Getting Started with Multi-Cloud CI/CD Pipelines

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Now more than ever, companies are diversifying their services pipelines. After dipping their toes in the cloud waters, most have committed to a multi-cloud approach—one supported by more than a single cloud vendor. 

In fact, according to CIO, some 85% of companies have opted for a multi-cloud environment. A Gartner study corroborates this, revealing that more than 80% of enterprises responding to a recent survey use two or more hosting providers.

Why embrace a piecemeal CI/CD strategy? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and DevOps teams have recognized the value of diversification. Companies have greatly expanded their reach as well, managing complex, global resources including local hardware and virtual machines. 

Containerized applications and monitoring tools form the backbone of modern enterprise services.

Understanding the Push for Cloud

Leveraging multiple vendors gives a team options. As container management is essential to maintaining application performance, there are critical questions that arise. What if your suite of applications expands or existing applications grow more demanding? 

Additional cloud providers can give you needed hosting support and computing power—flexibility that lets teams govern their applications more effectively. The ultimate value proposition of multi-cloud is bespoke modernization—a process that can occur at your pace, on your terms. To efficiently manage your ecosystems with the utmost granularity, you’ll need the adaptability that multi-cloud provides.

And There’s More…

One popular misconception is that cloud solutions only benefit DevOps and IT. This simply isn’t the case. The CI/CD process as a whole is designed to keep stakeholders involved—from developers to marketers, from external contributors to the C-suite. Transitioning to the cloud helps professionals stay connected from any location.

Remote services also excel at centralizing data within informative dashboards, from which multiple departments can glean valuable insights. And by using two or more tools, you avoid making the concessions common under a monolithic approach. Cloud pipelines truly help organizations thrive at all levels. 

Still, is cloud implementation always a walk in the park?

Unraveling the Multi-Cloud Mystery

Hopping on the technology bandwagon is always an exciting proposition; yet, execution often leaves something to be desired. 

Yes, establishing a multi-cloud environment can absolutely be beneficial, but determining a clear implementation strategy isn’t always straightforward—an issue apparently faced by close to 60% of companies today. Simply put, tangling with multiple remote resources can be tricky.

Forming a blueprint and acting on it will require a deep dive into your applications, product development roadmap, team goals, and communication processes. Perhaps your workflow necessitates Kanban boards. Do you champion Agile or Scrum? Maybe one cloud vendor supports your team’s favorite IDE while another one doesn’t.

Your answers to these basic questions and preferences will help guide your setup. The best cloud CI/CD tools for you will check most—if you’re lucky, all—of your boxes.

Leave Room to Grow and Change Course

Additionally, always remember to plan ahead. You might have only two applications now, hypothetically speaking, and that’s perfectly fine. Companies planning an expansion of services or vast overhauls to their virtual workspaces, however, should choose providers that align with those visions.

Let’s say you plan on building two garages—one for a single car and another for two cars—to accommodate your three cars. But what if you expect to buy a fourth car in the future; why not just build two double garages? Cloud pipelines abide by a similar principle. Following this example, if you’re using solutions with a fixed capacity, you won’t have enough storage space for your applications or data to grow.

Another issue arises if you anticipate altering your deployment strategy (targeting new VMs, registries, etc.) later on, but your preferred tools won’t permit you to do this. 

There are plenty of such “What if” considerations out there for you to consider, requiring you to be on the same page with leaders and all stakeholders. Clear and confident direction must occur at all levels to keep programs on course and make sure they deliver optimal results for the long term. Multi-cloud CI/CD pipelines can make these ambitions a reality.

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Multi-Cloud CI/CD Solutions

Now that I’ve covered the “why” and some of the “hows,” you’re probably wondering what happens next. Your plan has come together, and it’s finally time to compare cloud-service providers. Today’s virtual vendors offer a bevy of tools and services to fit any workflow. Here below are a few excellent solutions to consider when launching your multi-cloud environment:

GitHub 

There’s no denying that GitHub is the household name in the CI/CD realm, commanding an impressive 21.4% market share among fierce competition. Besting even Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server (TFS), GitHub is a fantastic way to manage your repositories in one location.

The platform supports CI and CD, contains its own central wiki, hosts key project repositories, and even brings task management into the mix. The company also provides a browser-based interface, as expected. This helps it stand apart from Git—a command-line tool—while making it more inclusive for all team members. The GUI helps you better visualize each change, commit, and pull request, as well as their place within the entire development pipeline.

GitLab 

GitLab and GitOps are two of GitHub’s sister components and comparable to it. GitLab makes it easy to manage code and other deliverables on a centralized server. All code-related projects must be integrated with their master branch, and GitLab’s validation ensures this happens seamlessly with minimal errors. It automatically points out potential issues before they sneak into production, plus it can automatically push stable code live based on pre-arranged schedules.

If you use Kubernetes, you’ll feel right at home with GitLab. Today’s ecosystems are built using microservices, and Kubernetes has gained popularity around the world as a top container-management framework.

Also, clusters form the organizational lifeblood of these systems, and GitLab makes it easy to deploy Kubernetes clusters thanks to Auto Build, which executes Docker builds and manages Docker files. There’s additionally a built-in Herokuish fallback, and you can even create Python, Java Spring, or ASP.NET applications using GitLab.

GitOps

GitOps is centered squarely on continuous deployment (CD). It’s designed for cloud-native applications and focuses on sharpening the developer UX via familiarity. This is provided through the bundling of tools like Git and other external CD tools of your choosing.

GitOps is cloud-agnostic. Bring your own provider, link them together, and knock out your projects. GitOps uses Git repositories as the “central sources of truth” for all deployments, including both application and infrastructure components. These ecosystem elements have their own unique needs, which is why app and infrastructure code are separated at the repository level.

Spinnaker

Spinnaker is another open-source platform aimed at enterprise deployments. Billing themselves as “cloud native continuous delivery,” Spinnaker simplifies rapid application deployment while providing a host of management abilities. The platform breaks services down into three main categories:

  • Applications
  • Clusters
  • Server Groups

Your services are thus exposed to users via load balancers and firewalls. The platform operates using its understanding of deployable artifacts, configuration settings, resources, and overall traffic. The pipeline is thus centered on the concept of stages—with a basic launching point, endpoint, and various steps in between.

These stages are triggered either manually or automatically based on trigger events, such as Jenkins job completions, registered Docker images, or cron schedules. Spinnaker can even tap into other pipelines and react in lockstep with crucial developments.

Each stage within the Spinnaker pipeline is shareable, allowing you to send email notifications, fire off Slack or SMS messages, etc. Each milestone can trigger a communication with team members and external parties as needed. Whether you’re refining a canary build or moving to production, Spinnaker streamlines the task completion process.

Codefresh

Introducing another tool built for Kubernetes, Codefresh is best suited for Helm, Terraform, Chef, Ansible, and more. The platform enables delivery to numerous Kubernetes providers and provides a unified interface through which clusters can be created on multiple cloud platforms. Codefresh also makes risk management a priority.

The company has posted a webinar detailing how robust failover controls may be implemented using its platform as well, allowing other connected providers to pick up the slack during downtime.

The service is cloud-agnostic—so you can keep your favorite providers—and taps into Git repositories, lessening the learning curve for developers. Accordingly, its CI/CD dashboard is a place to connect clusters and associated builds. The GUI is clean, organized, and offers insights into both cluster and pipeline statuses.

Whether your deployments are static or dynamic doesn’t matter to Codefresh. The dashboard isn’t just Helm capable; it works for plain-Jane Kubernetes as well. It also makes it easy to visually troubleshoot by identifying priority issues.

Codefresh stands out for having its own massive actions library—or open-source plugin ecosystem—that allows for quick integration of popular tasks into your workflow. Each has its own command structure and arguments. For example, you can do the following (and much more) with some quick code:

  • Run a shell script
  • Wait for approval
  • Build or push a Docker image
  • Clone a Git repository
  • Run a docker-compose.yml composition

Though much of Codefresh’s appeal lies with its open-source foundations, you might want to run private Kubernetes clusters via the platform. That’s where Codefresh Runner comes in, a service that allows you to access secure, internal services of your own while adhering to on-premises requirements. This is not always easy to do in a virtual workspace. Secrets, maps, and volumes are just some of the components that Runner leverages; it even allows for access control, single sign-on, and greater enterprise account management.

Jenkins

Last but not least, the mighty Jenkins is an open-source, extensible option that appeals to automation-server users. It’s immediately compatible with Windows, Linux, and macOS. While it has a web interface, teams can also utilize Jenkins through their CLI, enabling remote-error checking.

The platform has a sprawling library of helpful documentation to make startup a breeze. Jenkins is Java-based and requires Oracle’s Java Development Kit (JDK) prior to use. At its core, Jenkins is focused on CI/CD and allows for easy pipeline building. To enable this, simply download Jenkins’ SCM plugin, which unlocks pipeline composition based on a series of steps.

While perhaps more technical in its presentation than that of Codefresh, Jenkins plugin library hosts a staggering 1,500+ components and APIs for public consumption. There’s a high chance that a developer has already created an essential tool for your CI/CD stages.

Building from source requires an automation tool, notably gulp.js, which is installed via the npm package on Linux. Accordingly, the platform also supports node.js for web app construction. If databases are your specialty, MongoDB integration is available, too. You can supercharge CI/CD even further by introducing Heroku’s pipeline tools; these help merge applications and databases into a cohesive package.

Introducing Jenkins X

Jenkins X arose as an automated, open-source CI/CD platform for cloud applications and is best suited for Docker and Kubernetes deployments. It supports providers like Amazon, Google, Azure, IBM Cloud, OpenShift, and Pivotal. Operating as a simplified version of its older brother, the service requires less configuration prior to use and is also geared more towards microservices, as opposed to monoliths.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to skin a cat when it comes to multi-cloud CI/CD. A wide host of companies offer customized solutions suited to specialized types of workflows. Quite often, the decision isn’t so clear-cut in terms of functionality. It’s entirely possible that your tool preferences are GUI-based or language-based. Because the market is reaching a new level of saturation, user-friendliness is quickly becoming a determining factor in the cloud race.

Major players like Google Anthos, Azure Arc, and AWS Outposts are fighting to win over enterprise professionals. Going forward, I expect many new features to arise that heighten the cloud’s value even further.

Putting all of your eggs in one basket can be risky. If you’re looking to maintain flexibility and prevent being locked in, a multi-cloud strategy is extremely beneficial. A growing focus on automation is improving CI/CD velocity as well—this also promises to take more tasks off of your plate. 

The future is clearly multi-cloud, and creating diverse pipelines might make all the difference.

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