Originally posted by Stacey Norwood on July 2 2020
When Drone.io founder Brad Rydzewski looked at the cloud-native ecosystem a few years back, he saw gaps in tooling that he thought would slow down developers. “There were a lot of 80% solutions, especially in the CI/CD space,” he says.
Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) bridges the gaps between development and operation activities and teams by enforcing automated workflows for building, testing, and deploying applications. What Rydzewski knew is that many cloud services were not keeping up with the needs of developers, especially when it came to the booming landscape of edge and IoT. So Rydzewski aimed to make Drone.io the first open source CI/CD platform to provide a “100%” solution for the developer community.
“That is really Drone.io’s goal — to be everywhere developers are so that they do not have to split their work across multiple tools when developing and deploying applications,” says Rydzewski. “Developers want a single workflow, in one tool, in one place.”
For a long time, that tool was Jenkins, one of the first continuous integration services widely adopted by enterprises. “For years everyone tried to provide an alternative to Jenkins,” says Rydzewski. “And really the only way to provide a compelling alternative to Jenkins is to be everywhere Jenkins is—which is everywhere!”
So Rydzewski developed a flexible plug-and-play framework that could expand alongside the needs of developers and new use cases. With that flexibility at its core, Drone.io has since been adopted by companies such as Cisco, Reddit, and The New York Times.
“When a large enterprise adopts Drone.io, they could be using it to develop and deploy services-traditional servers, but also to mobile phones or even embedded devices,” says Rydzewski. “It is incredibly important for Drone.io to support all these use cases to be competitive in the market.”
A key factor in Drone.io’s success was the addition of support for the Arm architecture in 2018.
Around that time, Docker announced a big push to support multiple architectures, expanding beyond x86 to include support for both 32-bit and 64-bit Arm. That decision inspired the Drone.io team to consider a similar approach. “I wanted Drone.io to evolve in line with the Docker community, and that meant supporting more architectures,” says Rydzewski.
Within Drone.io’s open-source community, there was also a growing number of embedded developers and Raspberry Pi users asking for 1st class Arm support. The reason? They were shipping code to all kinds of form factors, from the cloud to devices at the edge, and they wanted a simpler way to build their software. So Drone.io stepped up.
“Our goal in adding Arm support was to ensure developers had a place to efficiently build and test code they were developing for all devices, from arm64 to x86,” says Rydzewski. “It makes it much easier for developers to write software that is inclusive of all types of architectures and devices.”
Without that option, developers can find themselves facing a fork in the roadmap.
“Without multi-architecture support in your CI/CD system, there are two paths to follow: you can ignore the unsupported architecture completely, or build your own testing environment.” Rydzewski found that if it wasn’t easy to test on Arm, users would simply ignore it, creating a chicken and egg problem. “If developers aren’t building and testing for Arm, which is the basis of billions of devices around the world, then it hampers the overall software ecosystem.”
The other option was for developers to set up Arm-based testing infrastructure on their own, which is not for the faint of heart. “Developers looking to test on Arm would set up a cluster of Raspberry Pi’s or find a way to purchase heavy-duty Arm servers and run them in a closet or under a desk,” says Rydzewski. “In today’s cloud-first, developers are not used to the burden of managing physical infrastructure — it is simply not the way they are used to working. “
The Drone.io team faced a similar problem when they started looking for a hosting provider for Drone Cloud. Who could provide them with multi-architecture infrastructure that was powerful enough (and automated enough) for Drone.io to serve both x86 and Arm needs?
“Of course it was Packet,” says Rydzewski, who partnered with the bare-metal cloud provider for the infrastructure to run Drone Cloud. “Packet was involved at the early stages of what has become an Arm revolution, and now everyone’s starting to move in that direction,” says Rydzewski.
When Drone.io announced support for Arm developers were excited with the new offering, but it was more than just Arm support that excited the community. Not only was Drone Cloud now a multi-arch platform that could automate software testing and delivery for a wide range of devices, but it was also free for open source projects.
“Working with Packet and Arm, we were able to make Drone Cloud 100% free for the open source community,” says Rydzewski. “This way, developers working on community projects do not have to worry about footing the infrastructure bill, which can get quite expensive.”
They also do not have to feel beholden to working with one architecture. “Packet provides Drone Cloud with powerful machines that leverage various — even competing — architectures, because they know that is what developers really need,” says Rydzewski. “Packet and Arm together understand that the real value here is meeting developers where they are at — they realize that creating touch-points with developers is valuable to their long term success.”
Since Arm support was added with the launch of Drone Cloud, Drone.io has seen 10X growth in its services.
“By listening to the community and providing Drone Cloud, it is really raised awareness for us” says Rydzewski. “It is made the project more popular, advanced the Arm story, and really helped the overall open-source community by providing a free, high-quality CI/CD service.”
Looking forward, Drone.io is building upon its success with Arm. “The way I look at it is you can’t argue with the numbers,” says Rydzewski. “Arm adoption is everywhere: on mobile phones, and more recently in the datacenter with AWS Graviton2, Ampere Altra, and others Arm-based silicon is on par — and in some ways outperforming — x86 options.”
Add to those developments the well-known benefits of Arm such as customization and efficiency and “there is a really great story to tell with Arm,” says Rydzewski. “And it’s only going to grow from here.”