A June 2019 study from Forrester Research* commissioned by GitLab, found most companies use two or more toolchains for software development and, on average, each toolchain contains at least six tools. Over a quarter of organizations (27%) admit to using 3-5 toolchains. And apparently the more toolchains a company uses, the more tools get involved. The Forrester report found two-thirds of organizations using three or more toolchains had supersized them to include 11 or more tools.
Toolchain “sprawl” causes exactly what DevOps seeks to eliminate – problems with productivity, visibility, and security. In fact, it becomes the responsibility of developers or release/DevOps teams to wrestle the toolchain beast roughly a third of the time.
Toolchain integration is time consuming – 35% said integration is accomplished by a combination of plug-ins and scripts – and 46% of respondents said they lack the skills, resources, or expertise to integrate discrete tools. And 44% said they struggle with toolchain maintenance issues.
While developers and DevOps teams are dealing with toolchain issues they’re not able to do the real work which leads to faster software development. Working across so many tools leads to a breakdown in communication and collaboration between development, operations, and security teams, which often spells inefficiencies such as discovering bugs only after code is merged.
At a time when 43% of companies surveyed planned to double their investments in DevOps in the next 12 months, according to GitLab’s 2019 Global Developer Report: DevSecOps, it’s important to consider everything that can get in the way of successful DevOps adoption. And for some companies, the too many toolchains problem was all too real.
The Infotainment team at Jaguar Land Rover used to have feedback loops that were 4-6 weeks long. The company is far from alone – 67% of those surveyed by Forrester said handoffs between different tools slow down software delivery. For Jaguar Land Rover the solution was simple: a streamlined toolchain enabled a move to containers and gave developers the self-service options they needed, with no more long waits for handoffs. Continuous integration was possible and now the automaker’s Infotainment team has feedback loops that are just 30 minutes long.
Too many toolchains were also a problem at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN has over 7,000 contributors around the world and thousands of projects, not to mention reams of data and a revolving door of busy scientists who didn’t want a steep learning curve. CERN wanted a single solution to pare down code review and speed up the development process, rather than relying on disparate tools. Settling on a single tool improved code quality, flexibility, and access to data that meant research could be reused. With this “less is more” philosophy, CERN is running 12,000 continuous integration jobs a month with over 35,000 projects under way.
Jaguar Land Rover and CERN aren’t unique. Forrester found organizations that chose a simplified, out-of-the-box development solution reported tangible benefits. Nearly 50% cited improved security, 46% saw increased revenue, 45% experienced improved quality and 42% found developer productivity improved.
A wider variety of users
A simplified toolchain will cost less money to maintain, boost visibility into the SDLC pipeline, support a wider variety of users and potentially improve security, all of which will help an organization grow its DevOps practice.
Changing a culture can be a long, hard effort that makes a new out-of-the-box toolchain choice look easy.
*"Manage Your Toolchain Before It Manages You, a June 2019 commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of GitLab"
Eric Brinkman began his career in product by developing AMD microprocessors, getting to work on chips found in the XBox and PlayStation. Since then, he has shifted to focus on cloud, DevOps, and building customer-facing control panels to assist customers in their digital transformation.