Apr 17, 2020 - “Brendan O’Leary”    

Why GitOps should be the workflow of choice

What is GitOps and how do you apply it in real-world applications?

How did we get here?

In 2006, with the launch of AWS Elastic Compute, Amazon set off a revolution in the way we, as developers, consume and use compute and other resources required to deploy and maintain the applications we write. Not long after, infrastructure-as-code started to explode onto the scene with projects like Puppet, Ansible, and Terraform.

As these technologies matured, it became apparent that scaling applications in a modern or cloud environment required reproducible, reusable components, and infrastructure-as-code became the gold standard for ensuring the proper allocation of resources to an application. At the same time, the infrastructure space and world of software continued to evolve. The concept of continuous delivery and release of software came into vogue and was popularized by large technology companies. The "book" on continuous delivery came in 2011, where it became apparent that to move fast enough to keep up with market demands, a radically faster DevOps cycle was required.

As continuous delivery for software becomes more commonplace, new solutions in the infrastructure space have been created to keep up. Kubernetes and the rise of "serverless" promised to once again free developers from the need to worry about infrastructure. In a post-DevOps world - how does one think about infrastructure-as-code and applications as one cohesive unit? Enter GitOps.

What is GitOps?

GitOps is conceptually not that different from either infrastructure-as-code or continuous delivery. In fact, in many ways, it is the convergence of those two concepts. Developers and operations teams alike can share a common repository of code, and GitOps allows a developer-like experience for managing applications and their underlying infrastructure. In that way, you can use GitOps as an operating model for modern infrastructures like Kubernetes, serverless, and other cloud native technologies.

Version control and continuous integration are essential tools for deploying software continuously and reliably. GitOps brings both of those software best practices to operations by making the repository the central-source-of-truth for all of the infrastructure required to run applications. With GitOps, any change to infrastructure is committed to the git repository along with any application changes.

This allows developers and operators to use familiar development patterns and branching strategies. From there, a merge request provides the central place to collaborate and suggest changes. Once merged into the mainline, CI/CD should be configured to deploy both the application and infrastructure changes automatically. The way this enables synchronization between developers and operators is what can be very appealing about GitOps as the next iteration of DevOps.

Why GitOps?

Why are so many organizations large and small considering a move to a more GitOps-focused culture?

As software has eaten the world, business operational excellence has become directly aligned with the ability to deliver quality software faster. Business survival depends on adaptive and efficient software development practices. Those practices require new processes and changes in the way we think about change management.

In many software practices, the concept of code review and approval is where most of the checks and balances for deploying production code comes into play. At GitLab, we believe that the merge request is the best place to collaborate on code and approve changes. Processes and tools that are external to the code change only serve to increase cycle time and inhibit an organization’s ability to deploy code quickly.

Once an organization has embraced continuous integration and code review as the place for change request approval, it is a natural progression to discuss the idea of continuous delivery to production after those CI gates and human approvals are passed. As GitOps takes that concept a step further and integrates the pipeline to production directly in the git and merge request workflow, it’s become a hot topic and one that will become the normal workflow for efficient software organizations. Taking unnecessary steps and tools out of the critical path to production enables an organization to deliver better products faster, without sacrificing the governance required to deploy code.

Cover image by Shiro Hatori on Unsplash

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