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Developers could ease DevOps deployment with CircleCI Orbs

With a new suite of 20 CircleCI integrations known as Orbs, CircleCI targets developers who wish to simplify the automation of their deployments from their CI/CD pipelines.

CI/CD platform provider CircleCI has introduced a suite of 20 integrations that automate deployment and were developed with prominent partners including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, VMware and Salesforce.

These integrations, known as CircleCI Orbs, enable developers to quickly automate deployments directly from their CI/CD pipelines. CircleCI launched Orbs in November 2018, and today there are more than 1,200 listed in its registry. But users created the vast majority of them; the difference with CircleCI's internally created orbs is that they're backed by vendor support.

CircleCI Orbs are shareable configuration packages for development builds, said Tom Trahan, CircleCI's vice president of business development. The orbs define reusable commands, executors and jobs so that commonly used pieces of configuration can be condensed into a single line of code, he said.

The process of automating deployment can be challenging, which is why CircleCI added this suite of out-of-the-box integrations.

Orbs have two primary benefits for developers, said Chris Condo, an analyst at Forrester Research. "They can be certified by the third parties that create them, and they are maintainable pieces of code that contain logic, actions and connections to CD [continuous delivery] capabilities," he said.

CircleCI Orbs
CircleCI Orbs provide integrations with a variety of services

The orbs help CircleCI operate in an increasingly competitive market that includes open-source Jenkins as well as the commercial CloudBees Jenkins Platform, GitLab and GitHub, as well as cloud platform providers such as AWS and Microsoft.

Orbs are very similar in design to the best package managers that you see -- like npm for Node.js, or like the Java library or Ruby Gems.
Tom TrahanVice president of business development, CircleCI

"When we launched Orbs, it was because our customers were asking us for a way to operate the same way that they operate within the broader open source world, particularly when you think about open source frameworks for various languages," Trahan said. "Orbs are very similar in design to the best package managers that you see -- like npm for Node.js, or like the Java library or Ruby Gems."

These are all frameworks created so that bundles of code could be packaged up and made available to developers, which is what the CircleCI Orbs do, Trahan added.

Developers don't want to have to "reinvent the wheel," when they can simply access bundles of code and best practices that others have already developed, he said.

Multi-cloud trend drives need for easier deployment

Anything that removes boring configuration work from a developer's plate is likely to be welcome, said James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk, based in Portland, Maine.

"CircleCI building out a catalog of deployment orbs makes a lot of sense, particularly as the market becomes increasingly multi-cloud oriented," Governor said. "Enterprises want to see their vendors offer a wide range of supported platforms. The Orb approach allows for standardized, repeatable deployments and rollbacks."

However, the process of automating deployments can be problematic for some teams because of the time it takes to write integrations with services such as AWS ECS or Google Cloud Run, Trahan said. The CircleCI deployment orbs are designed to limit the complexity and time spent creating integrations.

"Customers are asking for simpler ways to connect their dev and CD processes; Orbs helps them do that," Forrester's Condo said. "So I see Orbs as a very nice evolutionary step that allows teams to build maintainable abstractions between their development and deployment processes."

How commercially successful the new suite of Orbs will be remains to be seen, but conceptually, the approach has been embraced by CircleCI users. Since their launch in November 2018, CircleCI orbs are now used by 13,000 user organizations, with around 40,000 repositories and nine million CI/CD pipelines, Trahan said.

Pricing for CircleCI's CI/CD pipeline services is free for small teams and starts at $30 a month for teams with four or more developers. Pricing for enterprise customers starts at $3,000 a month. The orbs are free for all CircleCI users.

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