Why should an engineering organization embrace GitOps?
In today's fast-paced and highly competitive software development landscape, engineering organizations are constantly on the lookout for effective ways to streamline their workflows and improve operational efficiency. One emerging practice that has gained significant traction in recent years is GitOps. This article includes:
- What is GitOps and how does it work?
- The benefits of implementing GitOps in an engineering organization
- How GitOps improves velocity and developer experience
- Best practices for implementing GitOps in an engineering organization
- The future of GitOps
- AI based GitOps
What is GitOps and how does it work?
GitOps is a paradigm that combines the power of Git, a popular version control system, with declarative infrastructure management tools to automate application deployments and infrastructure configurations. At its core, GitOps treats the Git repository as the single source of truth for both application code and infrastructure specifications.
When adopting GitOps, engineering organizations benefit from a streamlined and efficient deployment process. By leveraging the capabilities of Git, teams can easily track and manage changes to their applications and infrastructure configurations. This allows for greater collaboration and transparency among team members, as everyone can access and contribute to the repository.
Say, you are trying to introduce go-1.21.6 into your project. In a GitOps world, you would make the change in your repository and update the infrastructure configuration to make sure all your dev workloads (including new dev environments) automatically start using the intended version.
One of the key principles of GitOps is the concept of "desired state." In GitOps, the desired state of the system is defined in declarative files, such as Kubernetes manifests (or helm charts, etc) or Terraform configurations. These files specify the desired configuration and behavior of the system, including the desired versions of applications, the desired infrastructure resources, and any other relevant settings.
Any changes made to the desired state of the system are committed to the Git repository. This triggers an automated process, often implemented through a continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline, to reconcile the actual state of the system with the desired state. The CI/CD pipeline pulls the latest changes from the Git repository, applies them to the target environment, and ensures that the system matches the desired configuration.
The benefits of implementing GitOps in an engineering organization
Implementing GitOps in an engineering organization can yield several significant benefits. One of the key advantages is enhanced traceability and auditability. With Git serving as the single source of truth, every change made to the system is recorded and fully traceable. This audit trail is invaluable for compliance purposes, as it allows engineering teams to easily identify who made what changes and when and rolling back becomes a lot easier as a result.
Another benefit of GitOps is its ability to enable progressive delivery and canary deployments. By leveraging feature branching as an addition to how GitOps is implemented and Git's branch/pull-request based workflow, engineering teams can easily test new features or infrastructure changes in isolated environments before rolling them out to production, especially if non-production ephemeral environments can get provisioned. This approach not only reduces the risk of breaking existing functionality but also allows for fine-grained control over the deployment process.
Furthermore, GitOps promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing across teams. Since everything is stored in a Git repository, multiple developers can work together seamlessly, reviewing each other's code, proposing changes, and providing feedback. The benefits for this should be evident as compared to running ad hoc scripts or making manual changes in a cloud-provider dashboard (note: this might be fine if there’s only one engineer interacting with the system, but that doesn’t work well in most high performing engineering teams). This enables organizations to leverage the collective knowledge and expertise of their engineering teams, leading to better outcomes and faster innovation.
How GitOps improves velocity and developer experience
One of the key reasons engineering organizations should embrace GitOps is its impact on velocity and developer experience. By leveraging Git's distributed nature and collaboration features, GitOps facilitates fast-paced development cycles and promotes a smooth developer workflow.
With GitOps, developers can easily spin up development environments, update specs from the broader team while maintaining their own personalizations/preferences, and even make and iterate on changes, whether they are local or not, without impacting the shared infrastructure or their colleagues. This empowers developers to experiment, iterate, and deploy changes at a rapid pace, ultimately accelerating the time-to-market for new features and enhancements. This then impacts velocity and other top-level throughput and efficiency metrics.
Moreover, GitOps enables engineering organizations to implement Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines effortlessly. Since every change is version-controlled and automated processes are triggered by Git events, the CI/CD pipeline can be tightly integrated with the repository, enabling seamless build, test, and deployment workflows. This reduces the overhead of managing complex deployment pipelines and allows engineering teams to focus their efforts on building high-quality software.
Best practices for implementing GitOps in an engineering organization
While adopting GitOps can be a game-changer for engineering organizations, it is essential to follow best practices to ensure success. Here are some key guidelines to consider:
- Infrastructure-asCode: Treat infrastructure configurations as code and store them in version control alongside application code.
- Immutable Infrastructure: Use immutable infrastructure patterns to ensure the consistency and reproducibility of deployments.
- Pull Request Workflow: Leverage Git's pull request workflow to review and approve changes before they are merged into production.
- Automated Testing: Implement comprehensive testing strategies, including unit tests, integration tests, and end-to-end tests, to validate changes before they are deployed.
- Monitoring and Observability: Incorporate monitoring and observability tools to gain insights into the health and performance of the deployed systems.
The future of GitOps
As GitOps continues to gain popularity, there are several trends and advancements that engineering teams should keep an eye on:
- GitOps Operators: The emergence of GitOps-specific tools and operators that further simplify the management of GitOps workflows. Examples include Terraform by Hashicorp, Pulumi , Ansible and OpenTofu.
- Automated Governance: The integration of policy-as-code tools to enforce governance and compliance policies within the GitOps workflows. Tools worth mentioning in this category include Spacelift and Crossplane.
- GitOps for Multi-Cluster Deployments: The ability to manage and orchestrate deployments across multiple clusters or cloud environments using GitOps principles.
- Internal Developer Platforms - An internal developer platform is a set of tools, technologies, and processes that enable developers within an organization to build, test, and deploy applications more efficiently.
Current solutions in the market require knowledge of the specific configuration language you are using, and/or embracing yet another markup language (YAML haha). Using AI-enhanced tools to enable creating easy-to-understand, yet curated configuration files can help organizations embrace and/or improve their GitOps capabilities. This has the added benefit of exposing a layer of abstraction which also lets you migrate from one tool to another, and even migrate your configuration (thus enabling namespacing to test configuration changes which is notoriously hard to do using tools like Terraform). For example, DevZero’s language specification automatically reads your existing configuration, maps your resources and creates an easy-to-manage configuration layer on top which enables the provisioning of ephemeral infrastructure and environments.
Abstracting configuration management not only makes GitOps seamless, but it is also a key building block to succesful Internal Developer Platforms, which gives developers a self-serve interface to create development environments. Proper production-like development environments are known to reduce costs of refactoring, improving code quality and increasing velocity.
In conclusion, embracing GitOps can bring numerous benefits to engineering organizations, from enhanced traceability and collaboration to improved velocity and developer experience. By following best practices and learning from successful case studies, organizations can unleash the true power of GitOps and pave the way for future advancements in the field.
AI-assisted and auto-discovery configuration tools allow you to achieve higher velocity, better automation, and improve developer experience.