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Release automation tools link legacy, modern app management

Release automation tools will evolve in 2019 to embrace advanced application development and infrastructure automation techniques.

Release automation updates slated for 2019 will streamline DevOps pipelines for enterprises that must consolidate legacy and modern app management.

Release automation tools, such as Electric Cloud's ElectricFlow, XebiaLabs' XL Release and CA's Automic, give enterprise DevOps shops a common view into the development and management of both their newest and their oldest applications. These tools see into multiple CI/CD tools that service various applications in enterprise shops, as well as the infrastructures where IT pros install app updates.

Practitioners who use these tools must always balance traditional enterprise IT management requirements, such as separation of duties and compliance, with the need to keep pace with cloud-native application deployment techniques that demand speed and efficiency above all.

"Electric Cloud is at the center of all orchestration in our shop -- not just app deployments, but creating [infrastructure] environments," said Gary McKay, release manager at Somos, a registry management vendor for telecommunications customers, based in East Brunswick, N.J.

However, McKay said he has also spoken with Electric Cloud about further support for serverless application development, as Somos software engineers eye AWS Amplify, a framework that automatically provisions AWS tools associated with AWS Lambda functions.

"If serverless works out for us, it may be the future of our application development. But I'm not sure how well AWS Amplify will scale," McKay said.

McKay can use ElectricFlow's developer self-service tools to offer access to serverless deployments. Personalized DevOps pipeline dashboards and updated pipeline templates rolled out with the ElectricFlow Winter 2019 release in February 2019 will also help bring developers back into the corporate fold and away from third-party tools. ElectricFlow must also add a framework to model serverless application design to its user interface to match Amplify, a feature that Electric Cloud executives said they plan to deliver in 2019.

In the meantime, McKay said he plans to dig into updated ElectricFlow features, such as persona-based pipeline views and recently refreshed pipeline templates for deployments to Kubernetes and other common tasks, to shore up self-service.

"Today, we have to develop a pipeline for every new project, and we want to say, 'Here's something you can start with,' with stages such as production approval and other workflows we know developers have to do on every project," McKay said.

Electric Cloud dashboards
Electric Cloud's release automation software features personalized dashboards.

XebiaLabs JetPack boosts cloud savvy

Users of release automation software from Electric Cloud competitor XebiaLabs must also navigate the balance between legacy enterprise app support and cloud-native technology trends. XebiaLabs gave customers a fresh option this week, with the introduction of a product package that supports pipeline-as-code deployments to cloud infrastructure.

Pipeline as code has been the missing third leg of the DevOps stool to go with application code and infrastructure as code.
Charles Betzanalyst, Forrester Research

XebiaLabs JetPack is separate from the XL Release enterprise platform, which will also add pipeline-as-code features in 2019. XebiaLabs previously supported DevOps pipeline development primarily through GUIs.

Pipeline-as-code tools have become mainstream since the release of Jenkins 2.0 in 2016, and forward-thinking DevOps shops also use as-code tools for infrastructure provisioning, configuration and application performance monitoring.

"For all the major [release automation] vendors, pipeline as code has been the missing third leg of the DevOps stool to go with application code and infrastructure as code," said Charles Betz, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Enterprises now need an audit trail of the process by which packaged application code is shipped to production infrastructure, saved specific to each release."

However, release automation vendors must fend off competition from cloud vendors even as they integrate with cloud services.

"In general, the concern for the whole release automation and CI/CD space is that cloud vendors will devour it," Betz said. He cited recent cloud vendor advances, such as Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub, Google's work with GitLab and AWS tools such as CodePipeline, as evidence cloud vendors might contemplate that strategy.

"The major cloud vendors could match and double the current VC [venture capital] investment into the continuous deployment and release automation space without blinking an eye," he added.

On the other hand, the reality of persistent enterprise legacy infrastructure, hybrid cloud and users' fear of lock-in will sustain third-party release automation tools in the near future, Betz said.

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