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Compare open source orchestration tools for DevOps

Orchestration is a vital piece of the modern IT ecosystem puzzle. Compare popular tools and learn how they fit together.

The central goal of DevOps is to ensure efficient software delivery via high degrees of team collaboration to develop, test, deploy and scale IT environments and applications as necessary. These environments require dynamic workflows and automation to ensure efficiency and repeatability. Orchestration tools not only reduce workload errors, but they also lower development and deployment costs and increase productivity.

Choosing the right orchestration approach depends on a number of factors, from organizational size and DevOps capabilities to business goals and budget constraints. Business and IT leaders can adopt open source tools to alleviate the technology or infrastructure deficits posed by limited finances. Let's look at the top open source orchestration tools for seamless CI/CD and explore the key features that set them apart.

CI/CD and the role of orchestration

The process to build, package, test and deploy software often happens simultaneously across different domains. These delivery pathways are defined as continuous integration and continuous deployment, or CI/CD, pipelines. Designed to automate and streamline the build process, pipelines enable DevOps teams to deploy new artifacts easily.

Successful CD execution requires in-depth knowledge of deployed artifacts and their performance to evaluate whether a particular instance needs to roll back. These capabilities are outside the scope of CI, which is stateless and executes a new pipeline automatically when code updates.

Often, DevOps teams manage multiple pipelines, which dictates the need for streamlined management. Once automation is in place, an orchestrator coordinates and integrates repetitive DevOps processes. Teams can maintain context and configuration easily across their pipelines to deliver scalable and highly available applications. For example, orchestration coordinates all automated tasks, ensuring swift feature and fix releases while minimizing deployment times and reducing service delivery costs.

Manage with Kubernetes, orchestrate with Rancher and Nomad

Containers are fundamental for current software and distributed application development. These virtualized OSes provide the executables, binary code, libraries and configuration files necessary for applications to run. Via the open source Kubernetes framework, DevOps teams can manage containerized workloads in the form of clusters. Each individual cluster has its own set of users, administrators, assigned storage resources and security parameters.

Kubernetes is useful for cloud-native applications because clusters can span hosts across public, private and hybrid clouds. DevOps teams use declarative configurations and automation to orchestrate containers, mount and add storage, and scale applications instantly, as well as control deployments and updates.

Opinions on ease of use, however, differ widely. For example, setting up Kubernetes is relatively straightforward, but to deploy Kubernetes into production safely can be harder for large organizations due to levels of complexity.

Open source Rancher simplifies Kubernetes orchestration by providing a web UI for direct management. Developers can create clusters and manage security using external authentication sources, such as Active Directory, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and single sign-on. For example, developers can use the Rancher console to define users, assign permissions and designate resource usage across clusters.

Rancher enables IT teams to manage workloads and projects without in-depth knowledge of Kubernetes. DevOps practices enable IT admins to create new pipelines, test code and deploy workloads by integrating Rancher with GitHub to run a series of stages and steps. Rancher also offers deployment features for all the popular cloud providers, including AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

HashiCorp's Nomad is another open source orchestration tool, useful for cloud-native apps that require rapid scaling. As of the version 1.2.4 release, Nomad offers dynamic application sizing for tracking resource use, and autoscaling ensures the most efficient levels of resource consumption. DevOps team members can segment workloads and associated objects to deliver multi-tenant clusters.

For application deployment, developers use a declarative infrastructure-as-code approach to schedule jobs and improve resource use. DevOps teams can also orchestrate microservices and both containerized and noncontainer workloads. Nomad provides a lightweight layer for operational simplicity from a single orchestration workflow.

Reinforce agility with Jenkins, Jenkins X or GitLab CI

Jenkins represents a well-established open source tool that interfaces with and orchestrates a diversity of development approaches. When used conservatively with modern best practices, Jenkins offers a powerful and flexible CI/CD approach, especially for more complex processes and multi-platform builds. However, Jenkins does require the institution of user restrictions as well as attention to the number of plugins in use.

Teams can extend Jenkins with simple declarative pipelines and small, defined libraries to keep their Jenkinsfiles concise. The result is a powerful and effective orchestration system for complex processes and multi-platform builds. Teams can also simplify management using the Jenkins Cloud plugin for Docker to provision a container as a Jenkins agent node and use Ansible to manage configurations.

To avoid plugin overuse, DevOps teams can deploy Jenkins X and use its command-line tool to orchestrate CI/CD, import projects and bootstrap native cloud applications. Jenkins X is Kubernetes native, which alleviates the need for in-depth Kubernetes knowledge. It simplifies cluster creation and offers preview environments for pull requests. DevOps teams can use the close affiliation with Git to access Dockerfiles, Jenkinsfiles or Helm Charts for customizations and workflow tweaks.

Whether it's for easier setups or cluster isolation, Jenkins X accelerates task execution and integrates with major cloud platforms, such as Google, AWS, Azure and Oracle. Jenkins X also enables fast recoveries because versions, comments and traceable information are all accessible via centralized GitOps.

Finally, GitLab CI enables DevOps teams to orchestrate multiple pipelines and rerun specific sections for troubleshooting and verification. Developers use YAML anchors to reuse known-good code throughout their YAML files. Teams that use GitLab CI gain a single source of truth for verifying code changes and collaborate more efficiently via built-in automation capabilities and shorter release cycles.

With GitLab CI's single, distributed version control system, administrators manage development and code generation locally and orchestrate containers for building and testing. Organizations can host GitLab CI on premises or deploy the tool in tandem with Kubernetes on a public cloud. DevOps teams can access top-tier GitLab CI features for free along with 50,000 CI pipeline minutes. GitLab CI efficiently provides planning, source code management, configuration control and monitoring to help DevOps teams achieve seamless CI.

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