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Jenkins' CI/CD moves transform DevOps tool landscape

User dissatisfaction with the complexity of the Jenkins CI/CD pipeline tool spurs both the open source community and CloudBees to offer streamlined GUIs and better metrics.

Updates to the Jenkins open source tool have accelerated in the past year, as supporters seek to spread its adoption throughout the IT industry.

Within the past year, CloudBees, a major provider of enterprise-supported Jenkins, has expanded Jenkins' reach beyond code aficionados -- and beyond application development lifecycles. Recent improvements include a customizable dashboard interface and, announced at Jenkins World 2017 at the end of August, a metrics and insights extension.

Activity in the past 12 months around Jenkins and the continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) space warrants a look for DevOps engineers and IT organizations, as they evaluate tools to automate and standardize application deployments.

CloudBees' friends-and-family Jenkins pipeline

Vendors are racing to create dynamic enterprise packages for open source software, such as Jenkins. CloudBees, for example, provides the Jenkins open source tool, integrated with a collection of certified third-party and community-provided extensions, in its supported enterprise version. Many IT organizations can't afford the time or knowledge investment to assemble CI/CD tool sets from disparate pieces or to spend the money to have a CI/CD pipeline custom-built, so they combine paid versions of open source software with additional tools. But most enterprises can't support the amount of testing required to make third-party extensions work together seamlessly. CloudBees aims to fill in gaps with a product stack guaranteed to work together.

Organizations seek simpler CI/CD tools

Jenkins' CI/CD pipeline automation tool can save a lot of time and effort in application development and management -- after it costs you the time and effort to code the pipeline by hand.

Competitors, such as Shippable and Netflix's Spinnaker, have a different approach than Jenkins, and their simpler-to-use tools with GUIs have attracted enterprise organizations. With build automation, for example, a user declares a desired state to be enacted by the tool rather than code it all for each deployment. These other tools aren't perfect, with needed improvements in areas such as security and deep-branching models in code repositories. Some users, such as Box, stick with Jenkins because it works. Box's admins have Jenkins command-line experience, so a fancy GUI is a convenience, not a necessity.

Jenkins rushes in with a new interface

Jenkins' Blue Ocean interface redesign is part of a broader effort to make CI/CD tools appeal to non-IT professionals. The trend of emphasizing user experience (UX) design began in 2016 with application release automation tools. IT experts are not the sole users of DevOps tools in an organization, but they are the ones with deep code experience. With customizable interfaces for the different job roles within the Jenkins CI/CD pipeline, Blue Ocean is accessible to all users acting on it -- such as compliance officers who assess security and workflow details but can't wade through thousands of lines of code. For developers who yearn for a view beyond a bare-bones command line, Blue Ocean also implements an easily maneuverable interface for pipeline design.

Using the Blue Ocean open source project as a base concept, CloudBees has polished the interface of CloudBees Jenkins Enterprise for a better UX for software development teams. Even with that specialization, the new interface will be equally accessible for nontechnical users. CloudBees refers to the interface addition as Blue Steel, but that's a title only used internally -- for now. The new interface includes built-in security features and code repository integrations, as well as access to more than 1,000 additional tools and software.

Insights lead to actions

CloudBees unveiled a tool called DevOptics at Jenkins World 2017 that collects and presents insights and metrics gathered from the entire Jenkins CI/CD pipeline -- from development to delivery -- to help organizations determine an appropriate plan for improvement updates. CloudBees has always tracked events that occur in Jenkins, but until now, those metrics weren't productive opportunities for software delivery growth. With DevOptics, metrics are accumulated across multiple delivery pipelines and then dropped into one live interface that acts as a central monitoring console. In late 2017, DevOptics will add DevOptics Pulse to add system health metrics into the mix.

Jenkins hits a growth spurt

DevOps and Jenkins have evolved in fits and starts -- in much the same way as Cambrian-era biological evolution, CloudBees CTO and Jenkins Founder Kohsuke Kawaguchi said. Jenkins began life as a tiny app for a singular task, but early automation factors increased Jenkins' strength over time -- much like how human eyesight gradually improved. The Blue Ocean GUI with customizable interfaces for users of all skill levels is equivalent to another evolutionary trigger that could spark even more rapid evolution, with UX central to an inclusive DevOps environment.

Next Steps

Where to modernize first? DevOps, cloud and CI/CD choices

When IT infrastructure falls short for CI/CD

Patch management in a continuous DevOps flow

Ramp up the CI/CD pipeline

This was last published in September 2017

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