As DevOps has become mainstream now, it is time for businesses to stop thinking about what DevOps is and start leveraging the amazing benefits offered by DevOps automation tools.
DevOps is a methodology that integrates development and operations teams to seamlessly collaborate throughout the product development lifecycle. While it started with Dev and Ops, the functionality is not limited to these two departments anymore. Based on your project requirements and niche, you can create cross-functional teams composed of members from development, design, testing, QA, security, business etc. DevOps not only transforms business operations but also brings a culture change across the organization.
What are the benefits of DevOps Automation?
Automation is an important component of today’s IT infrastructure. By incorporating automation across the infrastructure, administrators can run various processes without human intervention. It enables you to build CI/CD pipeline workflows to accelerate software development.
DevOps and automation go hand in hand. Developers can combine API-centric code with automation and deliver software products faster and better. Similarly, administrators can apply Infrastructure as code (IaC) methods to automate provisioning and deployment with self-service capabilities without human intervention.
DevOps Automation Tools are at times confused with the Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools. However, IaC is a part of DevOps automation. IaC enables administrators to provision and manage the infrastructure using code while DevOps automation talks about a broader picture of managing the entire software development product lifecycle using DevOps tools for automation that include IaC tools as well.
The key to fully leveraging the DevOps revolution is choosing the right DevOps automation tools for the infrastructure. Here are some of the popular DevOps tools that help organizations to automate infrastructure management and delivery pipelines.
Table of contents
- What are the benefits of DevOps Automation?
- DevOps Automation Tools for Infrastructure Management
- Best Toolset for DevOps Infrastructure Automation
- DevOps Automation Tools for CI/CD Pipelines
- Best Toolset for DevOps CI/CD Automation
- DevOps Strategy
- DevOps ToolChain used by SaaS Companies
DevOps Automation Tools for Infrastructure Management
DevOps Automation tool: AWS CloudFormation
AWS CloudFormation is an DevOps automation tool from Amazon that enables administrators to model and provision AWS resources by simply describing the target state of the infrastructure as a template. With CloudFormation, you don’t have to configure the remote state. CloudFormation manages the state of the infrastructure out-of-the-box. You can use Change Sets to verify changes before applying them. It supports rolling updates for autoscaling groups. You can perform a rollback if needed. It is good at handling secrets. CloudFormation works across all the services offered by AWS. This managed service is free. AWS support also includes support for CloudFormation.
Features/Benefits of CloudFormation
- CloudFormation supports cross-country and cross-region management which means you can use a single CloudFormation template to manage AWS resources across multiple regions and accounts
- You can use YAML or JSON to declare the configuration
- AWS CloudFormation Designer is a visual designer that lets you visually configure CloudFormation templates.
- Cloud environments can be defined using familiar languages such as Python, Java, TypeScript and .NET.
- It offers a preview to check how the changes impact the environment
- AWS Serverless Application Model (SAM) allows you to build serverless applications faster by writing a few lines of code per resource.
- Dependency management is available
- Good safety controls in place
- Good document and community support
Things to Improve
Modularization is not straightforward in CloudFormation. You have to take different approaches such as using nested stacks or import/export output values between modules. There is no central place for sharing templates.
DevOps Automation tool: Terraform
Terraform is a popular Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool offered by Hashicorp Inc. This open-source tool was developed by Mitchell Hashimoto using the Go programming language and released in 2014. It supports all major platforms including Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, macOS, Solaris and OpenBSD. In addition to supporting the AWS platform, Terraform also supports other cloud providers such as Google Cloud Platform, Azure, IBM Cloud, OpenStack, Oracle Cloud, Digital Ocean, VMware vSphere and other 3rd party services.
Terraform uses a declarative model to define the state of the target infrastructure. Hashicorp Configuration Language (HCL) is the domain-specific language that you should use to write your configuration files. Optionally, JSON can be used as well. Terraform enables you to efficiently manage high-level components such as SaaS features and DNS entries and low-level components such as networking, storage and compute instances.
Features / Benefits of Terraform
- Efficient provision, manage and version the infrastructure using a human-readable declarative language
- Terraform offers execution plans that let you preview changes before applying them to the infrastructure
- Terraform proactively monitors infrastructure changes and incrementally creates execution plans to ensure that the infrastructure is always maintained in the desired state
- Resource graphs allow you to gain greater insights into infrastructure management tasks
- Efficiently manages multi-cloud environments
- Integrates well with your existing version control systems
- HCL code can be translated into JSON format
- Module Count is a feature that lets you know how many modules are applied to the infrastructure
- You can lock modules so that only one person can apply changes to the infrastructure at one time
Things to Improve
Terraform uses a domain-specific language HCL. It means you need to learn HCL just to manage the infrastructure. Secondly, the infrastructure should always be in sync with the states. There is no error handling and automatic rollback feature. Refactoring or renaming resources is not easy.
DevOps Automation tool: Ansible
Ansible is an open-source provisioning and configuration management tool that was released in 2012 by Ansible Inc. It was written in PowerShell, Python and Ruby by Michael DeHaan and supports Linux, macOS and Windows operating systems. Ansible was acquired by RedHat in 2015 and is now included as a part of the Fedora distribution of Linux. Ansible uses an agentless architecture which means there is no code running on the controlled nodes. During an orchestration task, the module process communicates with the controlled node via a JSON-based protocol. When Ansible is not managing nodes, there is no resource consumption on the node machine. It allows you to describe the configuration in its own declarative language. You can create consistent environments using Ansible. Tasks are stored in YAML files called Playbooks.
Features / Benefits of Ansible
- Free and open-source
- Secure as there are no agents deployed on node machines
- Allows you to create consistent environments
- With minimal dependencies, Ansible is easy to configure and manage
- There is a minimal learning curve as the descriptive language is YAML-based
- Without the need to install extra software or daemon on controlled nodes, Ansible optimizes resource usage and improves operational efficiencies.
- Ansible is robust enough to support complex IT workflows and flexible enough to customize and orchestrate the entire app environment.
- Supports a wide range of environments including bare metals, virtual machines, AWS, Azure, GCP, Oracle Cloud and other cloud environments as well as VMware and XenServer virtual environments
- Agentless architecture simplifies IT management.
- Good community support
Things to Improve
Ansible was initially a CLI tool. Later, AWX GUI was introduced with a GUI capability. The improved version of AWX GUI is now called the Ansible Tower. However, the UI Interface is not visually appealing and can still be improved. You might experience conflicting query results owing to synchronization issues between the GUI and CLI. Windows support is limited. Ansible doesn’t track dependencies which means there is no notion of state.
DevOps Automation tool: Pulumi
Pulumi allows you to define cloud resources more expressively and efficiently using variables and loops instead of just copy-pasting code. You can also use any node library. It automatically checks for errors. Being designed with cloud-native computing in mind, the tool allows you to easily manage containers and serverless architecture to quickly build and deploy apps on a variety of IT environments.
Features / Benefits of Pulumi
- Supports real programming languages such as Go, .NET Core, Node.js, Python
- Allows dynamic resource creation at runtime
- Easy standard utility functions
- Policy compliance is good. Pulumi creates a preview and checks if it complies with policies before resources are created or modified.
- State management through Pulumi comes by default. Self-management is also available.
- Member of Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and offers deep support for cloud-native technologies and advanced deployment scenarios.
- Allows you to work alongside Terraform
- Business-friendly Apache License 2.0
Things to Improve
When it comes to structuring large projects, Pulumi structures them as multiple micro-projects or a single monolithic project. As such, it becomes difficult to deserialize stack references when trying to map multiple resources via higher-level Pulumi extensions. Compared to big names like Terraform or CloudFormation, Pulumi documentation and community support is limited.
DevOps Automation tool: Bash Scripting
Bash scripting allows developers to write commands as inputs and execute a specific task. You can write the script once and reuse it again. The length of a Bash script may vary from a few lines to thousands of lines. Using Bash shell scripts, you can automatically provision and manage environments, deploy resources, perform test suites etc. You can use them in CI/CD pipelines and inside virtual machines as well.
Bash is a popular tool for writing shell scripts and is included in all Unix-like operating systems, enabling you to write portable POSIX scripts. Bash scripting is one of the top 10 most popular technologies and offers the highest salaries as well, as reported by Stack Overflow.
There are several reasons to use Bash as a part of your DevOps tools in automation instead of PHP or JSP. It allows developers to derive maximum output from a bare-minimum machine. When you don’t have access to PHP, you can use Bash to retrieve the system info in JSON format and display it as a webpage as well. It works as a time series based data exporter. Bash allows you to write commands using simple grammar making it easy to learn and use. It also supports basic concepts of programming. It natively supports process execution.
Features / Benefits of Bash
- Easy and readable syntax
- Available with all Unix-like operating systems
- Most popular shell script tool
- Reusable scripts for repetitive tasks
- Natively supports process execution
- Supports loops, if-else, functions, variables, arithmetic operations etc.
- Easy to write portable POSIX scripts
Things to Improve
Bash scripts perform slower when compared with other programming languages owing to the lack of a standard API wherein you have to spawn processes to process data. Being a command language, Bash considers everything you write as a command. When the automation logic grows bigger, it becomes a challenge to manage Bash scripts for automation tasks.
DevOps Automation tool: Python Scripting
Python scripting is a good alternative to Bash scripting. Python is one of the most popular programming languages used by developers across the globe. One of the main reasons for this popularity is that it is developer-friendly. There are hundreds of built-in libraries that help developers to quickly and easily write code and deploy products faster. Most of the Unix-like operating systems come preinstalled with a Python interpreter allowing developers to write portable automation scripts.
For instance, Boto is a Python package that allows you to write scripts for automating AWS tasks such as starting/stopping EC2 instances and managing resources via APIs. Boto3 is the latest Boto version that now supports more than 50 Amazon services spanning storage, compute, network, billing, application, database etc.
Features / Benefits of Python Scripting
- Python is a popular programming language used by several developers. Most developers are familiar with it.
- Developer-friendly language
- Offers a large portfolio of built-in libraries
- Python interpreter is available with all Unix-like OSs
- Working with commands and processes is made easy with Plumbum and Shellpy APIs
- Best suited for writing cross-platform shell scripts
- Allows you to connect to AWS resources and manage them with scripts using 3rd party tools such as Boto
Things to Improve
Python is not a command language which means you cannot directly execute shell scripts as commands. It does not natively support process execution as Bash does. However, you can use the subprocess module to spawn processes and connect to the input/output and error pipelines to receive the return codes. Python scripts are not readable and the syntax is slightly complex when compared to Bash scripts. However, you can simplify python scripts using tools like Shellpy. Python execution is slow compared to other scripting languages. When dependent libraries are involved, it gets much slower.
Best Toolset for DevOps Infrastructure Automation
Here is the best toolset for DevOps infrastructure automation.
a) Docker for Containerization
Docker is the most popular containerization solution available in the market. It offers a robust and comprehensive containerization ecosystem that lets you manage the entire application deployment lifecycle with ease. Docker is flexible, modular, collaborative, highly portable, scalable and enables you to create consistent and isolated environments. With automatic rollbacks and repeatability, it offers a cost-effective way of deploying apps faster and better. While finalizing DevOps tools for automation, Docker should always be an automatic inclusion.
b) Kubernetes for Container Orchestration
Kubernetes is the leader in the container orchestration segment. It works with almost every container runtime, is flexible and highly portable. It is battle-tested and proven technology. It supports multi-cloud deployments while increasing developer productivity.
c) CloudFormation for Infrastructure Automation
CloudFormation is a powerful infrastructure automation tool offered by AWS. It seamlessly integrates with AWS services enabling you to easily connect and collaborate all your development and infrastructure management tasks.
d) Terraform for Non-AWS environments
If you use non-AWS environments such as Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud or Google Cloud Platform (GCP) cloud environments, Terraform is a good option to automate infrastructure management tasks. It best suits multi-cloud deployments as well.
e) Python for Automation Scripts
Python is a popular programming language and is best suited for creating portable automation scripts. You can write shell scripts and use APIs to connect to infrastructure resources and manage them with ease. It is open-source and cost-effective.
DevOps Automation Tools for CI/CD Pipelines
The advent of DevOps has revolutionized the software development segment. Gone are the days when the software was developed through a waterfall approach, wherein the code traveled through different stages of development linearly. DevOps brings cross-functional teams into the picture wherein development and operations teams along with the testing, security and business professionals come together to collaborate throughout the application life cycle.
Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) is an important component of the DevOps continuous delivery model. CI/CD is an innovative approach to delivering applications by incorporating automation into each stage of the application development lifecycle.
These are some DevOps Automation Tools:
- AWS CodePipeline
Continuous integration allows developers to frequently merge the changes onto the main branch while the testing team automatically performs tests to ensure that the software is of high quality and is not broken. Similarly, continuous delivery allows automatic deployment of code to the test environment and then to the production environment.
Continuous integration enables developers to deploy software faster and better as you continuously deliver code to production while automatically fixing bugs and errors. CI servers can automatically run thousands of builds in quick time. Developers are automatically alerted when there is when the code is broken so that they can immediately fix it. It enables the quality team to spend less time on fixing bugs and more time on improving the quality.
Continuous delivery enables the operations teams to automatically deploy software without spending several days preparing the environment. Releases are frequently done and the feedback loop is accelerated which means organizations don’t have to worry about making changes to the code. While improvements could be done faster, the quality can be improved without breaking the environment.
With continuous deployment, the software is automatically deployed. When there is a change in the code, the deployment pipeline gets triggered. It means fewer risks when making a release. Similarly, customers can enjoy quality software owing to this continuous effort of improvement. While there is a cost factor in maintaining the CI server, there are other cost-effective options available in the form of open-source tools.
When it comes to business value, organizations can shorten the release cycle, gain faster time to market and deliver what the customers want. They can also monitor changes and proactively make changes to the product. It improves operational efficiency and increases revenues. The real-time visibility into the entire development process provides a better control over the infrastructure.
Here are some of the popular DevOps automation tools for CI/CD tasks:
Jenkins is a popular continuous integration tool that is offered as an open-source. It was called Hudson earlier. Hudson was written by Kosuke Kawaguchi in Java programming language and was released in 2005 when he was working in Sun Microsystems. Oracle acquired Hudson in 2011 and decided to trademark the name Hudson to release it as a commercial version. This decision did not go down well with the Hudson community. Eventually, the tool was forked as Oracle Hudson. The original tool was renamed as Jenkins. Both versions continued for some time. The Oracle Hudson version became absolute in 2017.
Jenkins enables organizations to automate the build, test and deployment process. It uses a server-based system and Apache Tomcat runs the servlet containers. Jenkins supports all version control tools such as Git, Mercurial, Subversion (SVN), etc. Jenkins allows you to execute Apache Maven, shell scripts and Windows commands.
Features / Benefits of Jenkins
- It is an open-source tool and free
- It is easy to use and comes with a good community support
- Jenkins offers a rich plugin ecosystem comparison 1000+ plugins
- It is easy to install because you don’t have to install additional components. At the same time, configuring the server requires knowledge of the tool.
- Being a Java-based server, it is highly portable and works with all major platforms
- It can automate all tasks, schedule builds and automatically test errors and repair them
Things to Improve
While there are thousands of Jenkins plugins available, they are contributed by 3rd parties which means the quality might not be consistent. Some of them are not maintained now. So, you should be careful while integrating and customizing plugins to ensure that consistent performance is delivered. Moreover, there are several redundant plugins. As such, it requires your time and effort in choosing the right plugin for your CI/CD automation needs. Secondly, the Jenkins interface is not user-friendly and intuitive. As it runs on a server, you should monitor activities. You need expertise and knowledge to integrate it with other DevOps tools for automation.
CircleCI is a cloud-based continuous integration tool that was developed in 2011 by CircleCI, a San Francisco-based IT company. The tool offers power, flexibility and greater control to manage CI CD pipelines. It integrates with GitHub and bitbucket and every time you make a code change, it automatically triggers the CircleCI pipeline and automatic testing is done in a virtual machine or a container. It means you can test every commit. When the build fails, the concerned team is automatically alerted. It comes with slack integration for alert notifications. Builds that successfully pass the test are automatically deployed to the corresponding environments.
Features / Benefits of CircleCI
- Easy and quick set up
- Easy to get started as it is cloud-based and there is no need to install and configure dedicated servers.
- You can customize it to suit different platforms such as Kubernetes Azure, AWS EC2 instances.
- It supports parallelism to deploy multiple executions for speed and increased performance
- All tasks are created in a single file called circle.yaml so it is easy and simple to backup and share tasks.
- With ssh debugging becomes easy.
- Built-in Docker support
- UI is good
- Job configuration is simple and easy. You just have to add a YAML file in the Git root repository.
Things to Improve
Compute costs are low but the cost per user is a bit high. The search feature can be improved. Customization options are limited. Documentation and tutorials are not adequate compared to other tools. The configuration is easy but it gets complicated when the files become larger as you write all code in a single file.
AWS CodePipeline is a fully managed continuous delivery service that is quickly gaining popularity in the DevOps automation tools segment. This tool helps organizations automate all stages of the CI/CD pipeline and deliver quality applications while easily managing infrastructure updates. By automating the build, test and deployment phases, you can rapidly deliver features and updates to your customers. AWS CodePipeline easily integrates with 3rd party version control systems such as GitHub, Bitbucket, GitHub Enterprise and other AWS services such as Amazon S3 AWS, Elastic Beanstalk, AWS CloudFormation etc.
AWS CodePipeline architecture comprises three important components:
- AWS CodeBuild is a fully managed build service that handles build operations such as compiling the source code, running unit tests and creating the artifacts for deployment. As such, you don’t have to worry about provisioning or managing your build servers. It comes pre-packaged with build environments for popular build tools such as Gradle, Apache Maven and Apache Ant.
- AWS CodeCommit is a fully managed source control service that enables organizations to host and manage private Git repositories. It means you don’t need to manage the source control service nor worry about scaling the infrastructure environment. Right from code to binaries, it allows you to store anything related to source control. It supports standard Git functionality which means you can integrate all your existing Git-based tools. With automatic encryption of files in rest and transit and integration with IAM, AWS CodeCommit offers a highly secure environment to manage your repositories.
- AWS CodeDeploy is a fully managed deployment service offered by AWS. It enables organizations to automate deployments across a range of AWS services such as AWS Lambda, AWS Fargate, AWS EC2 instances etc. In addition, you can deploy apps and services to your on-premise environments. Using AWS CodeDeploy, you can rapidly release new features, eliminate downtimes and easily manage error-free infrastructure operations.
Features of AWS CodePipeline
- Easy to set up and manage. AWS provisions the infrastructure so you don’t have to manage any servers
- It offers workflow modeling, enabling you to define how the code-change progresses in the pipeline.
- Allows you to define the pipeline structure using a decorative JSON document
- The graphical user interface provides a visual model of the release process workflow
- Parallel execution is supported that increases your workflow speeds
- Easily integrates with all AWS services, 3rd party and custom plugins
- Highly secure with IAM user management, IAM roles, automatic encryption
- Alert notifications via Amazon SNS notifications
- You can build Docker images
Things to Improve
AWS CodePipeline comes with a pay-as-you-go subscription model. For instance, the AWS CodeBuild tool charges you for every minute of build time. On the contrary, Jenkins charges you for the usage of underlying hardware comprising the Jenkins master and EC2 clusters. So, it is important to monitor resource usage carefully. Secondly, while Jenkins offers a rich plugin ecosystem, AWS CodePipeline is still in the nascent stage. However, it allows you to integrate 3rd party plugins to customize UI and build processes. Docker image caching is not available.
Gitlab is a powerful Devops platform that brings product development, product security and operations onto a single platform. It is a web-based Git repository that allows organizations to easily create and manage open and private repositories while facilitating seamless collaboration between teams at every stage of the product lifecycle to deliver high-quality software faster. In addition, it enables you to set role-based user permissions once and manage permissions automatically. You can self-host your projects.
Gitlab Inc. is the company behind Gitlab. The project was developed by Sytse Sijbrandij and Dmytro Zaporozhets using Ruby and Go programming languages. The current technology stack involves Ruby on Rails, Go, and Vue.js programming languages. Gitlab is quite popular in the DevOps automation tools segment now with around 30 million users and 1 million active license users.
Features / Benefits of Gitlab
- Easy to set up and use
- Powerful and robust CI/CD Pipelines
- Tight integration with Kubernetes
- The availability of a built-in registry facilitates instant deployments without the need for any configurational settings
- Easily import and export enormous projects and manage them with ease.
- Allows free and unlimited private repositories
- Delivers reliable performance and 99.9% uptime
- Easy integration with multiple 3rd party plugins and APIs
- Intuitive and user-friendly UI
- Good documentation and great community support
Things to Improve
There are a few bugs that dampen the performance of the tool. While the UI is good, it gets complicated when you try to monitor and review certain processes. Customization of issue tracking can be improved.
Best Toolset for DevOps CI/CD Automation
Choosing the right technology stack is the key to fully leveraging CI/CD and DevOps automation methodologies. However, it depends on several factors such as the company’s business objectives, the technology stack in use, IT budgets, expertise levels, organization culture, existing infrastructure etc.
If you love AWS and if your infrastructure is AWS-heavy, the best option is to choose the AWS CodePipeline. It will enable you to manage the entire DevOps product lifecycle while being able to easily integrate other services, seamlessly collaborate with teams and optimize resources to the core. While IT management is simplified, costs are optimized.
Gitlab combined with Jenkins best suits the CI/CD needs of large enterprises. Gitlab offers a robust and comprehensive platform that helps them to manage the entire CI/CD pipeline from a single platform. It acts as a single source of truth for all CI/CD operations and efficiently handles complex enterprise development projects. At the same time, Jenkins brings a rich plugin ecosystem that helps them to customize every CI/CD operation to suit their organizational needs. For instance, the IaC plugin allows administrators to manage the infrastructure with readable APIs without having deep knowledge of the tool. Jenkins X Cloud system is another plugin that lets you automate deployments of large IT environments.
For startups, CircleCI is a good choice as it allows them to cost-effectively manage CI/CD tasks. They can take advantage of the free tier offerings and easily manage development operations. It easily integrates with other DevOps tools in automation.
When rightly implemented, DevOps enables organizations to build and deliver products faster, reduce time to market, improve product quality and productivity while facilitating seamless collaboration and teamwork across the infrastructure.
Here are the key components of a good DevOps Strategy:
- Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and automation enables organizations to provision, configure and manage the infrastructure using code while always maintaining it in the desired state. Amazon CloudFormation, Terraform, Ansible, Puppet, Chef are a few popular IaC and configuration management tools.
- Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipelines enable organizations to automate the integration of code changes and code build, reduce the time of release cycles, automatically fix bugs and improve the quality of code, ensuring that software is released as per predefined schedules. Jenkins, TeamCity, CircleCI, Gitlab are a few popular CI/CD tools.
- Continuous Feedback loops enable organizations to receive instant notifications about bugs, performance issues, customer requirements etc. and resolve them on the go.
- Microservices Architecture enables organizations to break the code into smaller deployable services that are modular, independent and communicate via APIs.
- Container Management Systems enables organizations to deploy, manage and scale clusters of containers with ease. Kubernetes is the most popular container orchestration tool.
Here are the steps to implement the DevOps strategy:
- Identify the right cloud service provider
- Design the software architecture
- Incorporate the 12-factor methodology
- Design a container orchestration system
- Design CI/CD Pipelines
- Incorporate automation wherever possible using infrastructure as code
- Ensure security and compliance is implemented
- Set up a system for support, maintenance and incident response
Read our DevOps Security Best Practices blog and discover what is best for your SaaS app.
DevOps ToolChain used by SaaS Companies
While choosing DevOps automation tools for your organization, focus on tools that offer features such as collaboration and communication across teams, fully-featured APIs, versioning of configuration, more than one interface (CLI, browser-based, GUI), multi-cloud capabilities and extensibility.
As a DevOps best practice, automate everything. Right from code generation to deployment and monitoring of the infrastructure, incorporate automation wherever possible. Infrastructure automation, configuration management, CI/CD Pipelines, deployment automation, performance monitoring, Log management are some of the areas that can be automated.
To make the most out of DevOps, automate as much as possible. Secondly, integration across DevOps tools in automation and eliminating silos is recommended. Thirdly, take advantage of the cloud-native architecture. Fourthly, implement DevOps best practices. Finally, don’t forget to train and upskill your employees to fully leverage DevOps tools for automation.
DevOps lifecycle comprises different stages of DevOps workflow that includes continuous software delivery, testing, deployment, monitoring, feedback etc. Choosing the right DevOps strategy with the right toolset is the key to building quality software through this methodology.