How should CI/CD tool cost scaling, language support, and platform support affect your implementation decisions? In a previous post, we looked the factors you should consider when choosing between a SaaS CI/CD tool vs. a self-hosted CI/CD solution. In this post, we will take a look at a number of other factors that should be considered when evaluating a SaaS CI/CD tool to determine if it’s the right fit for your organization, including cost scalability and language/platform support.

CI/CD Tool Cost Scaling

One thing that is important to keep in mind when deciding to use a paid subscription-based service is how the cost scales with your usage. There are a number of factors that can affect cost. Particularly, some CI/CD SaaS services limit the number of build processes that can be run concurrently. For example, Codeship’s free plan allows only one concurrent build at a time. Travis CI’s travis-ci.org product offers up to 5 concurrent builds for open source projects, but (interestingly) their $69 USD/mo plan on travis-ci.com only offers 1 concurrent build. All of this means that increased throughput will likely result in increased cost. If you expect to maintain a steady level of throughput (that is, you don’t expect to add significantly more developers, which would require additional CI/CD throughput) then perhaps limits on the number of concurrent build processes is not a concern for you. However, if you’re planning on adding more developers to your team, you’ll likely end up having more build/test jobs that need to be executed. Limits may hamper your team’s productivity.

Another restriction you may run across is a limit on the total number of “build minutes” for a given subscription. In other words, the cumulative number of minutes that all build/test processes can run during a given subscription billing cycle (typically a month) is capped at a certain amount. For example, CircleCI’s free plan is limited to 1,500 build minutes per month, while their paid plans offer unlimited build minutes. Adding more developers to your team will likely result in additional build jobs, which will increase the required amount of build minutes per month, which may affect your cost. Additionally, increasing the complexity of your build/test process may result in longer build/test times, which will further increase the number of build minutes you’ll need during each billing cycle. The takeaway here is that if you have a solid understanding of how your team and your build processes are likely to scale in the future, then you should be well equipped to make a decision on whether the cost of a build minute-limited plan will scale adequately to meet your organization’s needs.

Though not directly related to cost scaling, it’s important to note that some CI/CD SaaS providers place a limit on the length of time allowed for any single build/test job, independent of any cumulative per-billing-cycle limitations. For example, Travis CI’s travis-ci.org product limits build jobs to 50 minutes, while jobs on their travis-ci.com product are limited to 120 minutes per build. Similarly, Atlassian’s Bitbucket Pipelines limits builds to 2 hours per job. These limits are probably more than sufficient for most teams, but if you have any long-running build/test processes, you should make sure that your jobs will fit within the time constraints set by your CI/CD provider.

CI/CD Language and Platform Support

Not all languages and platforms are supported by all SaaS CI/CD providers. Support for programming languages, operating systems, containers, and third-party software installation are just a few of the factors that need to be considered when evaluating a SaaS CI/CD tool. If your team requires Microsoft Windows build servers, you are immediately limited to a very small set of options, of which AppVeyor is arguably the most popular. If you need to build and test iOS or Android apps, you have a few more options, such as Travis CI, fastlane, and Bitrise, among others.

Programming languages are another area of consideration. Most providers support the most popular languages, but if you’re using a less popular language, you’ll need to choose carefully. For instance, Travis CI supports a huge list of programming languages, but most other SaaS CI/CD providers support only a handful by comparison. If your project is written in D, Erlang, Rust, or some other less mainstream language, many SaaS CI/CD providers may be a no-go right from the start.

Further consideration is required when dealing with Docker containers. Some SaaS CI/CD providers offer first-class support for Docker containers, while other providers do not support them at all. If Docker is an integral part of your development and build process, some providers may be immediately disqualified from consideration due to this point alone.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, when it comes to determining the CI/CD tool that’s right for your team, there are numerous factors that should be considered, especially with regard to CI/CD tool cost. Fortunately, many SaaS CI/CD providers offer a free version of their service, which gives you the opportunity to test drive the service to ensure that it supports the languages, platforms, and services that your team uses. Just remember to keep cost scaling in mind before making your decision, as the cost of “changing horses” can be expensive should you find that your CI/CD tool cost scales disproportionately with the rest of your business.

In a future post, we will explore third-party integrations with CI/CD tools, with a focus on continuous delivery.

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.

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