GitLab's new DevOps solution

Erik Kappelman

January 17th, 2018

Can it be real? The complete DevOps toolchain integrated into one tool, one UI and one process? GitLab seems to think so. GitLab has already made huge strides in terms of centralizing the DevOps process into a single tool. Up until now, most of the focus has been on creating a seamless development system and operations have not been as important. What’s new is the extension of the tool to include the operating side of DevOps as well as the development side.

Let's talk a little bit about what DevOps is in order to fully appreciate the advances offered by GitLab. DevOps is basically a holistic approach to software development, quality assurance, and operations. While each of these elements of software creation is distinct, they are all heavily reliant on the other elements to be effective. The DevOps approach is to acknowledge this interdependence and then try to leverage the interdepence to increase productivity and to enhance the final user experience. Two of the most talked about elements of DevOps are continous integration and continuous deployment.

Continuous integration and deployment

Continuous integration and deployment are aimed at continuously integrating changes to a codebase, potentially from multiple sources, and then continuously deploying these changes into production. These tools require a pretty sophisticated automation and testing framework in order to be really effective. There are plenty of tools for one or the other, but the notion behind GitLab is essentially that if you can affect both of these processes from the same UI, these processes would be that much more efficient. GitLab has shown this to be true.

 There is also the human side to consider, that is, coming up with what tasks need to be performed, assigning these tasks to developers and monitoring their progress. GitLab offers tools that help streamline this process as well. You can track issues, create issue boards to organize workflow and these issue boards can be sliced a number of different ways so that most imaginable human organizational needs can be met.

Monitoring and delivery

So far, we’ve seen that DevOps is about bringing everything together into a smooth process, and GitLab wants that process to occur in one place. GitLab can help you from planning to deployment and everywhere in between. But, GitLab isn’t satisfied with stopping at deployment, and they shouldn’t be. When we think about the three legs of DevOps, development, operations, and quality assurance and testing, what I’ve said about GitLab really only applies to the development leg. This is an unfortunately common problem with DevOps tools and organizational strategies. They seem to cater to developers and basically no one else. Maybe devs complain the most, I don’t know. GitLab has basically solved the DevOps problems between planning and deployment and, naturally, wants to move on to the monitoring and delivery of applications. This is a really exciting direction.

After all, software is ultimately about making things happen. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of this and only focus on the tools that make the software. It is sometimes tempting to view software development as being inherently important, but it's really not; it's a process of making stuff for people to use. If you get too far away from that truth, things can get sticky. I think this is part of the reason the Ops side of DevOps is often overlooked. Operations is concerned with managing the software out there in the wild. This includes dealing with network and hardware considerations and end users. GitLab wants operations to take place using the same UI as development. And why not? It’s the same application isn’t it? And in addition to technical performance, what about how the users are interacting with the application? If the application is somehow monetized, why shouldn’t that information also be available in the same UI as everything else having to do with this application? Again, it's still the same application.

One tool to rule them all

If you take a minute to step back and appreciate the vision of GitLab’s current direction, I think you can see why this is so exciting. If GitLab is successful in the long-term of extending out their reach into every element of an application's lifecycle including user interactions, productivity would skyrocket.

 This idea isn’t really new. The ‘one tool to rule them all’ isn’t even that imaginative of a concept. It's just that no one has ever really created this ‘one tool.’ I believe we are about to enter, or have already entered, a DevOps space race. I believe GitLab is comfortably leading the pack, but they will need to keep working hard if they want it to stay that way. I believe we will be getting the one tool to rule them all, and I believe it is going to be soon. The way things are looking, GitLab is going to be the one to bring it to us, but only time will tell.


Erik Kappelman wears many hats including blogger, developer, data consultant, economist, and transportation planner. He lives in Helena, Montana and works for the Department of Transportation as a transportation demand modeler.