How to Decide Between a CI/CD SaaS Tool vs. Self Hosted

You may find yourself deciding whether to choose a CI/CD SaaS tool, or a self-hosted option. The continuous integration/continuous delivery platform market has grown over the last several years as DevOps becomes more mainstream, and now encompasses a huge variety of tools, each with their own flavor. While it’s great to have choices, it means that choosing the right tool can be a difficult decision. There are several factors to consider when choosing the right fit, including hosting, cost, scalability, and integration support. In this post, we will look at one of the biggest points of consideration: whether to choose a SaaS CI/CD service or a self-hosted system. This will be the first entry in a series of posts about how to choose the CI/CD system that is right for your team. Like everything, there are pros and cons to all solutions, and with the vast amount of CI/CD options available today, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all”.

Considerations for Choosing a CI/CD SaaS Tool

First, let’s take a look at the up-side to choosing a CI/CD SaaS tool. Like most SaaS products, one of the biggest benefits is that there is no hardware or software infrastructure to maintain. There’s no need to worry about server maintenance or applying software updates/patches: that’s all handled for you. In addition to the reduced ongoing maintenance burden, most SaaS CI/CD systems tend to be easy to get set up, especially if you’re using a SaaS VCS (Version Control System) like GitHub or Bitbucket. 

These are great points, but there are potential down-sides that must be considered. The cost of usage for a SaaS CI/CD solution may not scale nicely with your business. For example, the price of a SaaS CI/CD service may go up as your team gets larger. If you plan on scaling your team significantly, the cost of your CI/CD system could inflate dramatically. Furthermore, not all services support all platforms, tools, and environments. If you plan on introducing any new development technologies, you should make sure that they are supported by the CI/CD provider you choose.

Considerations for a Self-Hosted CI/CD Tool

While there are many attractive points in favor of a SaaS CI/CD service, a self-hosted solution is not without its merits. One potential benefit of a self-hosted solution is extensibility. Some self-hosted services can be customized with plugins/extensions to enable functionality that is not included “out of the box”. Jenkins is a prime example of this, with over 1,000 plugins available. Even without plugins, self-hosted CI/CD tools often have more support for development platforms, languages, and testing frameworks than many SaaS solutions. If there’s not first-class support (or a plugin/extension) for a technology that you use, you can usually make things work with some shell scripts and a little bit of creativity. In addition to extensibility, self-hosted solutions typically have fewer limitations on things like build configurations and concurrent build jobs. This isn’t always the case, however. The free version of TeamCity, a CI/CD tool from JetBrains, is limited to 100 build configurations and 3 build agents. Licenses for additional configurations and build agents are available for purchase, though.

Conversely, there are some potential down-sides to a self-hosted system. Perhaps the biggest of these is that you are required to manage your own infrastructure. This includes applying software updates/patches, and may include management of hardware if you’re not hosting the service on an IaaS platform like AWS, GCP, or Azure. In contrast to a SaaS solution, self-hosted systems may require a time-intensive process to get set up. Between getting the system linked up to your VCS (Version Control System), issue/ticket tracking software, and notification system(s), there can be a steep entrypoint in getting your CI/CD system initialized. In addition to the first-time setup, you may be required to manage authentication and authorization for users in your organization if the system you choose doesn’t support your organization’s user management system (LDAP, Google GSuite, etc.).

Final Thoughts

It is worth noting that some CI/CD SaaS tool providers offer self-hosted variants of their services. For instance, CircleCI offers an enterprise solution that can be self-hosted on your own networks, and Travis CI offers Travis CI Enterprise, which is optimized for deployment on Amazon EC2 instances. These offerings throw even more into the mix, and should be part of your consideration when determining which tool has the best fit.

As you can see, there are several factors that must be considered when choosing the CI/CD tool that is right for you. In this post, we discussed some of the trade-offs between SaaS and self-hosted systems. In future posts, we will look at other factors such as scalability, cost, and restrictions/limitations.


About Matt Burton

Matt Burton is a Senior Software Engineer at ParkMyCloud. Matt has over fifteen years of experience in desktop and web-based software development, system administration, database management, networking and communication, and project leadership. During his career, Matt has developed software solutions for commercial entities ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, as well as government, military, and non-profit organizations. Matt lives in Harrisburg, PA with his wife and two sons.

One response to “How to Decide Between a CI/CD SaaS Tool vs. Self Hosted”

  1. R. Hassan says:

    Excellent points here Matt! Myself and my team have come across this discussion for years, and the debate only grows as cloud becomes more prevalent. We are finding that for a “surgical strike requirement” with extremely low cost yet powerful capability such as ParkMyCloud offers, the choice is use someone’s SaaS model and let them host it. For a medium to highly complex requirement, the considerations are more substantial, and often require custom scripting, whether the SaaS is open source or not. As well, hosting vs not hosting also becomes a considerable exercise to undertake.

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