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DevOps pipeline consolidation continues among CI/CD tools

Bespoke DevOps pipelines are becoming a thing of the past as specialist vendors such as Harness and Drone.io merge to compete with large platform vendors.

Privately held continuous delivery specialist Harness.io acquired CI/CD startup Drone.io for an undisclosed amount this week, as consolidation among DevOps pipeline vendors nudges the industry away from DIY CI/CD toolchains and toward broader preintegrated platforms.

When Harness first emerged from stealth in late 2018, company evangelists emphasized their belief that continuous integration and continuous delivery are separate disciplines, but the vendor has now reached a phase of growth where following the trend toward a broader DevOps pipeline product line makes sense, according to its execs.

"Until now, we've focused mainly on continuous delivery, but we plan to expand into a broad software delivery platform," said Jyoti Bansal, CEO and co-founder of Harness, in an interview about the Drone acquisition this week. "We still see [CI and CD] as separate disciplines, and in the beginning, people were repurposing CI for CD, which is a very different problem -- but customers do need both."

Drone.io is an open source, cloud-based CI/CD tool with a developer self-service interface. Its open source community has approximately 250 active contributors, including engineers from VMware, Cisco, Google and the Kubernetes core project. VMware, Cisco and other large companies such as eBay are Drone.io users, according to Drone CEO and founder Bradley Rydzewski.

[Drone] gives us the ability for our developer team to define pipelines within Docker registries on their laptops and puts the power in the hands of engineers.
Jim SheldonSenior DevOps engineer, Meltwater

Harness, a newcomer to open source, will continue to support Drone's open source CI/CD tools as Harness CI Community Edition, and Drone Enterprise as Harness CI Essentials Edition. A beta version of Harness CI Enterprise Edition based on Drone will follow later this year, Bansal said, though he declined to disclose what enterprise features Harness will add. Harness also has some internal projects it will consider donating to open source, but Bansal also declined to disclose what they are.

DevOps vendor consolidation kicked off in earnest with Microsoft's $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub in 2018, which brought the popular online code repository into Microsoft's Azure DevOps CI/CD portfolio, and continued with deals such as CloudBees' purchase of DevOps management vendor Electric Cloud in 2019, which broadened CloudBees' focus beyond Jenkins. Artifact repository experts JFrog also folded in Shippable last year, which formed the basis of a broader DevSecOps platform from JFrog in February.

CI/CD consolidation pro: Bolstered enterprise support

Drone has just three employees and Crunchbase data shows it raised little money so far -- just one $28,000 seed funding round. Harness, by contrast, has collected $80 million in Series A and B funding, according to Crunchbase, and has more than 250 employees listed on LinkedIn.

One Drone customer hailed the Harness acquisition, saying it should provide needed technical resources.

Jim Sheldon, senior DevOps engineer, MeltwaterJim Sheldon

"We've been in close contact with [Rydzewski] as the main developer since we decided to go with Drone [two years ago] ... and it seems like he's kind of spread too thin, so this is good news," said Jim Sheldon, senior DevOps engineer at Meltwater, a media intelligence software-as-a-service provider headquartered in San Francisco.

Meltwater uses Drone for both CI and CD, and while Harness primarily bought the company for its CI features, it plans to support Drone CD as well for existing users. Sheldon said he hopes Harness can also add features to the forthcoming Enterprise Edition, such as broadened support for cloud infrastructure autoscaling utilities beyond Drone's current Docker-focused approach.

Sheldon said his firm chose Drone for many of the same reasons cited by Harness in its acquisition announcement -- the product integrates smoothly with Git code repositories, and offers a polished self-service interface for developers that lets them build their own testing infrastructure as needed.

"It gives us the ability for our developer team to define pipelines within Docker registries on their laptops and puts the power in the hands of engineers," Sheldon said. "They don't need to come to us [in internal support] and ask."

DevOps pipeline vendor consolidation and the resulting preintegrated platforms may cut down on software delivery complexity, analysts said.

Charles Betz, analyst, Forrester ResearchCharles Betz

"People don't want two choreography engines, one for CI and another for CD and Release Automation (CDRA)," said Charles Betz, an analyst at Forrester Research. "The days of snowflake CDRA systems are over."

A preintegrated toolchain may also be a better bet for consistent DevOps security than an ad hoc approach, Betz added.

"The vulnerability of an unsecured CDRA pipeline scares the hell out of me -- you hack that, you can put a rootkit or a back door into any binary going through that pipeline," he said. "What's going to be easier to secure, an integrated pipeline, or something that your best engineers integrated as best they can?"

CI/CD consolidation con: Complex purchasing politics

Early enterprise DevOps pipelines required early adopters with open source expertise to cobble tools together; increasingly, vendor consolidation will make such toolchains available as prepackaged products, subject to some purchasing patterns DevOps pros haven't previously experienced -- and a few that enterprise software buyers may find all too familiar.

As major vendors snap up smaller CI/CD specialists, and offer broader toolchains, increasing overlap between vendors to which a given enterprise has loyalties can put new purchasing pressures on DevOps pros.

Harness customer Tyler Technologies, for example, has Drone on its shortlist of vendors to consider for CI, in part because of its integration with Harness. But the company also already began a proof of concept for GitHub Actions CI based on its existing relationship with Microsoft as a GitHub Enterprise customer, which comes with free access to GitHub CI/CD tools. Tyler Technologies also currently uses JFrog Artifactory, which compounds the potential CI/CD tools overlap further.

"Everybody's grabbing for the entire space," said Jeff Green, CTO at Tyler, a government information systems software maker headquartered in Plano, Texas. "It's something we're struggling with a little bit, especially since everything's changing so rapidly it's hard to settle on any one thing very long."

Jeff Green, CTO, Tyler TechnologiesJeff Green

As DevOps pipeline vendors consolidate and grow, their sales teams are also more likely to interact with enterprise upper management than with developers in the trenches, Betz said. This could potentially leave developers with less power to dictate tool choices, though it's unlikely any vendor will decline prospective buyers who want an a la carte approach to DevOps pipelines and to stick with a DIY approach, according to Betz.

"Vendors aren't going to limit their products," he said. "Where the pressure is going to come is from the vendor ... running into your CFO or CIO on the golf course and saying, 'You know, we do all of this, and we respect your engineering staff, and they're doing the best-of-breed thing, but you can save $2 million if you sign this deal with us.'"

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