Orchestration and automation might sound like they mean more or less the same thing. But when it comes to software testing, test orchestration and test automation are distinct concepts. Although they share some similarities, they each have different features and benefits.
This article breaks down the key similarities and differences between test orchestration and test automation and explains which strategy to employ for which testing needs.
Test automation is the practice of automatically testing software to evaluate it for performance, quality, security, or other features. Test automation is the opposite of running tests manually, which entails having a human sit down and test different aspects of an application by hand. With test automation, you use an automation framework – such as Selenium or Appium, to name two popular open source test automation solutions – to execute tests automatically.
The key benefits of test automation include:
Less effort for engineers to run tests
The ability to scale testing operations by repeating the same test as many times as desired
Greater consistency in testing because each execution of a given test will run exactly the same – whereas, with manual testing, an engineer performing a test by hand may not perform exactly the same operations each time that he or she executes the test
Faster testing operations, since tests can run in parallel
In short, test automation leads to faster, more efficient tests. Although there are typically always some tests that an organization can't run automatically – such as tests that evaluate nuanced aspects of the user experience and require qualitative feedback – most tests can and should be automated.
Test orchestration is the coordination of multiple automated tests, such that they can run in a predefined sequence. Put another way, test orchestration means arranging automated tests so that multiple tests can run at the same time in an efficient way.
Test orchestration can be implemented by writing scripts that manage when automated tests should run, although writing and maintaining such scripts can be a lot of work. An alternative is to use a ready-made test orchestration solution, like Sauce Orchestrate.
Test orchestration is important because even if you write tests that you can execute automatically, actually triggering the execution of each test may still be a manual affair. As a result, your engineers have to decide when to run each test, which increases the effort that testing requires and reduces test velocity.
Test orchestration addresses these challenges by allowing teams to automate the execution of tests in an efficient way. That's especially true when test orchestration is integrated with software development operations such that automated tests are triggered by events in the software delivery pipeline, such as the completion of a new application build that needs to be tested. By executing tests automatically for each new build, test orchestration allows teams to avoid the delays that would arise if engineers had to trigger tests for a new build manually.
In addition, test orchestration can help engineers test more efficiently in scenarios where one or more tests can't begin until other tests are complete. For instance, you might have one set of tests that evaluates whether your application meets basic performance requirements and another set that tests whether interface elements appear in the right location on the screen. If the first set of tests fails, running the second set is pointless because you won't be able to release the app until you've addressed basic performance issues. By orchestrating the first set of tests to run before the second one, you avoid the risk of wasting time and resources running the second set in the event that the first set fails.
To sum up, test orchestration offers the following benefits:
The ability to save even more time and effort than you get from automated testing alone.
Efficient management of complex testing scenarios where you need to coordinate some tests to run before others
It's fair to say that test orchestration takes test automation to the next level. It almost entirely eliminates the need for manual management of software testing processes, and it helps test operations to keep pace with software delivery operations in order to ensure the consistent and efficient release of high-quality applications.
The main difference between test automation and test orchestration is that test automation automates the steps required to perform a software test, whereas test orchestration automates the execution of tests.
To use an analogy, test automation is like using ChatGPT to write emails. ChatGPT can generate the text for each email automatically, but it won't send the emails for you. You have to click the send button manually. Meanwhile, test orchestration is akin to using a bulk email program to send multiple emails to multiple recipients. A bulk email program doesn't write emails for you (usually), but it does help you manage the complex task of sending emails to many people.
To be more specific, the differences between test automation and orchestration include:
Test automation can be used to evaluate software quality or security automatically, but it can't manage when tests run. You need test orchestration for that.
Test automation can automate individual tests, but not an entire sequence of tests.
Because each automated test is independent, test automation on its own can't handle dependencies between tests or determine the right order in which tests should run. Only test orchestration can do this.
Test automation reduces the time and effort required to manage software quality, but test orchestration reduces them even further.
Automating individual software tests
Automating software test sequences
Software testers (who no longer have to test manually)
Software testers (who no longer have to execute tests manually), developers (who get faster release cycles), and end-users (who enjoy faster application updates)
Test automation framework (such as Selenium)
Test orchestration tool (such as Sauce Orchestrate)
When to adopt
If all of your tests are manual
Once you have at least some automated tests in place
To contextualize the differences between test automation and orchestration, consider the following example.
A team wants to ensure that its Web app displays properly across different browsers and operating systems, so it writes a suite of automated tests that evaluate the app under various platforms. But because the team doesn't have a test orchestration solution in place, it has to run the tests manually. As a result, the testing process slows down software delivery operations. It also causes some friction between the testing team and the software development team, which is annoyed that its releases are delayed by an inefficient testing process.
Recognizing the benefits of test orchestration, however, the team decides to orchestrate its tests by running them automatically whenever developers push a new application build down the CI/CD pipeline. Doing so ensures that the tests run as quickly as possible. It also helps avoid wasted time and resources due to tests that are executed in the wrong order.
The result is happier testers (because they can run tests with less effort), happier developers (who are no longer annoyed by application release delays), and happier end-users (who get faster application updates thanks to a more efficient testing routine).
You can't orchestrate tests if you don't automate them, so to get started with both test orchestration and automation, you need to create automated tests first.
You can do this by selecting a test automation framework, then writing code that defines what you want each automated test to evaluate. At this point, you have a suite of automated tests.
From there, you can orchestrate your automated tests by configuring rules that determine when the tests should execute. As mentioned above, you can manage test execution using custom scripts, or you can choose a turnkey test orchestration solution like Sauce Orchestrate.
Test automation is a great step toward optimizing the efficiency and speed of software testing. But if you really want to supercharge your operational efficiency and simplify workflow management, you should implement test orchestration alongside test automation.
Doing so doesn't require that much effort – if you already have automated tests, you simply need to choose and deploy a test orchestration solution in order to orchestrate them – and test orchestration quickly pays for itself in the form of faster, more reliable, and more efficient test operations.
Learn more about test orchestration: what it is, how it streamlines CI/CD pipelines and testing, and how you can get started.
Learn how Sauce Orchestrate can help you go to market faster, improve the developer experience, and optimize your CI/CD pipeline while reducing CI costs.