CloudBees today announced it would extend the reach of the Jenkins continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) platform by acquiring Rollout, a provider of feature flag tool that gets employed to simplify testing of new modules within an application.
Company CEO Sacha Labourey said the acquisition of Rollout would result in a feature flag capability that is more seamlessly integrated with the gates that make up a CI/CD pipeline process. The goal is to make it easier for DevOps teams to apply A/B testing of new application features against a subset of users before deciding to update an entire application environment, he said.
Feature flagging, also known as feature toggling, enables DevOps teams to hide features from certain users at runtime. In effect, this creates multiple branches from the same source code that DevOps teams need to manage. Rather than having to employ a separate tool based on an entirely different user interface, CloudBees is moving to make feature flagging a core capability of its extended toolchain.
In theory, feature flagging should be more widely employed than it is today. Many organizations, however, have found it challenging to incorporate separate feature flagging tools within their DevOps processes. CloudBees is now using some of the money it has raised of late to address that issue.
Feature flagging today is largely confined to testing. However, there may come a day when more organizations will employ feature flagging to make different classes of user experience available to different end users. That approach, in theory, would make it possible to charge different fees for disparate application experiences using the same core application.
In the meantime, the goal is to garner more feedback concerning new capabilities that might be added to an application before the features are made generally available. Developers often spend months developing new features only to discover end users are not employing those capabilities because of some trivial glitch that could have been discovered easily using A/B testing.
There currently is no shortage of options when it comes to tools for implementing feature flagging. Labourey said CloudBees elected to acquire Rollout because the team behind it was deemed to have the best cultural fit with CloudBees. It’s too early to say whether other providers of feature flagging tools will be rolled up into other CI/CD platforms—providers of those platforms can either develop their own feature flagging toolsets or move to absorb a third-party provider either by acquiring them or forming a technology alliance. The depth of the toolchain being provided these days often has as much to do with what CI/CD platform ultimately gets adopted as the core integration and delivery capabilities.
Regardless of the path chosen, it’s apparent that thanks to feature flagging, continuous testing processes will become more sophisticated. That may require some adjustments to existing best DevOps practices, but the days when development teams blindly experiment on end users in the hopes they are building the next killer feature mercifully are coming to an end.