As developer toolchains consolidate, Microsoft takes pole position

Developers may be tiring of siloed, best-of-breed solutions and are increasingly looking to vendors to pull disparate tools together, giving Microsoft an edge.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (center in photo)

Image: James Martin/CNET

One of the best things about open source is that it maximizes choice. Ironically, that’s also one of the worst things about open source.

Need a database? Open source offers hundreds. A message queue? Plenty to pick from. And so on. It’s a bonanza of
choice which, while a good thing, has its own downside; namely, that figuring out how to choose the ideal tool for a given task can be non-trivial. This problem of being spoiled for riches is particularly apparent in the area of so-called DevOps tooling.

SEE: How to build a successful career as a DevOps engineer (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Drunk on choice

As Forrester analyst Christopher Condo has captured, back in the 2000s Microsoft, IBM, et al went to market with full-stack automation tools that did everything from running unit tests to packaging up software to get it ready for production. While in theory this made developers’ lives easier, such solutions were inflexible and pricey, leaving developers locked into whatever their organization started with.

Fast forward a few years, and developers were swimming in a sea of choices. Git, Jenkins, Chef, etc. These best-of-breed tools were just a download away, and sparked furious innovation in the DevOps space. According to Condo,

One tool after another has entered the market to either perform new tricks, such as free feature flagging tools like ff4j, or find new approaches to old problems like Travis CI and its no-ops approach to managing continuous integration. Today, there are literally hundreds of DevOps tools causing many a developer to be the proverbial kid in a candy store, loading their goody bag with every free tool they can get their hands on.

Unfortunately, much of these innovative projects didn’t work well together, introducing a “DevOps tax” on organizations. By Forrester’s reckoning, 10% of a developer team’s time/resources were tied up in maintaining their toolchain. Despite a boom in developer tooling, actual release velocity has remained somewhat constant:


Which brings us to today.

Less choice, please

Across the industry, we’ve seen companies like Atlassian and Microsoft start to assemble integrated CI/CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery) toolchains. Microsoft, more than any other, is the one to watch. Not only does Microsoft have a long history of catering to developers, but it has upped its already impressive game with the acquisition of GitHub (as well as the development of Visual Studio Code and TypeScript).

Microsoft aims to keep GitHub independent from Redmond. Even so, at Microsoft’s Build developer conference earlier this year, the company touted tighter integrations between Visual Studio and Active Directory with GitHub, making it seamless for an enterprise to buy GitHub Enterprise as part of their Visual Studio subscription and using Active Directory to give developer teams access to secure GitHub repositories. In these ways, Microsoft is making it easier for existing Microsoft customers to get more from GitHub.

SEE: Microsoft Build 2019: The biggest takeaways (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

GitHub, for its part, keeps tightening otherwise loose ends of a CI/CD toolchain. Most recently, GitHub announced Actions, which enable developers to automate workflows that “can be triggered by GitHub platform events (i.e. push, issue, release) and can run a sequence of serial or parallel actions in response.” Think that’s small? GitHub CTO Jason Warner disagrees:

If you wonder about the future of software and workflows, think of all the things Actions enables. All the pain dev[eloper]s feel daily, all the annoyances of pushing and deploying code, all the friction…gone. Plus waaaaay more. This is sci-fi territory.

Of course, everyone in the GitHub universe gets the benefit of Actions, not merely Microsoft. Microsoft doesn’t seem to mind sharing the wealth, either, but as the Active Directory and Visual Studio announcements hint, over time Microsoft will make it progressively easier for enterprises to use Microsoft tooling, including GitHub services, in an integrated, holistic way.

For a company that seemed to have lost its way with developers, Microsoft is back on its game, offering developers an integrated experience that is hard to resist.

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