Paessler AG switched from Jenkins to GitLab and ramped up to 4x more releases
Paessler AG is the company behind PRTG Network Monitor, an award-winning Unified Monitoring Solution. Helping IT professionals monitor their entire infrastructure around the clock, PRTG monitors all systems, devices, traffic and applications of your IT infrastructure.
Helping customers monitor their entire IT infrastructure 24/7, Paessler AG keeps up with this fast-moving field with GitLab for version control and continuous delivery.
Providing round-the-clock monitoring for the enterprise
Paessler AG’s PRTG Network Monitor is used by enterprises and organizations of all sizes and industries across more than 170 countries. With customers as diverse as London’s National Theatre, Fulham Football Club, universities, and healthcare networks, PRTG constantly monitors IT infrastructure, alerting administrators to problems with bandwidth, applications, networks, databases, and more, all before users are even aware of an issue.
Instability and erratic performance
In offering an all-encompassing monitoring service, it’s critical that PRTG moves fast to keep up with developments in every space. Paessler migrated their development of PRTG from Mercurial to GitLab primarily for version control purposes. A combination of a cumbersome, 7GB repository (the initial commit took place 20 years ago) and some bad practices (the absence of LFS in Mercurial means they had their binaries as part of the repository) led to major stability issues that made pulling, pushing and merging all work inconsistently.
“There were times where it just stopped working; you couldn’t pull and push anymore and you didn’t really know why,” said Konstantin Wolff, Infrastructure Engineer (PRTG Development).
Modern version control and unprecedented QA automation with GitLab
This instability prompted Paessler to seek out a Git solution. “A lot of people used Git at the company and just knew that it was faster, better, and what everybody else is using nowadays,” said Greg Campion, Senior Systems Administrator. “It’s also harder now to train somebody to use Mercurial because Git is so prevalent. So, when you hire a developer, they probably know Git but they may not know Mercurial.”
After testing a number of version control systems, they chose GitLab for “the whole package.” Adopting Git restored stability and helped Paessler ramp up their release cycle from three major releases a year to continuous delivery and monthly releases. But arguably the greatest outcome of their switch to GitLab has been the unanticipated effect on QA automation.
Stability, more frequent releases, and 120x boost for QA tasks
Greg noticed the functionality and potential of GitLab pipelines, and adopted them for the cloud team he works on, and it’s since caught on all over the organization.
“Before we had our build pipeline running with Jenkins,” explained Konstantin. “So, we have a develop, release, and master branch, which is finally released to the public. Every time you build a branch of those three, the outcome would have been installs on several VMs and then our test automation started in a separate process. At the end of the process you got an email that it worked, it didn’t work, where it failed, and stuff like that.”
This sequential process, with feedback only available at the end, was only triggered automatically on the dev, release and master branches. A QA engineer had to perform some tasks to make this happen, around 10 minutes, 6-7 times a day. If other branches needed testing they’d have to build them locally and run a test locally.
The situation now could not be more different with the use of GitLab: “Every branch gets tested,” said Greg. “It’s built into the pipeline. As soon as you commit your code, the whole process kicks off to get it tested. Then you can go to the branch’s review app and have a running version of PRTG that you’ve just checked in code for, that’s already also been tested.” What this means in practice is higher quality control for their product and a significantly tighter feedback loop between developers and QA.
“The amount of effort involved in actually getting to the newest version that you’re supposed to be testing, whether you’re a developer or a QA engineer, is minimized immensely.” The QA engineer’s tasks – about an hour a day in total – have been slashed to 30 seconds, a 120x speed increase.
This automation really pays dividends when something is wrong: if the tests fail, the pipeline fails, so the developer already knows something has gone awry, instead of waiting to hear that from QA. This immediate feedback now has developers at Paessler self-serving 90 percent of their QA.
While it’s sometimes a challenge to drive widespread adoption of a new tool within an organization, the uptake of GitLab CI/CD at Paessler has been remarkable. “It really started catching on when people just saw our pipelines,” Greg said. “We actually had an internal learning session that was basically, ‘You show us yours, and we’ll show you ours.’ Everybody showed off their pipelines just to see what they’re capable of, what people are doing with them, to get new ideas and stuff like that. It was actually a pretty successful, interesting session.”
“GitLab is being used like crazy. And now that there’s a bunch of cool stuff going on in it, everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon.”
All information and persons involved in case study are accurate at the time of publication.