The usage of words Automation and Orchestration has been given a prominence recently, especially in the telecoms space. The two words, according to the Oxford English dictionary, mean:
The use or introduction of automatic equipment in a manufacturing or other process or facility and The planning or coordination of the elements of a situation to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously respectively.
While these definitions do not seem to create any ambiguity in general usage, the same cannot be said in the field of telecommunications where there seem to be some ambiguities. Let's look at automation first...
In telecoms automation refers to, including but not limited to, the automation of operator / service provider networks, data centres, clouds (private, public or hybrid), information technology (IT) systems, processes, services, service delivery, etc. using the capabilities of information and communications technologies (ICT). However, the easiest way to understand automation, in the context of telecommunication, is to look at it as the elimination of well-defined repeatable manual tasks. If the tasks are well-defined, and are being repeatedly done manually today, they all can be automated with proper tools.
Some of the less abstract examples for possible automations in a telecom networking environment would be the enabling or disabling of an interface in a router / switch or configuring an internet protocol (IP) address on an interface or configuring a virtual local area network (VLAN) on a switch. Rather than doing them manually, these tasks can easily be automated by running an automatic script or code.
Orchestration in also widely used in telecoms and refers to the orchestration of, including but not limited to, the orchestration of operator/service provider network resources, data centre resources, cloud resources, information technology (IT) system resources, services, etc. However, the easiest way to understand orchestration, in the context of telecommunication, is to look at it as the grouping of automated tasks in coordinated workflows. While it is not mandatory to have the tasks in coordinated workflows be automated to achieve orchestration, automated tasks widely simplifies orchestration.
Let's take a less abstract example to understand orchestration further. Think of creating a point-to-point ethernet (or Layer 2 or E-LINE in MEF terms) service in an operator/service provider network. When you enable edge interfaces (probably on a customer edge (CE) or provider edge (PE) carrier ethernet switch), configure access VLANs, create VLAN-to-VLAN mappings, and test the end-to-end connectivity; then that's orchestration.
If you want a simpler example, think of making wine using grapes. As you all know, grapes need to be squeezed / crushed first to extract the juice and then follow several other processes to make the perfect wine. Squeezing/crushing grapes can be automated (because it's a well-defined manual task) and the whole process of making the wine requires orchestration, including grouping such tasks together and coordinating among them. While automation typically confines to a single domain, orchestration spans multiple domains.
Hope automation and orchestration are now clear.