DevOps CI/CD: Bridging the gap from continuous integration to continuous delivery
There’s a huge competitive advantage to implementing DevOps C/CD effectively.
Get it right, and you’re looking at deploying 208 times more frequently, recovering from incidents 2,604 times faster and reducing your change failure rate by a factor of seven, according to Google’s State of DevOps report.
CI/CD concepts are vital in achieving these gains as they are fundamental to the whole concept of DevOps itself. Without CI/CD, you’re basically just running Agile. Not that we don’t love Agile – but the whole point of DevOps is that you’re building on Agile to create something more.
Given how important they are, we thought we’d dedicate some virtual column space entirely to CI/CD DevOps processes and how to create robust, automated pipelines that allow you to deploy new code seamlessly.
- What DevOps CI/CD is
- Automation and building a DevOps pipeline
- Essential CI/CD tools
What is CI/CD in DevOps?
As soon as you start reading about DevOps, this little abbreviation starts to crop up all the time! Before continuing, it’s worth putting some solid info down on what CI/CD stands for in DevOps and what this means.
CI/CD is an abbreviation of continuous integration and continuous deployment. Some definitions for you:
Integration is the practice of merging any code changes made by developers (due to testing or bug fixing, for example) to the main branch of project code. These can be from one or multiple contributors.
DevOps continuous integration is doing this as often as possible, at the same time as other development stages. These changes are checked by running a series of automated tests against a testing build. The code is deployed if it passes the tests – if not, it’s back to the drawing board.
‘Deployment’ is the act of setting your new code live.
Continuous deployment is a completely automated method of setting new code changes live as often as possible. Any changes that pass the testing requirements in the integration stage are set live automatically.
Before we go any further, it’s also worth clearing up a point that often causes confusion. ‘CD’ can sometimes stand for ‘continuous delivery’. Continuous delivery is a similar process to continuous deployment – the only difference is in how much manual input each process involves.
DevOps continuous delivery involves a manual phase at the end of the pipeline, in which your ops team sets the code live. In continuous deployment, this phase is entirely automated. This makes continuous delivery a slower process than continuous deployment, and less compatible with the DevOps approach.
The benefits of running integration and deployment simultaneously
In a traditional ops environment, these phases run one after the other. DevOps businesses run them simultaneously. The headline benefits here are that:
- You release significantly faster than manually testing and deploying code
- Your releases are a higher quality because fewer coding errors make it to production
- You iron out integration challenges caused by merging faulty code
It’s not all about the end user, however. Automating a huge chunk of your deployment pipeline means that your operations team is freed from a huge burden of manual tasks, so they can reinvest this time elsewhere.
Developers also get feedback faster, so they can fix issues quicker. And, because CI/CD pipelines deploy ‘little and often’, chances are that fixes are smaller and more manageable. Again, your developers reinvest the time saved fixing frustrating, avoidable errors into something entirely more enjoyable (shiny new features your users will love).
Building a DevOps CI/CD pipeline
CI/CD relies heavily on automation to make it work effectively – there’s no way you can run both activities simultaneously without it.
Atlassian has a neat little definition of what a DevOps pipeline is:
“A DevOps pipeline is a set of automated processes and tools that allows developers and operations professionals to collaborate on building and deploying code to a production environment.”
CI/CD pipelines are by nature iterative. This means that they repeat stages to incorporate data from each part of the process. So, your team writes and integrates code, tests it, and deploys it in a sort of continuous loop.
If we’re talking about a CI/CD DevOps pipeline specifically, we’re talking about a set of automated processes and tools that take your developers’ code from the integration stage to deployment.
What should you automate in a DevOps CI/CD pipeline?
Ultimately, a CI/CD pipeline should make the transition between integrating code changes and deploying them to a production environment seamless, with minimal manual input.
Before the CI/CD pipeline begins, you should complete individual unit tests on the code you want to integrate. A unit test is performed on specific components of code (a module or feature for example) to gauge performance and catch any code-specific errors pre integration.
The CI/CD pipeline itself begins with integration and integration testing.
To merge new code into the project codebase, you’ll need well designed version control processes, ideally using a code repository like GitHub or Bitbucket to document changes and ensure everyone’s working from a single source of truth. Using automated CI/CD tools, you can trigger integration testing as soon as a developer pushes code to the main branch.
If the code passes the integration tests and doesn’t cause any issues with existing product features, the deployment process begins.
During deployment, you can automate:
- The build phase, in which the release-ready software version is created
- The deployment of this build to production environments
Build automation in particular will save you a lot of work here. CI/CD tools use automatic triggers from your version control system to create a production-ready build, as soon as new code is merged to your main production branch of the codebase. This can then be uploaded to a remote server for users to download.
Essential CI/CD tools for your pipeline
Finding the right tools for the job is vital if you want your CI/CD pipeline to perform well. You have a few options here – take your time to think about which is right for you.
CI/CD tools can either be task specific or wider software packages that help you automate every step of the process. Features often include:
- Easy integration with widely used code repositories
- Integration automation and testing
- Build automation
- Delivering builds to production environments
CI/CD tools you could consider
What it is: a cloud-based CI/CD tool that integrates directly with Atlassian-owned code repository Bitbucket. Pipelines are managed as code for maximum efficiency and flexibility.
Good for: businesses who already run Bitbucket or other Atlassian products and are looking for cloud software that integrates easily into their existing setup. If you’re set on an on-prem installation, check out Atlassian’s self-hosted alternative, Bamboo.
What it is: a complete, end-to-end DevOps platform incorporating automated testing and deployment. It’s specifically designed to expand the GitHub overall experience, so if you’re already using GitHub as a code repository, this could be a strong choice.
Good for: flexibility (it offers both on-premise and cloud hosting) and well-rated continuous security testing. DevOps teams like its intuitive interfaces, which present information well and are easy to pick up.
What it is: a CI tool designed to work with a range of version control systems (though most people use GitHub), containerization systems and delivery mechanisms. It’s not end-to-end, though given the range of integration options it supports this shouldn’t be an issue.
Good for: with both cloud and on-premise options available, this might just be the most flexible CI tool out there! If you’ve already got some favorites in place and are looking for something that likely integrates with all of them, CircleCI is for you.
What it is: Amazon Web Services’ end-to-end CI/CD tool that automates the build, test and deployment phases. With support for Amazon ECR as a source provider, it also offers containerization options if needed.
Good for: if you’re running off AWS, this is a particularly good option. It gets good reviews for its custom plugin support and robust access control.
Get the right expertise with DevOps consulting
When done well, DevOps takes your deployment speed to the next level. Who wouldn’t want a slice of the action?
As DevOps has matured as an operating strategy, demand for engineers and consultants has soared, but there’s a well-documented shortage of DevOps engineers for hire. In 2021, US-based DevOps openings numbered over 300,000, but 64% of businesses reported finding individuals with the skills to fill these roles challenging.
If you’re dedicated to building a completely in-house team, starting a lengthy hiring process or upskilling existing team members might be time well spent. Equally, if time is of the essence you might find DevOps consulting a more effective way to start your journey with DevOps.
After an initial consultation to establish your needs and project scope, DevOps consultants oversee the following
- Audit: consultants need to scope out your existing situation before taking any action. This helps them identify any major improvement areas, alongside what’s working well.
- Infrastructure improvements: legacy IT infrastructure holds your DevOps implementation back. DevOps consulting identifies where infrastructure improvements are needed, for example via implementing containerization software or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
- Integration and deployment pipeline automation: vital for CI/CD DevOps processes, this reduces errors and speeds up your deployment time significantly.
- Maintenance: if you decide that you would like an ongoing relationship with your DevOps consultant, they can perform maintenance and optimization work on the processes above on a long-term basis
Even better, DevOps consulting businesses maintain professional networks of engineers that they can scale at a moment’s notice – so you benefit from talent you might otherwise struggle to attract.
DevOps consulting with Tivix
We’ve been DevOps die-hards from the beginning. Check out our work for major healthtech DoveMed for a little sample of what we do.
Our global network of professionals can scale the DevOps consulting and engineering talent you need as soon as we’re onboard, so you can start seeing the benefits of DevOps ASAP.