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CircleCI and GitLab integration expands DevOps tool choices

CircleCI expands code repository choices, benefitting mutual customers of the highly optimized platform, say industry analysts.

Developers who use CircleCI have another choice of code repository through a new partnership with GitLab.

CircleCI added support for GitLab SaaS customers this week, allowing for the integration of GitLab repositories into the CircleCI system. Changes to code in GitLab repositories can now be pulled into CircleCI, which can then run the associated builds as applications are tested before production deployment. The union simplifies GitLab use for CircleCI customers and adds more capabilities to CircleCI's platform, according to industry analysts.

GitLab, a popular DevOps platform that includes a Git-based version control system, joins two other version control tools already integrated with Circle CI: Microsoft GitHub and Atlassian Bitbucket. The coopetition between CircleCI and GitLab will benefit mutual customers by providing more DevOps tooling choices, said Jim Mercer, an analyst at IDC.

"For existing CircleCI customers, [it's] taking advantage of native GitLab capabilities such as triggering pipelines and RBAC," Mercer said. Role-based access control (RBAC) restricts network access based on individual user roles and is an important consideration for software supply chain security.

Christopher Condo, Forrester ResearchChristopher Condo

GitLab offers a DevOps platform that encompasses everything from code repositories to monitoring and troubleshooting apps in production. As tools such as GitLab increasingly overlap with more specialized vendors such as CircleCI, it can be a confusing market for DevOps teams to navigate.

But CircleCI's SaaS build platform is FedRAMP-certified and may provide more advanced capabilities or performance than similar all-in-one-tools with which it overlaps, said Christopher Condo, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"A lot of firms [are] evaluating the all-in-one vendors ... but there are some very sophisticated dev teams that would prefer the best-of-breed approach, where they construct a tool chain from what they see as the best vendor for each capability," Condo said.

Marriage of convenience hints at consolidation to come

When CircleCI launched in 2011, it was only integrated with GitHub because that's where most developers stored code, said Jim Rose, CEO of CircleCI. Atlassian Bitbucket was added later after its rise in prominence as a cloud-based storage option. CircleCI has always planned to support GitLab -- which was released in the same year as CircleCI's launch -- but the timing was dictated by developer requests for this support, Rose said.

A lot of firms [are] evaluating the all-in-one vendors ... but there are some very sophisticated dev teams that would prefer the best-of-breed approach, where they construct a tool chain from what they see as the best vendor for each capability.
Christopher CondoPrincipal analyst, Forrester Research

Although GitLab's growing popularity makes this a logical move for CircleCI, the integration may be more of a marriage of convenience, said Christopher Condo, a principal analyst at Forrester.

"They were completely dependent on GitHub as the only VCS [version control system] supported by CircleCI, and on top of that, all user permissions were managed via GitHub," Condo said. "With GitHub evolving to become a full service CI/CD platform and potential competitor to CircleCI, it was in CircleCI's best interest to find additional partners to work with."

The addition of GitLab support is part of an ongoing consolidation between DevOps and GitOps tools as enterprises look to deploy complex microservices applications to multi-cloud environments, said Charlotte Dunlap, a research director at GlobalData.

Mirantis' acquisition for its Kubernetes as-a-service technology is another such consolidation between DevOps platforms, she said.

CircleCI undertook an acquisition of its own in March, of Paris-based AI testing engine Ponicode, which analyzes and validates source code in a developer's local development environment. The acquisition aligns with the company's goal of helping people validate changes, regardless of where they're happening in the CI/CD process and testing as fast as they can, Rose said.

In addition, CircleCI underwent major rearchitecture during the GitLab project. As a result, new code sources can be added more quickly than before, Rose said. While he didn't specify who is next on the interoperability list, he did say that CircleCI is monitoring the relevancy of upstream sources such as Perforce.

Full circle, from CircleCI to CD

CircleCI launched in 2011 with a relatively uncomplicated focus on building, testing and deploying code to the data center -- the continuous integration (CI) stage of the software development cycle. As cloud-native architectures evolved, so did CircleCI, which became more focused on production deployments, or continuous delivery (CD), Rose said.

CircleCI CEO Jim RoseJim Rose

"Instead of being seen as this advanced and 'out there' practice, [continuous delivery is] the aspirational North Star for almost every delivery organization," Rose said.

Due to this evolution CircleCI is now a continuous integration and delivery platform -- although there are no plans to change the CI in the company name, he said.

Harness, another tool in the DevOps space, underwent a similar progression -- from CI to CI/CD, which made it a potentially complementary tool to CircleCI. For example, CircleCI customer GoSpotCheck, which specializes in mobile task management for teams, uses CircleCI to build and test code while Harness helps with deployments, Rose said.

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