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Harness preps enterprise AI expansion for CI/CD tools

An enterprise continuous integration product Harness plans to launch next quarter will inject AI features for CI in a bid to raise the company's profile against its many rivals.

Harness has revealed new details and a ship date for its forthcoming enterprise continuous integration product as it fights to stand out among the many CI/CD tools from which enterprises can choose.

The vendor was founded in 2016 with a focus on continuous delivery (CD), the portion of a DevOps pipeline that deploys applications on production infrastructure. Harness acquired in August to add continuous integration (CI) tools, which compile code from repositories into artifacts, automatically test them and pass them on to the CD system.

In late October, the company said it would integrate Drone CI with Harness CD in a new enterprise product with expanded AI-driven automation features, but disclosed few specifics.

Drone co-founder Bradley Rydzewski, now principal engineer at Harness, said the company plans to make Harness CI Enterprise Edition generally available by the end of May. He added that the product will use AI to optimize the ordering of unit tests in its first release.

"As an engineer on a large team, your pipelines may take quite a long time to run, and there's nothing worse than, 45 minutes to an hour into your pipeline execution, a unit test fails," he said. "Then you have to start back over, wait another hour, see if it worked -- you can end up losing an entire morning, and it's incredibly frustrating."

Harness CI Enterprise will use machine learning algorithms to detect which unit tests have the highest probability of failure and reorder tests so that those run first.

Drone CI user interface
Drone UI

"Let's not execute it after 55 minutes; let's execute it first," Rydzewski said.

Harness CD has had similar features since its earliest releases. The product uses machine learning to detect whether deployments are likely to fail and can automatically trigger a rollback to the last good version of code. Those features were extended to include cloud infrastructure cost estimates last June.

The combined Harness and Drone CI/CD tools face many competitors, from the longstanding Jenkins project and its powerful commercial backer in CloudBees to cloud-native tools such as Spinnaker, which also offers automated rollback features in Kubernetes environments.

However, Drone, which released its 1.0 product in 2019, is well suited to the greenfield apps where CI/CD tools are commonly used, said IDC analyst Jim Mercer.

"Drone at its core is container-based, which sets it up for modern cloud-native app development, an area Harness is targeting," Mercer said.

By contrast, CI/CD bellwether Jenkins had to adapt to Kubernetes with Jenkins X in 2018.

Other, newer CI/CD tools also offer advanced features, but the Harness user interface could make them accessible to enterprise IT teams that don't have deep experience with the newest tech, Mercer said.

Still, incumbent IT vendors, especially Microsoft, will present a major challenge for the comparatively small Harness. Microsoft can bundle GitHub Actions CI/CD tools in with broader license agreements, which can prove hard to resist for enterprise customers.

That's the case for Tyler Technologies, a government information systems software maker in Plano, Texas, and a Harness customer that had previously considered Drone for CI.

"We are in the middle of transitioning most of our CI workloads to Github Actions," said Jeff Green, the company's CTO. "This was pretty easy for us with our source already in Github, and a generous allowance of Action minutes provided as part of our Github Enterprise subscription."

AI-driven automation features will help Harness CI/CD tools stand out for some customers, Mercer added.

"There are [other vendors] in the test phase with similar kinds of things," he said. "But I haven't seen it yet from a CI/CD provider … it is groundbreaking that [Harness] would go in this direction."

Community Edition previews new Enterprise UI

Harness CI Enterprise and the vendor's combined enterprise CI/CD tools will also offer a redesigned user interface (UI) when they ship in May. Last week's Harness CI Community Edition update offered a preview of what that interface will look like and is the first graphical user interface for Drone CI. Previously, Drone was managed using a command-line interface.

This really brings Drone CI up to par so it will hold its own against competitors who've raised hundreds of millions of dollars and have been working in this space for years.
Bradley RydzewskiDrone co-founder and principal engineer, Harness

"Drone had very humble beginnings as an open source project," Rydzewski said. "This really brings Drone CI up to par so it will hold its own against competitors who've raised hundreds of millions of dollars and have been working in this space for years."

With the new UI, if a pipeline fails, a developer can remotely access the CI environment from a browser via a terminal to troubleshoot it. The UI also provides links for the developer directly to the problem area associated with a failed build.

"This makes Drone more self-service, because you're not opening a ticket with your ops team saying, 'why is my build broken?'" Rydzewski said.

Harness CI Enterprise will add advanced role-based access control, governance features and audit reporting. The interface update will also extend to Harness CD.

"We've added some really cool visualizations for pipelines, [similar to] Visio diagrams, showing it in a workflow," Rydzewski said.

Previously, Drone offered an enterprise product, which is now called Harness CI Essentials, and aimed at midmarket companies. While CI Community Edition is meant for small developer teams running one CI server, Essentials supports multiple teams and scale-out server clusters up to 100 nodes.

Drone already offered its own basic CD features, which customers can still use post-merger. However, Harness CD features are more advanced, with support for deployment patterns such as canary builds, and Rydzewski said he expects large enterprises to favor it going forward.

"Canary builds are not easily achievable" in Drone CD, he said.

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