GitOps projects are sweeping through software engineering teams with the allure of fully declarative deployments and increased productivity. Companies are scrambling to deliver tools to simplify and enable GitOps at scale. It's difficult to parse through all the different GitOps solutions currently out on the market, so this blog will give you a starting place in your search for the best GitOps tools.
GitOps is a deployment methodology centralized around a Git repository, where any new code merged to a Git repo triggers a deployment to various environments and clusters in real-time. Since Git is a familiar tool in the developer community, GitOps is touted as a developer-centric deployment strategy.
GitOps is a new way to enable Continuous Delivery, but it has been utilized in infrastructure management for the past several years. Operations teams needed a way to automate cloud infrastructure provisioning requests to reduce the resources expended on creating new environments, clusters, etc. The proposed solution used configuration files stored as code (infrastructure as code) to spin up different environments or a new cluster on demand for new deployments. Infrastructure teams continued to iterate on this process until they created a safe and repeatable method to manage declarative infrastructure.
Given the success of infrastructure teams with GitOps, it was only a matter of time before the methodology was applied to software delivery use cases. Several tools were created to enable GitOps deployments. The tools use a Git Repository as the single source of truth for code changes. They then detect code changes and sync the application state to the state stored in Git. Instead of dealing with pipelines, stages, and approvals, developers could now deploy an image or new features through a fully declarative, low touch process.
Vendors pounced on the opportunity to become the GitOps deployment market leader. They started adding enterprise features to complement the basic GitOps approach.
In this blog, we will discuss the different vendors active in the GitOps market, and which tools you should evaluate to start your own GitOps journey. To learn more about GitOps in general, take a look at our “What Is GitOps?” blog.
There are three main categories to consider when evaluating a GitOps solution: essential features, ease of use, and enterprise capabilities.
Every GitOps solution should include features like drift detection and application sync. Some solutions may deliver the essentials better than others, but solutions lacking these essential features will be questioned as viable GitOps tools.
Ease of Use
Software tools are only as useful as they are easy to use. GitOps is a simple deployment methodology, but it can be difficult to set up and scale to the desired state. The tools on this list will be evaluated based on customer usability and overall developer experience.
GitOps can't exist by itself. It needs a suite of features and products working alongside it to achieve velocity and scalability. We will discuss the additional enterprise features these GitOps tools bring to the table to give users total control.
Open Source GitOps Tools
Argo CD is the most popular open source Kubernetes GitOps tool on the market. Developers call it "the best thing since sliced bread" because it’s easy to set up and has a great GUI and dashboard. Argo CD abstracts away the complexity of using Kubernetes; instead of needing to have a PhD in Kubernetes to deploy code, a user can simply commit their code to Git and watch the changes sync to the appropriate environment.
Argo excels at basic GitOps functionality. It's an intuitive tool that takes little time and effort to set up. But is it the right tool for your organization? Argo lacks enterprise features necessary to keep deployments secure and compliant. Features like audit trails, centralized instance management, and role-based access control (RBAC) are either afterthoughts in the Argo platform, or they don't exist at all. GitOps is a way to deploy software quickly, but you'll need these enterprise features if you intend to scale GitOps across different development teams.
Flux is another open source solution that came on to the market around the same time as Argo. It was created by Weaveworks and is currently an incubating project of the CNCF. Flux has a command line interface (CLI)-first approach, with the user interface being something you can add on later. For many, this creates a negative developer experience. Dashboards have to be set up manually, making GitOps management more difficult. That being said, Flux provides a framework to start using GitOps and some developers prefer the no-nonsense CLI approach.
Flux also enables basic GitOps workflows, but many users say Flux takes longer to set up. Similar to Argo, Flux needs additional features to be scalable for an enterprise. Security and governance controls will have to either be custom scripted or development teams will have to create an informal set of practices to meet compliance standards.
SaaS GitOps Tools
CodeFresh is an independent Continuous Delivery tool powered by Argo. The wraparound solution CodeFresh created serves to manage new and existing Argo instances for increased visibility and security. It offers users a way to use ArgoCD with enhanced enterprise-grade controls and visibility. CodeFresh offers security, centralized management, and audit trails for compliance.
CodeFresh delivers the usability and functionality of ArgoCD while also filling the enterprise gaps needed to scale GitOps. Team members using CodeFresh will be able to practice GitOps principles while also creating the necessary guardrails to keep GitOps processes compliant. But GitOps is only one subset of DevOps, and as we stated before, it can't exist on its own. Codefresh doesn't offer CD pipelines or feature flags. DevOps teams will need these components if they wish to achieve true Continuous Deployment.
Weaveworks is a wraparound solution for open source Flux. Weaveworks doesn’t currently offer a SaaS product—instead, Weaveworks builds Flux solutions for customers. They will be releasing a standalone enterprise offering in the future.
Weaveworks offers more visibility into GitOps deployments with centralized dashboards. It also offers advanced governance controls, such as RBAC and audit trails.
Taking a closer look at Weaveworks reveals basic Flux functionality that requires manual scripting to create an enterprise solution. In the short term, this can serve as a basic GitOps toolkit, but in the long run you'll still be managing Flux every time you want to update your processes. This, of course, is subject to change when Weaveworks releases their SaaS solution. Similar to CodeFresh, Weaveworks lacks delivery pipelines and the additional products and features you'll need to make software delivery successful at your organization.
GitLab offers an application delivery platform that includes a core open source version and additional features available for purchase. GitLab would like to be the single source of truth for CD tools, including GitOps.
GitLab is an interesting player in this space, because source code management and CI/CD are a part of its platform. This means GitLab users have a single application to manage GitOps and the entire software delivery process.
Their CI/CD platform seems like an attractive alternative to solutions focused solely on GitOps. However, a closer look at GitLab reveals a lack of true GitOps functionality. GitLab “enables” GitOps by providing environments as code, a platform for collaboration, and an automated process for CI/CD. As discussed in our evaluation criteria, a true GitOps solution should provide drift detection and application sync. GitLab doesn't have a direct way to do either of these, so the term GitOps really shouldn't apply to their platform. We recommend a different approach.
Harness is the premier commercial and enterprise-grade software delivery platform. Harness CD offers two ways to deploy software: a Continuous Deployment pipeline approach, and a GitOps approach. Harness GitOps is an intuitive solution with enterprise features to ensure security and compliance. It was built for organizations that want to give developers the most efficient way to deploy software while also giving DevOps teams the controls they need to scale.
Harness provides all the essential GitOps features and is easy to set up and use. It provides market-leading security and governance, with centralized instance management, granular RBAC, and detailed audit trails. Most importantly, Harness provides all of the additional tools needed to take code to production: A best-in-class CI solution to generate artifacts, as well as a best-in-class CD solution that utilizes pipelines and GitOps, and a best-in-class feature flag solution to safely release features to customers. Harness also offers a host of other tools to save your organization time and money.
Conclusion: Not All GitOps Tools Are Created Equally
GitOps has gone from infrastructure automation to the preferred way to deploy software in the DevOps community. Since it is a relatively new discipline, companies are scrambling to be the single tool used for GitOps.
We've discussed tools solely focused on creating a GitOps pipeline, and we've discussed other tools that are focused on the entire software delivery process. We recommend that when you're evaluating tools, you consider how GitOps will scale at your company.
GitOps can't exist in a vacuum. It needs the support of a full platform to be implemented successfully over the long term. For a detailed look at how to implement a GitOps deployment process at your organization, check out our blog on latest GitOps best practices. In the same vein, you might also be interested in our blog on CI/CD best practices to nail down your software delivery process even further.
We believe Harness GitOps is the best combination of GitOps functionality and platform capabilities. If you're interested in Harness GitOps, you can sign up to try it for free today.