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CloudBees ReleaseIQ buy renews CI/CD pipeline, SaaS support

The newly acquired startup adds SaaS-based low-code views into multiple tools and doesn't require upfront integration work, as CloudBees regroups after recent upheavals.

CloudBees will refresh its CI/CD pipeline automation tools with intellectual property it acquired from ReleaseIQ, in a bid to relieve setup headaches and refine its product strategy under new leadership.

CloudBees has undergone multiple management and product roadmap changes since 2019. The changes for CloudBees began that year with the acquisitions of Electric Cloud, which offered release orchestration and value stream management features, and Rollout, a feature flags vendor.

Those acquisitions laid the foundation for a planned software delivery management (SDM) tool over the next year, parts of which were delivered in late 2020. In 2021, the vendor appointed a new CEO, Stephen DeWitt, who consolidated SDM into a centralized CloudBees Platform and steered the company toward a focus on compliance automation with CloudBees Compliance. Early this year, however, DeWitt stepped down for unspecified personal reasons, and another new CEO, Anuj Kapur, took the helm in August.

The ReleaseIQ acquisition for an unspecified amount unveiled this week resets the company's product direction once again. This time, the focus is on SaaS-based management, integration with the latest cloud-based CI/CD pipeline tools, ease of use and quick setup.

"One of the big differences [with ReleaseIQ] is that the delivery model is SaaS, it's hybrid," said CloudBees CMO Shawn Ahmed last week during a media briefing. "We didn't have that before."

CloudBees officials originally outlined plans to offer SDM as SaaS, but those didn't come to fruition. CloudBees Platform also offers centralized views into multiple CI/CD pipelines, but only for CloudBees and open source Jenkins environments. ReleaseIQ supports CI/CD tools from CircleCI, GitLab, Bamboo, ArgoCD and GitHub Actions as well. Users can drag and drop elements of these pipelines into a desired workflow using a low-code UI that displays near-real-time monitoring data on application deployments.

If you see the Jenkins ecosystem as a pyramid, we've been focused very much on the tip of the pyramid -- what ReleaseIQ enables is opening new doors and new markets for us.
Sacha LaboureyChief strategy officer, CloudBees

This approach to CI/CD pipeline management doesn't require the kind of upfront "deep release orchestration thinking" the existing platform does, according to Sacha Labourey, co-founder and chief strategy officer at CloudBees.

"Historically, CloudBees has been very focused with CloudBees CI on normalizing and sanitizing relatively big Jenkins environments, so mostly larger customers," Labourey said during the media briefing. "If you see the Jenkins ecosystem as a pyramid, we've been focused very much on the tip of the pyramid -- what ReleaseIQ enables is opening new doors and new markets for us, to start providing value to different types of Jenkins [users]."

Existing customers won't have to migrate to ReleaseIQ. The two companies already integrated their products, and CloudBees Platform will remain available as-is for on-premises use. Existing CloudBees Platform customers will also get "aligned pricing" on ReleaseIQ's SaaS and hybrid tools, Ahmed said, but he did not disclose pricing numbers. Long term, the plan is to unify the data repositories that underpin both ReleaseIQ and CloudBees Platform, laying groundwork for possible AIOps automation features, according to Ahmed.

ReleaseIQ low-code interface
ReleaseIQ offers a drag-and-drop low-code interface for CI/CD pipelines.

CloudBees fills gaps, but has yet to break new industry ground

CloudBees' newer products appear to align with a thorny problem faced by one of its large-scale customers, which is offering multiple stakeholder views into CI/CD pipelines for continuous compliance.

Fidelity Investments is still evaluating CloudBees Compliance for use with its DevOps platform, according to Gerard McMahon, head of application lifecycle management (ALM) tools and platforms at the Boston-based financial services company.

Fidelity's platform uses homegrown tools to collect compliance data, but the company is looking for ways to visualize and report on that data for business stakeholders, McMahon said.

"We're looking at how to make digital compliance data transparent, how to actually leverage that data for compliance controls and also providing auditors and risk managers visuals into what the world looks like within Fidelity from a software perspective," he said in a Q&A period during the CloudBees media briefing presentation.

Meanwhile, "there's always a need for release orchestration" like that offered by ReleaseIQ, McMahon said. "Even the smallest of applications might have many pipelines."

This may have been the reality CloudBees encountered as it tried to execute on its previous strategy to reduce pipeline sprawl and streamline Jenkins deployments for large enterprise customers, said Jon Collins, vice president of research at analyst firm GigaOm.

"The way the world has gone is that deploying software is a far more in-your-face problem than getting pipelines right -- people have less brain space for these things than we think," Collins said in an interview. "It's hard enough to make a decision about what to eat for dinner tonight, let alone getting developers on 5,000 different apps to agree on a common core pipeline."

That CloudBees has still grown its top-line revenue amid management and product strategy changes is a testament to the strong advantage it has in its large and entrenched Jenkins install base, Collins said.

But to further its growth beyond that base, CloudBees will also need to focus on how to become a more strategic vendor for business stakeholders, and work on selling outside engineering teams, he said.

"This acquisition is a gap-fill -- the big strength of ReleaseIQ is SaaS, which is a necessary thing, but not really a feature play or the most amazing thing," Collins said. "CloudBees still needs to broaden its worldview from being very tech-focused to providing more hooks for more non-tech-focused stakeholders."

ReleaseIQ does represent some steps forward in that regard, "but we can all roll up data into a dashboard," Collins said. Such "bottom-up" views into engineering workflows are necessary, but Collins said CloudBees will also need to refresh the "top-down" strategy it embarked on when it acquired Electric Cloud's value stream management portfolio.

CloudBees competitors such as Atlassian have made more headway in this area over the last two years, in Collins' view. Atlassian and GitLab, for example, have begun to offer enterprise service management and product management tools targeting business buyers. ServiceNow, which still primarily sells ITSM software, has also begun to compete for the attention of business managers tasked with digital transformation efforts with its own focus on enterprise services.

"Ultimately, the problem to be solved is portfolio management, business deliverables and customer experience," Collins said. "As long as you're looking at things from that engineering standpoint, you're always looking to improve engineering, but it exists to serve a broader purpose."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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