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GitHub Actions-hosted runners tie in Azure private networks

Private network support is also planned for AWS and Google Cloud Platform, but industry watchers see a power play for Microsoft Azure in GitHub Actions updates this week.

The hosted version of GitHub's CI/CD workflow service can now configure workloads to run on Azure private networks and GPUs, part of a package of updates meant to appeal to larger, more security-conscious companies.

In the past, users' self-hosted GitHub Actions runners -- virtual machines that execute build-and-test jobs in CI/CD workflows -- could be configured to run within Azure private networks. But runners hosted by GitHub previously had to use shared networks. Now, Actions can automatically access Azure storage accounts and databases based on users' existing cloud network security policies as well as on-premises resources via VPN gateways and Azure ExpressRoute connections without requiring separate configuration.

The private network support within Azure was launched into public beta last year within the U.S. but became generally available this week for GitHub Actions Enterprise and Team accounts in 10 additional regions that include Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia and South India. GitHub is also planning to support private networks in more Azure regions as well as in AWS and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in the future, according to a company blog post. The private network support for Azure won't come with additional costs.

Also this week, GitHub added public beta support for Actions runners on GPUs, which are often associated with AI applications, and Apple silicon support for MacOS runners, with further GPU and ARM chip options planned in the future. New smaller virtual machine SKUs with two virtual CPUs were added to the low end of the GitHub Actions-hosted runners menu, which previously supported a minimum of four virtual CPUs.

All of this will mean more customers can eliminate the management overhead of self-hosted runners while maintaining tighter network security, said Chris Reddington, senior manager of developer advocacy at GitHub.

"If you think back to some of those old comics and memes where developers are waiting for their code to compile, that time where developers are waiting for build and test results to come back is super important," Reddington said. "We can help minimize that by giving [users] the different SKUs that [they] might need for what [they] need to achieve."

GitHub Actions-hosted runners now support private networks.
GitHub Actions-hosted runners can now access Azure private networks in a bid to bolster the CI/CD service's appeal to large enterprises.

Private network support boosts Azure's GitHub appeal

For existing GitHub Actions customers, private network support for hosted runners will alleviate complexities in access to underlying Azure resources and give hosted runners on Azure a more distinct advantage over self-hosted runners on AWS.

"AWS has a much stronger dependency on IAM [identity and access management], or authentication, and has focused on developing OIDC [OpenID Connect] authentication that permits access from anywhere," said Kyler Middleton, senior principal software engineer at healthcare tech company Veradigm. "Azure, in comparison, has focused on more traditional and well-understood access limitations, which includes IP limitations. This can create complexities with access to resources. For instance, if a Terraform builder has write access to a Key Vault but doesn't have IP access, it's unable to update config."

Analysts also see this creating an advantage for Azure in DevOps platforms.

"Can you do the same thing with GitHub Actions and AWS or Google Cloud?" said Torsten Volk, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "Sure, but the integration between GitHub and Azure now comes out-of-the box without any manual configuration needed and with the ability to centrally enforce the security of GitHub actions through Azure policies."

As for planned private network support for AWS and GCP, "they have to make some kind of a declaration to at least eventually treat everyone equally. But at the end of the day, who would you go to when looking for integration between Microsoft-owned GitHub and Microsoft-owned Azure? Especially as this integration is all about security and compliance, I think the answer to this question is clear."

Connecting more closely with competing cloud providers also broadens Microsoft's opportunities to poach those customers, said Christopher Condo, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Shifting winds of cloud DevOps competition

That said, Condo added that individual features such as support for private networks are less likely to be to sway buyers between developer platforms.

"Increasingly, the choice of integrated software development platforms such as these is driven by [executive] leadership, and while specific capabilities such as hosted runners are important, leaders are also looking at developer experience and cost per developer as major decision points," he said.

They have to make some kind of a declaration to at least eventually treat everyone equally. But at the end of the day, who would you go to when looking for integration between Microsoft-owned GitHub and Microsoft-owned Azure? Especially as this integration is all about security and compliance, I think the answer to this question is clear.
Torsten VolkAnalyst, Enterprise Management Associates

GitLab is Microsoft's closest DevOps platform competitor, according to Gartner's 2023 Magic Quadrant for DevOps platforms. Microsoft, including GitHub, surpassed GitLab in the leaders category to take the overall #1 spot, with GitLab a close second.

The two are both widely used, albeit by different populations: GitHub has a broader base of open source users with public repositories, while GitLab specializes in enterprise DevSecOps use with commercial support. GitHub officials said GitHub Actions usage in terms of the number of actions minutes in the cloud grew 169% between 2022 and 2023. More than 100 million developers use GitHub overall, according to the company's 2023 "The state of open source and rise of AI" report. GitLab, meanwhile, had more than 1 million active licensed users and an estimated 30 million individual users as of 2021. The company also saw healthy growth and reported profitability for the first time in 2023.

In boosting its appeal to security-conscious enterprise customers with this week's update, GitHub encroaches on GitLab's turf and increases the broader developer tools integration that gave Microsoft the edge in Gartner's evaluation.

"About 75% of developers report using [Microsoft's] VS Code, which makes it the most popular IDE," the Gartner report read. "This widespread usage makes GitHub workflows and associated tooling easier to adopt."

Condo predicted Microsoft will continue to flesh out connections between GitHub and Azure, including more built-in integrations with Azure DevOps.

"The other interesting tidbit is MacOS runners [updates], which could potentially hurt vendors such as CircleCI that have invested in creating highly performant MacOS runners," Condo said.

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism covering DevOps. Have a tip? Email her or reach out on X, formerly known as Twitter, @PariseauTT.

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