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New Git repository faces corporate open source doubts

CI/CD pipeline vendor Harness faces two challenges as it launches Gitness: a market dominated by GitHub and GitLab as well as concerns about vendor-led open source projects.

Harness added an open source Git repository to its DevOps platform this week. But it must contend with deeply entrenched competition and some developer apprehension about community projects overseen by a commercial vendor.

The Harness Git repository platform project, Gitness, includes Git version control along with CI/CD pipelines as code. It is the successor to Drone CI, also an open source project, acquired by Harness in 2020. Drone will be merging with the Gitness project in the coming months, according to the new project's documentation.

With Gitness added to the Harness DevOps platform, the vendor will go up against Microsoft's GitHub, the best-known hosted Git repository platform, and GitLab, another well-established DevSecOps platform vendor. Each has been in business for more than a decade, and GitHub was acquired by software titan Microsoft in 2018, further boosting its power in the enterprise IT market. GitHub Actions added CI/CD features the same year.

Still, Harness officials said they believe there's room for another Git repository alternative based in the open source community with built-in DevOps automation features.

"There has been a lack of quality open source platforms," wrote Jyoti Bansal, CEO and co-founder at Harness, in an email to TechTarget Editorial. "Many existing solutions are not free and very expensive, have way too many features, and then others that are free lack essential features."

Gitness will inherit some of Drone's pipeline-as-code capabilities as well as built-in pipeline templates, according to the Gitness website. For Harness platform customers, building in a Git repository will eliminate context switching between code hosting and DevOps pipeline tools, Bansal said.

Typical DevOps pipeline stages begin with a Git repository.
The launch of Gitness fills in the far left end of the typical DevOps pipeline for Harness, where it will clash with Microsoft GitHub and GitLab.

Corporate open source the focus of recent drama

One developer disagreed on the topic of quality open source Git repository alternatives, citing projects such as Gitea and Forgejo.

"If you're already committed to Drone and are looking for a GitHub alternative, Gitness is sitting right there for you," said Rob Zazueta, a freelance technical consultant in Concord, Calif. "If not, why would someone select a product that is managed and directed by a private company that is not likely to listen to their needs unless they are paying customers when a perfectly good community solution like Forgejo already exists?"

In fact, Forgejo exists as a response to the formation of a for-profit company, Gitea Ltd, to run the project in October 2022. It's just one example of growing tension between business motives and the open source ethos in the last year, which also saw changes to how Red Hat makes its Enterprise Linux source code available and a controversial shift to business source licensing by HashiCorp.

Corporate open source initiatives are always a bit touch and go. Giving away software for free is rarely considered a good business model and is often done more for marketing than actual commitment to the cause.
Rob ZazuetaFreelance technical consultant

"Corporate open source initiatives are always a bit touch and go. Giving away software for free is rarely considered a good business model and is often done more for marketing than actual commitment to the cause," Zazueta said.

Harness kept a version of Drone CI available under an Apache 2.0 license since its acquisition of the project, which has hundreds of contributors from other companies, according to a Harness spokesperson. Drone Enterprise used a source-available license that restricted commercial use to a limited trial period for organizations with more than $1 million in annual gross revenue. Similarly, open source Gitness will underpin a proprietary product from Harness, Harness Code Repository, that adds in role-based access control and policy governance using Open Policy Agent.

Harness has had a healthy relationship with the open source community since it bought Drone, said Christopher Condo, an analyst at Forrester Research. But that community engagement hasn't been quite as far-reaching as some other DevOps platform vendors.

"Contributions to open source communities and size of user community was one of the factors in the recent [Forrester Wave]," Condo said, referring to a May 2023 market research report on integrated software delivery platforms. "Harness received a low community score because their community was smaller relative to other players. But it doesn't mean they aren't trying."

Specifically, open core competitors GitLab and CloudBees ranked ahead of Harness in community engagement, according to the report. The report placed those two vendors in its "leaders" category, with Harness, AWS, Microsoft, Atlassian and Codefresh in the "strong performers" category.

Whether based in open source or not, the market for DevOps platforms is becoming intensely competitive as vendors race to cash in on the recent rise of platform engineering, Condo said.

Ultimately, basing Gitness in open source could also come back to haunt Harness from a business standpoint, as it has other open core vendors, said Andi Mann, global CTO and founder of Sageable, a tech advisory and consulting firm in Boulder, Colo.

"I fully expect this will cause issues in the future, just as it has for Terraform, Elastic and others," Mann said. "Whether it is due to pace of innovation, commercial competition, integration and deprecation, contribution volume, quality controls, or otherwise, there are many issues in this approach. Harness will eventually face several challenges from not being fully in control of its future."

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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