An Introduction to GitOps

Dear reader, have you heard of this new methodology called GitOps that is transforming cloud native operations?

As organizations shift towards containers, Kubernetes and microservices, they are finding that old-school server and VM management processes just don‘t scale anymore. Ad hoc scripts, tribal knowledge and manual configurations lead to complexity, reliability and security issues.

86% of companies now identify as "cloud-first", focusing on SaaS apps, serverless functions and hosted services. 70% are are also containerizing applications as part of digital transformation, seeking agility through technologies like Docker and orchestrators like Redhat OpenShift.

But this velocity is not without its challenges – Elon Musk infamously called microservices architectures "distributed monoliths"! Maintaining coherence across dynamic infrastructure demands better systems.

This is exactly the problem GitOps aims to solve.

GitOps applies DevOps version control and peer review models to tame the chaos of cloud native. By treating infrastructure-as-code as the single source of truth, then automating environment configuration, GitOps brings sanity in a microservices world!

In this comprehensive guide targeted at any IT leader or architect managing container and cloud infrastructure, we will unpack:

  • The history of GitOps – its origins and influences
  • How GitOps works – its core components and benefits
  • Available tooling options – key vendors to evaluate
  • Implementation considerations – challenges and best practices
  • The future roadmap – what is next for GitOps methodologies

Let‘s get started!

What Is GitOps?

The term "GitOps" was first coined back in 2018 by Alexis Richardson. At the time, he was CEO of Weaveworks, a company focused on improving Kubernetes reliability. Alexis recognized that as infrastructure complexity grew exponentially through microservices, the processes to manage them remained woefully inadequate.

Teams were wasting countless hours hand-rolling infrastructure, troubleshooting production issues and attempting to reverse engineer why systems were no longer working. Without a rigorous change management approach, environments easily drifted from desired state.

Alexis proposed adopting Git workflows from the development world as a template for operations. This meant:

  • Storing infrastructure-as-code configuration in Git as the single source of truth
  • Enforcing peer code reviews through pull requests
  • Automating environment setup and maintenance through CI/CD pipelines
  • Providing visibility via Git history and notifications

The real power of GitOps comes from progressive delivery of changes via merge workflow, coupled with continuous reconciliation against a known good state. By using Git as a single control plane across the development to production lifecycle, consistency improves while risk reduces.

While launching the Weaveworks GitOps platform, Alexis also seeded the wider GitOps movement by open sourcing automation agents like Flux. The methodology quickly gained traction from other DevOps leaders in the ecosystem.

Soon microservices pioneer Spotify adopted GitOps to tame their massive cluster complexity. Then cloud titans like Amazon and Microsoft announced GitOps offerings to simplify Kubernetes and multi-cloud management.

In just four years, GitOps has exploded from a niche concept to a mainstream IT industry best practice. Adoption continues to accelerate as more complex enterprise transition to hybrid cloud.

How GitOps Works

Now that we have the backstory, let‘s unpack the mechanics of GitOps…

At a high level, GitOps relies on four key components working together:

1. Declarative Infrastructure as Code

All infrastructure – networks, servers, databases, load balancers etc. – must be describable as code. Templating languages like Terraform, Cloudformation, Ansible, Pulumi or Kubernetes YAML allow "infrastructure-as-code".

This gives us ability to version, review and revert changes with the familiarity of application code.

2. Source Code Repositories

Repo hosting services like GitHub, GitLab and BitBucket provide a "single source of truth" for both application code and infrastructure declarations. Git provides version control, permissions, branches and collaboration support.

3. Continuous Deployment Pipelines

CD systems like Jenkins, CircleCI, TravisCI and GitHub Actions run automation to build images and deploy application code on every code change. Under GitOps, these pipelines are expanded to also sync infrastructure to match declared code state on every commit.

4. Validation and Feedback Loops

Finally, validation checks confirm environment state matches Git declarations within expected tolerances. Alerts provide feedback on drift or failures to operators and ChatOps channels. This allows rapid self-healing rollbacks.

Bringing these four elements together enables safe, automated and reliable management for even the most complex cloud native infrastructure.

Benefits of Adopting GitOps

Leveraging GitOps practices pays significant dividends for teams running containerized environments:

  • Improved productivity through familiar developer-centric tools
  • Enhanced reliability and auditability via Git history trails
  • Accelerated deployments through automation and small batches
  • Greater security and compliance from peer reviews and controls
  • Simplified troubleshooting when issues link code to production state

Industry surveys show teams adopting GitOps flows see up to a 90% improvement in application availability while delivering features 60% faster.

These business outcomes explain why GitOps skills are becoming mandatory for any organization investing in cloud native architecture.

Popular Open Source GitOps Tools

Many excellent open source tools have emerged to enable organizations to adopt GitOps processes. Here are some of the most popular options:

Flux – The Original GitOps Operator for Kubernetes

Created by Weaveworks, Flux connects cluster state directly to Git repository. It offers robust sync, history and notifications around changes.

Argo CD – Declarative GitOps CD for Kubernetes

Developed by Intuit and Applatix, Argo CD takes a similar pull-based approach as Flux. It also includes an intuitive UI for visualizing app status across environments.

Backstage – Spotify‘s GitOps + Developer Portal

Backstage unifies developer portal capabilities like documentation and support resources with built-in support for GitOps deployments.

Jenkins X – Native GitOps and DevOps for Kubernetes

Jenkins X builds on top of classic Jenkins to offer Kubernetes-native, GitOps-ready continous integration pipelines.

GitLab – Complete GitOps Toolkit

GitLab bakes GitOps tooling natively into their DevOps platform. As an end to end solution centered on Git, it enables adopting GitOps conventions rapidly.

Implementing A GitOps Pipeline

Now that we have covered the landscape, let‘s walk through the process for implementing a complete GitOps workflow from scratch:

1. Choose Your Source Code Repository

First, you need to select the home for your IaC templates, application code and configuration data. GitHub, GitLab and BitBucket all make excellent options. Enforce security via access controls and 2FA.

2. Compose IaC Declarations as Code

Next, define the desired infrastructure state through code – for example Kubernetes clusters, namespaces and apps via YAML. Terraform and Pulumi also allow full cloud IaC.

3. Construct CI/CD Deployment Pipelines

With repo and declarations ready, build continuous integration pipelines to containerize apps on commit. Then setup CD systems like ArgoCD to sync live state against Git regularly.

4. Incorporate Validation and Feedback Loops

Include validation checks like monitoring probes and Git commit statuses to guarantee reliability. Alerts from CI/CD act provide drift notifications.

5. Accelerate via Specialized Tools

Bring in tools like Flux, Backstage and policy controllers to smooth adoption. Leverage ChatOps, CLI and mobile apps to enable user self-service.

Challenges with Adopting GitOps

While GitOps offers outstanding benefits, it also requires some key organizational shifts to implement well. These include:

Legacy Processes – Existing ad hoc infrastructure scripts must give way to automated infrastructure as code. Tribal knowledge captured as documentation.

Tooling Tech Debt – Monolithic appshinders require modernization towards 12-factor containerized designs before integrating with GitOps CD pipelines.

Learning Curve – Developer and operations teams will need upskilling on mature Git flows, Kubernetes administration and IaC templates.

Realigned Culture – Moving from siloed teams and manual approaches to a centralized, automated methodology centered around "compliant Git usage" represents a major change.

With training, investment protection measures and a step-by-step adoption roadmap focused on incremental ROI, these transition hurdles can be overcome.

Emerging Best Practices

Organizations seeing success with GitOps have refined a set of guidelines for usage:

  • Start small then expand scope once GitOps pipeline is proven
  • Foster shared responsibility for apps between dev and ops via automation
  • Trust the process by fully leveraging merge requests rather than hot fixes
  • Embed security and governance controls within Git workflows
  • Maximise observability into all layers to accelerate restoring service during incidents
  • Invest in both cultural alignment and essential integrations like policy engines to truly enable self-service within guardrails

The Future of GitOps

The GitOps space continues to see exciting innovation expanding scope:

Integration With Service Meshes for unified app config and traffic management on every commit

Incorporating Policy as Code through frameworks like Open Policy Agent for governance guardrails

Infrastructure Layers Abstraction via Crossplane GitOps models spanning public clouds

As infrastructure needs grow more complex, GitOps is proving itself as an indispensable toolkit for reliability despite chaos.

The future is bright as GitOps becomes the default operating model for cloud native stack!

Adopting GitOps in Your Cloud Journey

Dear reader, I hope this overview has shown why forward-thinking technology leaders are adopting GitOps platforms as they scale out Kubernetes footprints across clouds.

Taming infrastructure complexity improves productivity, security and resilience. GitOps convention codifies human processes into safe, scalable systems.

If you are pursuing cloud native digital transformation, the time is now to integrate GitOps methodologies into your roadmap!

Please reach out directly if you have any other questions as you get started. Wishing you joy and success on the journey ahead!