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A growing focus of datacenter automation is application release automation. IT exists to run applications, and deploying new applications or updating existing ones is a crucial part of IT's job.


Most of the application release solutions on the market propose that you use process orchestration to accelerate your application release processes. Guess what: orchestration is not the hard part of release automation. There are a lot of ways to do process orchestration and workflow management. Best practices in most organizations are smart people writing scripts and documentation for application release standard operating procedures. Scripts are a poor-man's orchestration, and scripting works for simple application environments that don't change frequently.


So here's a question: do the words "simple" or "unchanging" describe any of your critical web-based business applications?


The fallacy of using a purely process-oriented approach to release automation is that it only solves the easy and most immediate part of the problem. The hard part of the application release process is maintaining configuration consistency across multiple application servers in multiple environments. At its core this is a data management problem. Using orchestration (scripts, procedural documentation, etc.) for application configuration management just bakes a whole bunch of configuration data inside a sequence of commands. As soon as something changes even slightly (and that's pretty soon)...time to rewrite the instructions - a never-ending maintenance chore. "Time to make the donuts."


Worse is when you're not the person who wrote the scripts, because then you have to reverse engineer the logic and figure out where and how to make the requisite changes. You can only hope the person carefully documented the code they wrote. Right.


You need to be able to dynamically manage configuration data separately from workflows. Configuration discovery and configuration data modeling is a fundamental requirement for release automation.  Process automation without configuration management just helps you make mistakes faster, and consigns your best people to "making the donuts".