Why GitLab's approach could ignite broad DevOps adoption

DevOps professionals have traditionally had to assemble their toolchain piecemeal. GitLabs thinks it has a better way.

Tips for how to become a DevOps engineer

As big as the potential CI/CD has for transforming enterprise application development, it's not even a rounding error in terms of adoption within the Global 2000. Not yet, anyway. While "most companies that have adopted microservices and/or containers have also adopted CI/CD to some extent…[resulting in roughly] 50% of the Global 2000...using CI/CD tools to some degree," analyst Lawrence Hecht suggests, the percentage of workloads within that universe using CI/CD is under 1%, according to GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij

As Redmonk analyst James Governor put it, "We're very early in the journey. So many orgs are still doing manual testing and builds. Modern development is happening in small pockets."

Problem? Hardly. Today's still small adoption simply means that the market for CI/CD tooling to the enterprise has room to explode, with vendors like GitLab, HashiCorp, and GitHub hoping to capitalize. Based on revenue growth within each of these companies, that "explosion" is underway. While each of these vendors brings strengths to the market, GitLab may be particularly well-positioned given its opinionated, holistic approach to the CI/CD problem.

SEE: Implementing DevOps: A guide for IT pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The complete package

Way back in 2018, Microsoft acquired GitHub, and pundits prophesied a mass exodus of projects from GitHub to GitLab, a rival git repository. It didn't happen.  Out of tens of millions of repositories, just 13,000 immediately left, and even that tiny surge petered out quickly. 

But then, it really didn't matter, because hosting code was not destined to be GitLab's primary purpose in life. 

Yes, it had started as a "better GitHub," promoting (in February 2015) protected branches, multiple authentication levels, and more. By 2016, GitLab was early into its journey toward promoting an application that allowed enterprises to "Code, test, and deploy together." 

It never looked back.

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By early 2018 GitLabs was touting its "Complete DevOps" offering, which enabled enterprises to "Create value faster with a single application for the whole software development and operations lifecycle." That idea of a single application would gain purchase and continues to be the unique differentiator for GitLab today in mid-2019. Why does this approach matter? As the company touts, "By delivering a single application we shorten cycle times, increase productivity, and thus create value for our customers."

The "happy path"

In an interview with GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij, he pointed out that this single application approach makes it "Much easier to get started with GitLab" than with rival offerings. The alternative to GitLab, he suggested, is a "homegrown DevOps platform where you pick point solutions and then spend time gluing all that together. This makes people slower and takes more time to get changes out the door." Contrast this with the GitLab approach, which offers "a single application that does the right thing by default."

The GitLab way, he continued, is to believe in convention over configuration. "There should be a happy path where you push code and the software takes care of the rest" (e.g., code analysis, feature flags, security auditing, monitoring, etc.). 

SEE: What is DevOps? An executive guide to agile development and IT operations (ZDNet)

While it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that this simplified approach is for newbies but not experienced DevOps folks at larger enterprises, Sijbrandij was quick to stamp that out. GitLab is used by a range of large enterprises like Goldman Sachs, which went from two daily builds to 1,000+ each day, or Ticketmaster. There's nothing "SMB" about wanting to spend less time on maintenance. 

Too opinionated?

Another premature conclusion is that somehow GitLab's streamlined offering limits user choice (while alternatives like HashiCorp and GitHub expand it). Sijbrandij emphasized that "opinionated" doesn't mean "closed": "I disagree that this comes at the detriment of freedom for users. All our source code is viewable and changeable. We're not trying to lock people in." Furthermore, while the company believes strongly that the single application approach is best for most companies, "They're free to mix and match with Jenkins, Jira, etc. And we regularly add APIs for other services."

Indeed, GitLab bakes in some key HashiCorp offerings like Consul and Vault. Contrasting with GitHub, Sijbrandij said, "GitHub bet on a marketplace, but we've bet on an open community." There are now more than 2,000 developers who have contributed code to GitLab. In 2016 the company boasted of 300 contributions; in 2018 GitLab had over 1,600. The GitLab license allows developers to make changes to suit that single application to their individual needs. 

All of which is cause for optimism at GitLab. I asked Sijbrandij to project out two years: Where would the company be? "We'll be a public company hopefully doing $500 million in annual recurring revenue." That revenue success, of course, comes from customer success: "We'll be known as a single-app for the full lifecycle." 

And the market? Well, Sijbrandij sees more "rapid consolidation," with a bevy of legacy choices for application development and deployment ripe for replacement. It's a market set to boom, with GitLab exceptionally well-placed to help enterprises embrace the DevOps change they need to succeed. 

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