GitOps Primer: The Benefits, Workflow, and Implementation of GitOps

2023-02-078 minute read

GitOps is one of the biggest shifts in development methodologies in a long time. Since its introduction in 2017, there has only been a constant growth in this methodology of managing infra and apps. As we mentioned in our 7 cloud trends for 2023 blog, GitOps will continue to see a rise in adoption this year, and we will also see new features and enhancements from the popular tools.

This article is the first one in the series covering GitOps, GitOps tools, best practices, and a detailed comparison of popular GitOps tools.

What is GitOps?

GitOps is the practice of using Git as a single source of truth for declarative infrastructure and applications. It enables users to use Git version control and automate deployment, testing, and operations processes.

Even though some of the GitOps practices were followed for several years, the team GitOps was coined in 2017 by Alexis Richardson. Since its introduction, GitOps has seen rapid growth in adoption, with more and more organizations seeing the value in the improved collaboration, reliability, and security of their applications. In the years since, we have seen the launch of popular tools such as ArgoCD and Flux CD, which have made it easier to implement GitOps in organizations.

In 2022, these tools achieved CNCF graduate status, crossing the chasm and ready to take on enterprise workloads. As more organizations adopt GitOps, the tools, and processes surrounding it are constantly being improved, allowing organizations to reap the benefits of faster and more efficient deployments.

GitOps vs traditional deployments

GitOps is different from traditional deployment methods in a few key ways. Firstly, it utilizes a code repository as the source of truth, with all changes and updates reflected in the repository. This makes it easier to track changes, as well as to roll back any changes if needed. Secondly, it implements Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines to ensure that the code that is deployed is always in sync with the code in the repository. It also enables automated rollbacks and disaster recovery in case of unforeseen issues.

Finally, GitOps relies on principles such as immutable infrastructure, declarative configuration, observability, and auditability. These principles ensure reliable and secure deployments and improved collaboration and communication. All of these aspects make GitOps an attractive option for organizations that are looking to improve their DevOps practices.

Key benefits of GitOps

  1. It improves collaboration between developers by allowing them to quickly and easily make changes to the codebase without fear of breaking the system.
  2. It provides a unified platform for managing deployments, with all of the code stored in the same repository. This uniformity makes it easier for developers to understand the process and debug and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
  3. GitOps also increases reliability and security by enabling automated rollbacks and disaster recovery in case of unforeseen issues. This is possible due to the principles of immutable infrastructure, declarative configuration, observability, and audibility that GitOps relies on.
  4. GitOps also enables faster and more efficient deployments, significantly reducing the risk of human error and allowing teams to get their applications up and running quickly.

The GitOps workflow

The GitOps workflow has been enabled by other foundational technologies, like the rise in the adoption of Kubernetes, the declarative paradigm of defining infrastructure using IaC tools, and containerization. Let us learn about the three main components of the GitOps workflow.

Single source of truth

A key component of GitOps is using a code repository as the source of truth. In this model, all changes to your IaC code (e.g. Terraform) and updates are reflected in the repository, which allows developers to easily track changes and roll back to a previous version if needed. Additionally, the repository being the source of truth, enables developers to share and collaborate on the codebase more efficiently.

CI/CD pipelines

This code repository is also used to set up continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipelines that ensure that the code that is deployed is always in sync with the code in the repository. By utilizing these pipelines, developers can ensure that their code is always up-to-date and that any changes are properly tested and deployed.

The CI/CD pipelines can work on a pull-based or push-based model. A push-based pipeline means that code starts with the CI system and may continue its path through a series of encoded scripts or uses ‘kubectl’ by hand to push any changes to the Kubernetes cluster. In a pull-based pipeline, a Deployment Automator watches the image registry, and a Deployment Synchronizer residing in the cluster maintains its state. In the middle of it all, we have a single source of truth for manifests.

Automated rollbacks and disaster recovery

GitOps also enables automated rollbacks and disaster recovery in case of unforeseen issues. This is done by leveraging the code repository as the source of truth and using CI/CD pipelines to ensure that the code that is deployed is always in sync with the code in the repository. Thus, if any issues arise, developers can quickly roll back to a previous version and recover from any issues without having to manually intervene.

These processes together make GitOps a powerful way of developing and deploying code and infrastructure. Its benefits are even more visible as the complexity of one’s cloud setup grows.

Implementing GitOps

Once you have decided to implement GitOps in your organization, the implementation can be broken down into three main steps.

  1. Set up GitOps pipelines
  2. Automate deployments
  3. Set up monitoring and logging

The GitOps pipelines: There are a few different ways to set up GitOps pipelines, depending on the tools and processes that your organization is using. The most popular tools for setting up GitOps pipelines are ArgoCD and Flux CD, both of which are open-source projects and have achieved CNCF graduate status.

To set up a GitOps pipeline with either of these tools, you need to first create a repository in a version control system such as GitHub. Then, you need to define the CI/CD pipelines with the tools, which will ensure that the code in the repository is always in sync with the deployed code.

Note: The implementation of GitOps requires different toolchains for Apps and for Infra. ArgoCD and Flux are primarily for deploying apps on kubernetes. Crossplane’s implementation is a very clever implementation that leverages Kubernetes control loops to handle both Apps and Infra resources. We’ll cover it in a future blog.

Automating Deployments with GitOps: Once you have set up the GitOps pipelines, you can start automating deployments using GitOps. This process involves setting up the deployment synchronizer, which will watch the image registry and ensure that the state of the cluster is maintained. The deployment synchronizer will then deploy the code from the repository to the cluster automatically, and you can verify the changes by viewing the logs in the repository.

Setting up Monitoring and Logging for GitOps: Once the GitOps pipelines and automated deployments are set up, it is important to set up monitoring and logging for the system. This is necessary to ensure that the system is working as expected and to identify any issues that may arise. Monitoring and logging can be set up using various tools such as Prometheus, Grafana, and ELK stack. These tools allow for tracking of metrics, logs, and errors in the system, which can then be used to identify and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

Additionally, setting up proper alerting systems is also important to ensure that any issues are quickly identified and addressed. This will help ensure that the GitOps system runs smoothly and that any potential issues are quickly identified and resolved.

Pros and Cons of using GitOps in an organization

GitOps is becoming increasingly popular as an approach to DevOps and is seen as a valuable tool for modern organizations. While there are many benefits to using GitOps, there are also some drawbacks that should be considered before adopting this methodology.

Pros of using GitOps

  • Improved collaboration and communication between developers due to a single source of truth for the codebase
  • Processes are lightweight and vendor-neutral
  • Increased reliability and security due to automated rollbacks and disaster recovery
  • Faster and more efficient deployments due to automated CI/CD pipelines
  • Reduced risk of human error due to automation of processes
  • Improved observability and audibility of the system
  • Automating infra definition and testing reduces manual work and lowers cost
  • Faster environment duplication with immutable and reproducible deployments

Cons of using GitOps

  • Steep learning curve for developers new to the methodology
  • Dependency on Git and GitOps tools, which can be costly and complex to manage
  • Complexity of GitOps processes, which can be difficult to debug and troubleshoot
  • Does not come with a centralized secret management solution
  • Resistance to change in traditional organizations, as the adoption of GitOps requires a shift in mindset and processes
  • Git is not designed for programmatic updates, which might cause conflicts requiring manual resolution

In conclusion, adopting GitOps processes is a great way to modernize your DevOps practices. It enables organizations to quickly and easily make changes to the codebase without fear of breaking the system. Based on the above pros and cons list, you’ll see that the adoption of GitOps requires a shift in mindset and processes and can be complex to manage.

The future posts in this series will explore the tools that enable GitOps for app deployments along with an in-depth comparison between ArgoCD and FluxCD.

Start using Argonaut today to take advantage of GitOps best practices and streamline your deployment workflows. Argonaut also provides a single UI for both App and Infra deployments and improves team collaboration.

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