside to agentless automation is that connecting to thousands of boxes across your IT infrastructure via SSH doesn’t particularly scale well.
While Ansible is free, there’s commercial support for the Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform in two editions. The standard edition is designed for enterprise IT processes while the premium version caters to mission-critical DevOps.
Microsoft’s Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) provides users with a managed, cloud-based container orchestration platform based on Kubernetes. It is used to quickly create, deploy, and manage Kubernetes clusters. AKS essentially enables you to build and deploy scalable apps with Docker and Kubernetes on top of Microsoft Azure’s cloud platform.
But why not choose Kubernetes directly instead of through AKS data centers? Well, AKS provides you with a variety of advantages that aren’t readily available when you directly manage Kubernetes. AKS is run by a capable cloud vendor that robustly supports the underlying architecture.
AKS’ serverless Kubernetes means you don’t have to worry about hardware concerns. This provides you with elasticity in provisioning and more capacity in terms of adding additional resources without the need to actively manage your infrastructure.
AKS is ideal for those who want to avoid or at least minimize the hassles of hands-on management of the clusters.
For instance, AKS allows you to use Kubernetes while saving you the trouble of managing the Kubernetes API or the cluster state. Because AKS abstracts the task of the Kubernetes control panel, all a customer has to do is select a server type of their choice and run workloads on their machine nodes.
AKS combines cluster auto-scaling pools with an automatic repair feature for nodes.
However, there are downsides to running managed Kubernetes service. The onus is on you and your provider to ensure Kubernetes updates are diligently applied. Therefore, though AKS has enterprise-grade security and governance, you’ll still need to ensure Kubernetes security patches are applied.
Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) typically operates as a fully managed, cloud-native Kubernetes service. EKS is also tightly integrated with the robust Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem, thus allowing you to take advantage of its efficient computing resources to provision your Kubernetes infrastructure.
But it also provides customers with other choices, including on-premises, hybrid environments, and deployment options with your own tools. This added flexibility means EKS doesn’t require you to migrate your workloads to AWS.
As a Kubernetes orchestration platform, EKS removes the burden of orchestrating the deployment of apps. Like its Azure counterpart, EKS also manages the Kubernetes control panel on your behalf. As a result, you can focus on your web applications instead of worrying about the performance of your nodes.
With EKS, you have the best of both worlds, by getting the benefit of AWS-supported products, in addition to the open-source solutions built by the Kubernetes community.
EKS provides an AWS Pricing Calculator to estimate how much you’ll be charged given the resources you’ll consume. As a flat rate, EKS charges customers $0.10 per hour for each Amazon EKS cluster they create.
6. Red Hat OpenShift – Full-stack solution for building both traditional and cloud-native apps
Red Hat OpenShift is a flagship enterprise container management and Kubernetes platform built for a hybrid-cloud strategy. OpenShift is suitable as either an on-premise or public cloud hosting platform where developers can build, test, run, and deploy apps.
As a platform-as-a-service application tool, OpenShift contains plenty of rich features that makes it useful for developers and DevOps teams who need to straddle both traditional and modernized IT infrastructure. It provides support for popular tools like Java, Jira, Gitlab, and Jenkins.
Most importantly, it allows you to start where you are at and grow from there, automating everything from upgrades, installation, and lifecycle management.
OpenShift provides autoscaling functionality by enabling clustering and allowing the automatic scaling of app resources through adding more instances to your application.
OpenShift has been recognized as a leading multi-cloud container development platform provider by Forrester Wave Report.
7. Rancher – Nimble solution that lowers the entry barrier for container management adoption
Rancher is an open-source orchestration tool for container management, especially for running containers in production. Rancher is versatile, providing full support for a range of container-based tools such as Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, and Apache Mesos.
Instead of single cloud-hosted environments, Rancher excels in multi-cloud and hybrid deployments, equipping DevOps engineers with a common platform to manage their Kubernetes distributions.
Rancher comes with various installations to suit your cloud infrastructure needs. Among these Kubernetes distributions are K3s for running workloads at the network edge or inside IoT appliances, RKE for running containers, and Hosted Rancher for the control panel.
Rancher performs as a simple, easy-to-use, next-gen platform for full-stack teams that adopt container app deployment. So, Rancher provides your development environment with DevOps tools to facilitate the development process.
In addition to a CLI tool to manage clusters, Rancher has an intuitive GUI with deployment tools such as native Docker API tools. This GUI provides convenience and a streamlined approach to managing a group of clusters from a central location.
Although Rancher is free, you have to pay a fee for support. This makes it an ideal technology for managing Kubernetes clusters for price-sensitive customers.
As containers gained preference over virtual machines, they became a vital part of DevOps solutions and workloads. Accordingly, most people familiar with containerization have most likely used or heard of Docker. As an orchestration management tool, Docker Swarm runs on the Docker engine.
You can use Docker Swarm to create, deploy, and manage a cluster (or swarm) of Docker engines.
Since Swarm uses Docker as its native clustering engine, installing Docker is a prerequisite. There isn’t much separation between Docker and Swarm as current versions of Docker now include Swarm mode.
To support load balancing and service discovery, Swarm uses DNS through a DNS server under the hood. Swarm also has a faster deployment time compared to other container orchestration tools.
Although Docker Swarm is useful and lightweight, it is very limited compared to Kubernetes. Docker Swarm doesn’t have in-built monitoring; this can only be achieved through third-party APIs. Also, it lacks the robust features of Kubernetes and its functionality is largely limited because it’s tied to the Docker API.
Swarm offers customized pricing upon request. Contact them for details.
9. Minikube – Customizable, lightweight virtual machine for running a local Kubernetes cluster
Minikube enables you to create and deploy a lightweight Kubernetes implementation. As a local Kubernetes engine, Minikube gives you the flexibility to do this via a virtual machine created on a local host computer.
With this single node cluster on your local machine, Minikube allows you to run stripped-down Kubernetes operations without having to invest the time or provide the systems resources necessary for a full-blown Kubernetes installation.
In addition to bootstrapping operations, you can also configure Minikube’s resource constraints from the convenience of the command line. This is vital since resources like disk usage, memory, and CPU are often correlated and tightly coupled with your source code.
Minikube also gives you other flexible choices, such as determining what version of Kubernetes you want, so you don’t have to be stuck with the specific version published by Docker Edge desktop distribution. In addition, Minikube can be installed on Windows, Linux, and macOS systems.
Minikube is ideal for beginners since it’s much easier to bootstrap and learn Kubernetes on a simplified local machine installation instead of getting overwhelmed by the steep learning curve of Kubernetes on commercial products.
The advantages of Minikube also double as its downsides. For instance, while it provides you with some functionality of Kubernetes, you can’t avail yourself of external resources like cloud load balancers.
Nomad is a simple, lightweight workload orchestrator for both container and non-container apps. Nomad can also be deployed in various configurations, whether on-premise, as a multi-region service, on the cloud, or even as multi-cloud federation worldwide.
Nomad’s major strengths are its universality, simplicity, flexibility, and minimal overhead. It is deployed as a single binary, so its light footprint integrates easily into your existing infrastructure. Support is provided for Windows, Java, and VMs while orchestrating support for Docker containers and other types of services.
Nomad doesn’t have the breadth of features of other orchestration tools on the list but it strives to do a few things particularly well.
Nomad is created by HashiCorp, so it integrates natively with the products like Terraform, providing infrastructure as code to manage jobs and cloud resources as added benefits. Others include leveraging HashiCorp’s Vault for ACL management and Consul for service discovery.
Nomad is well-suited for users and situations where Kubernetes is overkill for their needs and requirements.
Nomad has two editions: its Open Source edition is free, while you’ll need to contact the sales department for the Enterprise pricing.
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Here’s a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the list.
Containership – Gives DevOps the ability to deploy containerized workloads using docker, without needing to understand or learn docker.
Marathon – An Apache Mesos framework for container orchestration on Mesos.
Cloudify – Uses environment-as-a-service technology to turn existing cloud infrastructure into a self-managed environment.
GKE: Google Kubernetes Engine is a fully-automatic Kubernetes platform.
What Do You Think About This List?
This is my top ten DevOps orchestration tools list. It bears the imprint of my personal imprimatur and possible biases. Nevertheless, it was well-researched and based as much as possible on objective fact. Consequently, I’d like to hear your opinion and get your feedback.