Continuous Integration (CI)
Drone vs CircleCI
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Harness DevOps Tools Vs. CircleCI
*Last updated: 3/31/2021
Detailed Feature Comparison
Drone Vs. CircleCi
CircleCI currently only offers a paid product version. While there is a free version, free definitely does not mean open-source. The free version is quite limited, and while it may work for very small businesses or personal projects, it will not suffice for more established businesses. Drone is open-source. There is, however, a paid version of Drone that provides access to enterprise support and more integrations and features. Additional features include secrets management options, autoscaling, custom plugins, and more.
Let’s start with the good: CircleCI is fairly easy to adopt. It also offers customizable/flexible build environments. It was built for speed, boasts a heft amount of integrations, and definitely rates as one of the better CI tools on the market. They have their own system called Orbs, which are basically what other CI/CD tools would call plugins. And now, for the bad: Jobs can take a long time and can be buggy if modified, necessitating users to cancel the workflow and restart it. CircleCI also struggles with uptime and reliability. For more advanced users, the lack of context in some pull requests can be cumbersome and result in needing to go to GitHub’s API yourself – for example, build environments don’t get context about the target branch of a given pull request. This adds more complexity to your workflows. Lastly, there’s some very mixed feedback on the new UI, with users calling it frustrating, complex, and confusing. Drone is built upon three pillars that enable engineers to build and test code quickly and accurately: simple, scalable, self-service. Drone installs in under 5 minutes, scales on demand, and all plugins run in containers on their latest version. This means less person hours spent by engineers maintaining the tool, and more time on what matters: getting that code to artifact.
For secrets management, CircleCI users have three options: store secrets as plain text using Contexts resources or environment variables, then echo them into files at job runtime via config.yml; encrypt files and store them in your source repository but store the decryption keys in CircleCI, again either via Contexts or job environment variables, then decrypt as needed at job runtime; use third-party secret management tools, like HashiCorp Vault, as long as the tool has a headless CLI-accessible option that can be used in a CircleCI job. Drone offers secrets encryption on its open-source plan. Meanwhile, the enterprise plan offers these alternatives: encrypted, native, or externally-managed through third-party providers such as AWS Secret Manager, Kubernetes Secrets, and HashiCorp Vault. To expand a bit on the “native” aspect of things, Drone has its own secrets management function – CircleCI does not have this capability. Whether you’re a fan of Vault, encryption, or native secrets storage, Drone can rise to the occasion.
There’s room for improvement when it comes to scalability with CircleCI, which is ironic considering “speed and scale” are two of their selling points. We have learned that, for container-based plans, jobs can get queued if there aren’t enough containers to accommodate the workload. This gives CircleCI a thumbs down on scalability and load balancing. Drone Enterprise makes sure scaling is never a problem with various possible autoscaling integrations, such as Amazon EC2, Digital Ocean, Google Computer, Hetzner, Open Stack, and Packet.
CircleCI doesn’t exactly rival Jenkins in terms of FTEs required, but it’s not far off. While Jenkins requires between 2-5 FTEs, CircleCI still requires 2. This measure includes initial setup and continuing maintenance to keep CircleCI in working order. Drone easily stamps out maintenance issues at a whopping .25 FTEs needed (that’s not a typo). It’s an extremely portable solution without scripting, plugin maintenance, or dependency hell – or much else in terms of maintenance, for that matter. The plug-and-play nature of Drone ensures the only work you have to perform on it, other than the initial setup and configuration of course, is administration – such as adding and removing users, permissions, etc.
Totaling CircleCI’s operating costs along with the FTEs needed to maintain it, cost of ownership can add up fairly quickly. Drone prides itself on its open-source status, and with its tiny maintenance FTE needs, is overall a more economical alternative to CircleCI.
Being one of the more feature-rich CI tools out there, CircleCI certainly flaunts the price tag! Back in 2020, they updated their pricing model and the change was poorly-received. This new model removed the predictability aspect of their pricing, and some users were disgruntled by their rising cloud costs. Get the full scoop on their pricing plans. Drone’s open-source version is free and available for download. To familiarize yourself with enterprise pricing, please contact sales.
*Please note: Our competitors, just like us, release updates to their products on a regular cadence. We keep these pages updated to the best of our ability, but there are bound to be discrepancies. For the most up-to-date information on competitor features, browsing the competitor’s new release pages and communities are your best bet.
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