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DevOps shops weigh risks of Microsoft-GitHub acquisition

An online outcry about Microsoft's GitHub acquisition seems overblown to enterprise DevOps pros, but that doesn't mean there's no cause for concerns.

Microsoft's GitHub acquisition isn't the disaster some in the free and open source software community make it out to be, enterprise DevOps shops say, but any change Microsoft makes to GitHub's products will be risky.

Online hysteria was rampant as news of the deal for the distributed, cloud-hosted version control vendor broke over the last week. One GitHub competitor, GitLab, saw a huge surge of users that tried to migrate code repositories from GitHub once Microsoft confirmed the deal on June 4. The mass exodus of some 250,000 GitHub refugees caused the GitLab service to crash and experience interruptions.

"I'm surprised there was that big a migration to GitLab -- Microsoft hasn't done anything [with GitHub] yet," said Richard Fong, senior software engineering manager at Mitchell International, an auto insurance software company in San Diego. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has cozied up to open source communities, but "a lot of the open source community is still displeased with Microsoft and don't want to be a part of it," he said.

The boon to version control competitors such as GitLab and Atlassian, which offers the Bitbucket system also based on Git, from Microsoft's GitHub acquisition could fracture the open source community in unpredictable ways.

"I hope not, but it's inevitable that there won't always be essentially one place to put open source software," said Kevin Burnett, DevOps lead at Rosetta Stone, a global education software company in Arlington, Va. "Right now, in practice, there is only one [in GitHub]."

Still, for some DevOps pros, the best answer to the Microsoft takeover is for the open source community to fracture itself, and replace GitHub with a multivendor code repository platform, rather than follow along with Microsoft's agenda.

"Here's an idea ... let's settle on a shared OSS [open source software] hosting service that is managed by a coalition of companies ... something we can all contribute to and improve," said Charles Nutter, co-lead of the JRuby open source project and a senior principal software engineer at Linux vendor Red Hat. "If you think having a big software vendor manage your dev tools is a good idea, I have a bridge to sell you."

Microsoft could be a positive force for open source development and DevOps, but Nutter said he's not convinced. "They bought GitHub to gain millions of transient users of their cloud," he said. "They aren't going to be interested in opening it up and making it easier to leave or to integrate with other forges [to host repositories]. That's going to be up to us."

Not your dad's Microsoft, but risks remain

Most enterprise IT observers agree that, had this deal happened four or five years ago, it would have been seen as a calamity. However, under Nadella, Microsoft has made strides in the open source world. "It's hard to imagine such an event happening on [former Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer's watch," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif.

Industry watchers point to LinkedIn, which Microsoft acquired in 2016 and has kept largely untouched, as an example of how Microsoft could manage GitHub. Still, pessimists just as quickly point to Microsoft's acquisition of Skype in 2011, and the ill-received Skype for Business product. Even DevOps shops that use Microsoft's Team Foundation Server (TFS) code repository say a Skype-like scenario would be problematic.

"The big fear is they'll 'Microsoft it up' by changing the GitHub user experience -- I don't want Comic Sans fonts and a cartoony-looking UI," said Michael Bishop, CTO at Alpha Vertex, a New York-based fintech startup, who uses Microsoft TFS and Visual Studio Team Services professionally but also manages personal projects on GitHub. "If they leave it alone, it will be great."

But even among Microsoft customers, that's a very big "if."

Microsoft and GitHub's rocky roadmap

Many developers at Mitchell International have wanted to use GitHub instead of TFS for a long time, Fong said, but whether that enthusiasm persists is unclear.

"Microsoft has said it won't disrupt GitHub, but history has shown some influence has to be there," he said. "If it will be a feature of TFS and Visual Studio, some changes will be needed."

Dolby Laboratories is accustomed to dealing with Microsoft licensing, but that familiarity has bred contempt, said Thomas Wong, senior director of enterprise applications at the sound system products company in San Francisco. Even if Microsoft doesn't change GitHub's prices or license agreements, "GitHub could become one conversation in an hour versus the whole conversation" in meetings with the vendor's sales reps, Wong said.

GitHub already did fine to connect with the broader ecosystem of DevOps tools such as Jenkins for CI/CD, AWS CodeBuild and CodeDeploy automated provisioning, and Atlassian's Jira issue tracker.

"That ecosystem is not something I need Microsoft to build for me," Wong said.

A large part of GitHub's appeal was that integration with other popular tools, which may now be at risk under Microsoft's ownership, Mitchell International's Fong said.

GitHub could become a more enterprise-acceptable source repo with Microsoft ownership, and maybe Microsoft could help with legacy code support. ... The question is whether the rest of the community, especially Amazon, will continue to support GitHub.
Richard Fongsenior software engineering manager, Mitchell International

"GitHub could become a more enterprise-acceptable source repo with Microsoft ownership, and maybe Microsoft could help with legacy code support," he said. "But the question is whether the rest of the community, especially Amazon, will continue to support GitHub."

DevOps pros also worry about a potential disruptive migration from GitHub's current hybrid cloud back end, part of which is based on AWS, to Azure. They also worry that Microsoft may try to port that back end to its own technologies, such as SQL Server rather than MySQL. GitHub Enterprise and the open source GitHub Desktop client are also ripe to rationalize and remodel.

"I'm more worried about GitHub Enterprise's future roadmap -- Microsoft can open doors for the product, but it's also the most likely to get smooshed together with TFS or other pieces like that," said Andy Rosequist, director of IT operations at Boston-based car sharing service Zipcar, who uses Atlassian's Bitbucket at work but is a GitHub user for personal projects. "The core service is the thing Microsoft's buying, but ancillary stuff will be strategically reviewed."

To be sure, some potential integrations from the Microsoft GitHub acquisition appeal to DevOps pros. With GitHub's IP and expertise, Microsoft could build a simplified, light version of TFS that's more approachable than the current TFS product, Bishop said, which his developers would love.

Microsoft also could use GitHub IP to build support for monolithic repositories, the kind used by webscale companies such as Google and Facebook. Monolithic repos can improve DevOps efficiency but can be tricky to manage and aren't well supported by other DevOps pipeline tools, Rosetta Stone's Burnett said.

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