CI/CD / DevOps / Tools

Why GitLab Opted to Make Its ‘Core’ Offering Free

16 Apr 2020 10:39am, by

The way software developers and engineers may not work change a great deal, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the act of software development and coding, especially not if you were working remotely anyway.

However, much has changed in the outside world, and despite everything else, these possibly profound changes will affect the software industry. Indeed, we are just learning just how bad times are economy-wise. And for any organization that relies on software development for its business model, it is highly likely costs cuts are on the horizon. This might include avoiding investing in proprietary software and shifting to open source alternatives. The move could also be a way to avoid cutting staff, especially when the economy picks up again and organizations can then avoid the struggle of having to find and hire talented developers.

It is in this present context that DevOps platform provider GitLab, widely known for its git-based version control service — has opted to offer a number of its previously paid-for features free as open source alternatives as part of its core offering.

GitLab describes these now free-to-download-and-use features as such:

  • Plan: Synchronize collaboration with related issues, export issues, issues board focus mode and Service Desk.
  • Create: Build better code and branch powerfully with the web terminal for WebIDE, file syncing to web terminal and design management.
  • Verify: Improve code quality with reports on merge requests.
  • Package: Build and share more efficiently with a set of package managers in one place
  • Release: Continuous delivery simplified with canary deployments, “incremental rollout, feature flags and deploy boards.
  • Configure: Support for multiple Kubernetes clusters to ease deployment of different environments.
  • Defend: Bolster application security with network policies for container network security.

In many ways, GitLab’s move signifies its commitment to its working relationship with the open source community and maintaining its stewardship role for its open source platform, Scott Williamson, executive vice president, product management, of GitLab, told The New Stack. Obviously, GitLab plans to certainly “get back” in the move to help expand its role as a complete DevOps platform provider, while at the same time, “giving back,” Williamson said.

“That’s the roots of the company: to continue to pay it back, and provide value to that community,” Williamson said. “I mean, part of it is we want to get back — part of it is that, in the long run, we believe this helps GitLab.”

The “getting back” part reflects how the move will also likely serve to invigorate GitLab’s Core features, of course, hence the magic of the collaboration of the open source community. “The move makes sense as vendors often move more of their features and capabilities to open source as they build out new features and capabilities that are proprietary, in part to keep their open source versions from falling too far behind their paid versions,” Jay Lyman, principal analyst, cloud native and DevOps, 451  Research (now part of S&P Global Market Intelligence), told The New Stack. “We’ve seen the modularity, flexibility and community aspects of open source software can benefit DevOps teams by enabling integration and innovation.”

To whit, DevOps teams can now take advantage of and contribute, of course, to a range of open source package managers centralized on GitLab’s repository. Centrally managing today’s glut of language- and OS-specific package managers makes it easier for developers to reuse already existing code modules instead of spending time on rewriting them, Torsten Volk, an analyst for Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), told The New Stack. “The easier it is for developers to find and build existing code, the more time they can spend on writing their own original code,” Volk said.

Developers can also add comments to the code packages they have already used to make them easier for re-use by their colleagues, Volk said. At the same time, management can centrally apply deployment policies and access usage reports for continuous compliance and, of course, to proactively encourage or discourage the use of specific code packages, he said. “Open sourcing these unified package management capabilities could contribute toward GitLab’s end goal of becoming the one-stop-shop for continuous delivery,” Volk said.

DevOps teams can now access package-registry tools for C, C++, Java, Node.js and other projects — Python capabilities are coming soon — Williamson noted. “Many customers pay extra for this kind of a service, so it is available in Core and there is a ton of extra value,” Williamson said.

The availability of capabilities and features Core makes available should also remain accessible regardless of business climates and economic conditions as open source alternatives.

“The number-one thing that open sourcing previously proprietary toolsets provides is reassurance. If software is open source, companies know that they always have it regardless of what a vendor decides, if only as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option,” Stephen O’Grady, an analyst for RedMonk, said. “DevOps teams, therefore, feel more confident using it, knowing that they will not be beholden to a single, proprietary supplier. Both small and large organizations, importantly, benefit from this.”

The release of Core is also seen as a wider move by GitLab to help organizations boost their use of open source to save costs in what should only become a tougher economic climate, at least in the short term.

“Previous economic downturns, including 2008-2009, did drive enterprise use of open source software and I would expect to see the same effect with the current pandemic as organizations seek to avoid paying software royalties and drive efficiency,” Lyman said.

Tough economic conditions could — at least in theory — also prompt organizations to shift to DevOps platforms like the one GitLab provides with its software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, Lyman said. “While organizations will want to extract as much value as possible out of existing on-premises deployments, SaaS may also become more attractive as an alternative to home-grown efforts that may consume more personnel resources,” Lyman said.

For DevOps adoption, recent 451 Research “Voice of the Enterprise: DevOps” survey data indicates that “flexibility to respond to changes in the market is among the top drivers and benefits of DevOps,” Lyman said. “The current market situation is highlighting the value of this readiness and it may very likely fuel broader adoption of DevOps,” Lyman said.

However, almost ironically, large organizations as opposed to smaller startups, for example, often have the in-house resources to take advantage of new open source alternatives that might have previously only been available as expensive proprietary software. “Larger organizations tend to have more in-house expertise and talent when it comes to using community open source software, whereas smaller organizations that don’t have the same type of personnel tend to opt for paid, commercial support for open source,” Lyman. “There are exceptions, but moves such as [GitLab’s Core release] are typically most meaningful to larger enterprises.”

GitLab is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image from Pixabay.

A newsletter digest of the week’s most important stories & analyses.