GitOps: Just Getting Started (and So Should You)
November 18, 2021

Brendan O'Leary

When GitOps entered the scene in 2017, it was introduced as an extension of DevOps, taking its best practices and applying them to infrastructure automation. Now, developers expect not only an extension of DevOps, but an evolution of GitOps.

GitOps happens in the same version control system as application development, enabling teams to collaborate in a central location. It is comprised of three key components: infrastructure-as-code, merge requests, and CI/CD. With GitOps, infrastructure changes become codifiable, repeatable, and traceable, which leaves less room for human error and gets everyone on the same page.

While cloud container orchestrators like Kubernetes are where GitOps first emerged, it's a common misconception that it can't be adopted for other types of computing environments. Today, we understand GitOps to be more than just a new way of delivering applications, it's a strategy for more flexible development of applications and infrastructures, uniting several, once disparate pieces of IT work.

Why GitOps? Why Now?

Interest in GitOps is not dying down anytime soon, it's accelerating forward. At Kubecon EU 2021 in May, over 45% of GitLab survey respondents said that GitOps is a top priority for their organization in the short term. The interest in GitOps topics was so high that CD Conference (by CNCF) had to spin out a separate GitOps Conference.

With infrastructure environments getting more complex, we need infrastructure teams to improve automation, resilience, and compliance. This ensures that they are able to keep up with the pace of development teams. GitOps provides an operational framework to achieve just that. As more companies look for ways to streamline infrastructure management, more organizations will begin to adopt GitOps. It's been less than a year since the CNCF announced its GitOps working group, so now is the time for companies to get in on the ground level.

Pick Your Approach to GitOps

There are two main approaches to GitOps, a push-based approach, and a pull-based approach. In a push-based approach to GitOps, a CI/CD tool pushes changes into the environment. In pull-based approaches, an agent installed in a cluster pulls changes whenever there is a deviation from the desired configuration.

The best way to support GitOps principles is with three types of deployment targets and environments:

1. A single application for infrastructure code

2. Configurations using CI/CD for automation

3. Merge requests for collaboration and controls

GitOps principles can be used in a variety of ways to meet teams wherever they are at. Teams need access to many different options because the typical organization has a mixed IT landscape, with various heterogeneous technologies in a number of different environments. GitOps is flexible for you and, therefore, makes your teams more flexible.

GitOps Strategies Add Value to the SDLC

Once GitOps has been embraced, development and operations teams see improvements such as:

Improved collaboration— More engineers can collaborate on infrastructure changes. Once the change, merge request, review, and approval process is solidified, senior engineers can focus on other areas beyond critical infrastructure management while maintaining the ability to review and contribute as needed.

Improved access control— With infrastructure components divided up, credentials to all components are better protected. Changes are only automated by your CI/CD needs, which means what's safe and operating well remains secure in its cluster.

Faster time to market— Execution via code is faster than manual development, test cases can consistently be automated and made repeatable to deliver more stable environments, more rapidly and at scale.

Less errors— With infrastructure defined and codified, actions are repeatable and less prone to human error.

Better compliance— As all changes to infrastructure are tracked, changes in the SDLC are traceable for audits. If necessary, an organization could easily roll back to a previous desired state or make tweaks with ease.

Reduced costs— The automation of infrastructure and its testing eliminates several manual tasks, which in turn improves productivity. Additionally, downtime is reduced due to built-in revert and rollback capabilities.

Less risk — Taking a shift-left approach to infrastructure-as-code helps organizations identify and resolve issues before a problem reaches its end-users. Without a shift-left approach to IaS, problem applications and products are rolled out to production with hastily-built, less-secure code. GitOps helps businesses avoid unexpected downtime, providing environment stability and reliability, which ultimately drives better user experiences.

Grow with GitOps

The spirit of DevOps has been infused throughout GitOps. Despite businesses still being in the early phases of GitOps adoption, developers are already expecting the next evolution, including seamless code reviews and the simplification of complicated development environments, as well as the incorporation of CI (as opposed to just CD), agents, and push/pull. This is achievable through a single platform that offers collaboration, end-to-end software development visibility, and the automated tools needed to build a winning GitOps strategy. It's possible that until organizations find the right place to leverage infrastructure-as-code, merge requests, and CI/CD, their business potential goes to waste. But for those who want to step into the next phase of software efficiency, the answer is a GitOps workflow.

Brendan O'Leary is Staff Developer Evangelist at GitLab
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