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Next Up: Portable CI By: Don Macvittie on April 29, 2021 Leave a Comment

One thing that we’re very good at in IT is breaking new ground, coming up with ideas that work astoundingly well, getting broad adoption, then standardizing them for interoperability. When a new technology (looking at you, cloud) has problems with standardization and interoperability, we find a way around vendors’ reluctance to give you freedom of choice. For cloud, for instance, we found another great technology – containers – that greatly limits our lock-in to a given cloud vendor’s fare. Of course, whether standards or workarounds are the answer we arrive at, there are always wrinkles. Vendors are certainly not motivated by interoperability; they want your regular cash infusions, and interoperability could be more of a drain on them than a feed of new customers. Particularly in today’s environment, where vendors sometimes think that doing “to” customers is an acceptable substitute for doing “for” customers. We have to work around things like “embrace and expand,” which is still very real, and deploying containers to cloud A versus cloud B still has a bit of vendor-specific work, but we have enough to get it done.

As continuous integration (CI) has become critical to an increasing number of organizations’ IT processes, the time has come to do the same with CI tools. Standardization is a good first goal, but it is more difficult here than in many areas, because the topic is so broad. An app might be built in one tool and tested in another, or it might be built via the use of shell scripts while tested with a UI tool, etc. It is not an easy solution to build, but it is an idea whose time has come – particularly with the cloudification of the space. We now have full-on CI systems that are in the cloud, and which hook you in with custom instructions. We’ve already had one large DevOps vendor essentially tell their entire user base, “We’re moving you to the cloud, unless you pay these inflated fees,” and others that never offered options for traditional architectures at all.

Yet, we know apps move from in-house to cloud (and though it is uncool to mention, move back), and organizations are motivated by cost containment and mobility more than by what their chosen vendor wants them to do.

So, it is time for some bright company or OSS team to put together a standard and a tool that implements said standard. It will be a lot of work, to make portability between CI tools that came from widely disparate roots – some from build, some from test, some even from deployment. But we’ll be needing it. A while back, everyone was a Puppet shop. Now, it seems, everyone is an Ansible shop. In simple terms, everyone will inevitably be a [something else] shop, because nothing lasts forever. So, a tool providing CI mobility between tools will definitely have a market – smaller today, but eventually large. We don’t need Yet Another CI Tool, we need that portability.

I’m sure it’s coming. History does offer glimpses of the potential future, and we’ve seen this cycle before. I’m just saying, the time is now, not five years from now. We can target the OS of our choice and the cloud vendor of our choice, using containers to simplify the differences in host OS/vendor. The ability to use the CI tool of our choice is the logical next step.

I haven’t heard of a project or company working on this yet; if you have, drop me a link in comments or email (I prefer comments, so others can look at your suggestion too, but whatever works for you), and I’ll take a look. It would be cool to support this kind of effort, when it eventually comes about.

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