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The time of shipping a product release is often seen with mixed feelings among different organizations. While some pat each other on the back, some clap and celebrate or drink to their success, there lurks a dark secret that they are afraid to speak out. Even if the thought of failure bubbles up, they try to squash it down. Shipping a release takes so much effort, sometimes it is manual, sometimes it is semi-scripted with the cloud handling it automatically.

So what do you do to make it easier for everyone, i.e. the customers, the developers, the stakeholders and the management? You resort to the most feasible options - through CI or Continuous Integration and CD or Continuous Delivery pipeline. This way, you can reduce the tension centered during the period of product release. The product deficiencies are quickly analyzed so the product pipeline becomes smoother and more frequent, giving your customers updated and highly qualitative products.

Both CI and CD play a very crucial role in automating the software delivery process. When code changes are made or when the developer checks the code into the source repository, those changes will be instantly reflected in the product delivery pipeline. Through Continuous Integration, integration problems are taken care of, and the developer doesn’t have to worry about software issues.

And Continuous Delivery is a system where the development team releases a product predictably and frequently, but it is done automatically. In the traditional manner, you have the developers at one end of the spectrum, i.e. the starting area of the spectrum. But at the receiving end, you have the operations personnel, and the product eventually goes through delays at every hand-off leading to frustrated customers and disgruntled teams. This process was tedious and completely error-prone, and of course, often experienced unforeseen delays as well. These problems can be completely eliminated through CD.

Continuous Delivery, an extension of Continuous Integration, is done through Continuous Testing. This technique allows for automated testing that is integrated with software delivery pipeline, leading to validation of every change flowing through it. This way, businesses ensure that the product they deploy will always be usable to the consumers. The delivery procedure is also automated, making the whole process rapid and error-free, and in selected infrastructure environments.

Through CI and CD, it is possible to deploy apps in stores with impeccable speed and frequency. The article discusses how to incorporate CI and CD on an existing delivery model, and how this can be done seamlessly.

Planning for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery

The adoption of CI/CD has really changed the way developers and testers deploy and ship products. The growth of software releases has been tremendous - from Waterfall to Agile and DevOps. It is through DevOps that you have Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, (CI/CD) and Continuous Deployment. Through these methods, continuous deployment is done on a monthly, quarterly or bi-annual basis, and sometimes weekly too.

Given below is a typical CI/CD workflow.

CI/CD Workflow
Image Credit: Microsoft

And here are the steps to be taken while planning to implement the CI/CD workflow:

1. Weigh the benefits

By adopting CI/CD, you can enjoy delivering faster results. The response to market demands and changes can be met with equal diligence. This means when new features are developed and created, they can be instantly deployed; no waiting time involved.

Productivity levels reach an all-time high because all the repetitive tasks are automated and then deployed. The pipelines are also automated, thanks to the integration of an impressive collection of test automation tools. As manual work is considerably less, the team members can focus on strategic work that provides more value to the company. It is possible to arrange for a convenient delivery time, making it flexible and less stressful.

2. Consider the requirements

Once you weigh the benefits enjoyed with CI/CD delivery, you can go through the requirements of the project. This would include analyzing the budget, examining areas of allotment and other possibilities.

The team is another major factor. Do you have the right people in your team to proactively resolve issues? Consider the team’s development capabilities as they should be proactive rather than reactive.

The success of the team can be ensured when the team leaders are competent enough and understand the full potential of CI/CD and why it is important to embrace this trend.

3. Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are important to monitor progress and analyze continuous improvements. Here are some KPIs in CD/CI delivery model.

Stability index: If the Key Performance Indicators tend to steer towards any particular direction, you need to have other such performance indicators to balance it. This is where stability index comes in.

Code quality index: The company enjoys a key competitive advantage when they can take code changes quickly and easily. Implementing DevOps in the team can help ship code about 30 times faster and complete deployments 8,000 times faster, according to a survey by Puppets Labs. The code quality index is where the different viewpoints will be factored in. The real measures of code quality can report code duplication, memory leaks and security vulnerabilities.

Map business KPIs to technical KPIs: The Sprint is another value that business focus on. You may have a number of releases, but what if the business value doesn’t move forward? In order to ensure positive business results, businesses measure the tests performed in that particular sprint, and sometimes the total number of tests in the sprints. Each sprint should contribute something to the tests. For example, there should be a rise in the number of customers after the last release, or a rise in the advertisement clicks in the previous quarter.

Implementation of Continuous Integration

Continuous Integration is the process of fusing the developer’s entire work into the main code repository, including multiple copies of the work. As this has to be done several times a day, there should be some sort of automated process to it. Hence, the first step in CI is automated testing.

Adopting CI very early in the development cycle makes it easier for you to identify and address conflicts early. This would help you to catch hold of the bugs early. However, there are a number of tests that you can try out to complete CI process. Here they are:

Unit Tests - These are perfect to understand the different methods and functions individually. Hence, they are narrow in scope.

Integration Tests - In Integration testing, the different components within the application will be tested to see whether they work correctly together. This also involves integrating with services.

Acceptance Tests - They are similar to Integration tests, but the focus is on business cases and not on components.

UI Tests - UI tests would give indication of any malfunctions in the application’s functions from a user’s perspective.

It is important to run tests on each and every change that’s done to the code. It is also possible to monitor the progress of the code changes by checking the on-premise and cloud repositories. If there are any untested codes, then you can check it with a tool called ‘code coverage’. And it gives you the degree to which the source code of a program is inspected directly. This leads to systematic software testing.

In order to validate important business requirements, and to ensure that the application works as intended testers indulge in acceptance tests. These would ensure that the code refactoring or addition of new features will not affect the original behavior of the application.

The image below gives a clear picture of the Continuous Integration workflow.

Continuous Integration Workflow

As explained, the CI workflow helps reduce regressions, find bugs, keep the codebase clean, etc. And when multiple developers work on the same job, it is imperative that the integration works well because they have to merge their working code with the main code base. By using a  CI service, it is possible to run the tests automatically. Not only would 100% of the testing will be completed, but it is also possible to cover every possible and impossible combination, including covering the front-end and back-end parts of the application.

Each integration done by each developer will be verified using an automation built to detect errors and bugs. Once the issues are noted, they are fixed, and this will also be tested thoroughly to see if the application works fine.

Best Practices:

Adopting the best practices of CI includes changing habits. Understanding the importance of integrating early and frequently will help clear the challenges. To ensure software quality, it is important to achieve a fail-fast workflow and iterate to ‘perfection’ as the project’s ultimate goal. Through CI, all the new source code changes are immediately noted as the developers commit them. The centralized server in CI lets the developer know if there are any failures in the process. The team will then fix the build before making more changes in code. When new features are added, those will have to be tested, monitored for bugs and have the errors fixed, if any.

Continuous Delivery and Deployment

Continuous Deployment and Continuous Delivery are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. They are like vectors, moving in the same direction, but in a different magnitude. They both make easy the software development process, and help in quicker release of robust apps.

The main differences between the two depend on how the final changes are pushed to production.

Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment

Continuous deployments also act an extension to Continuous Delivery because it automatically deploys each fully completed, passed build. This eliminates the need for a human gatekeeper at the end of the test cycle because the deployment is done automatically. It also makes sure that everything has passed through the deployment pipeline successfully, right from the state of testing to shipping the new product or new features of an existing product. Whenever new code or new features are added, those will also be activated so they reach the customers or a subset of users.

It is possible to have a manual gate before production, but of course, that calls for human intervention. Manual processes can ensure that the code meets standards, is free of bugs, the existing functionalities go smoothly, but integration is costly here. However, keep in mind that integrating code frequently does not assure code quality or functionality. When the level of automation fails to match the quality assurance measures, it could lead to friction. It is to meet this friction that CI needs robust test suites and an automated test suite.

In the manual scenario, a shippable version of the product will be ready post each sprint. The business team will then decide on the best time to release the products.

Continuous deployment makes it possible for teams to make short cycles so they can make quick and effective releases. Whenever code changes are made, it will be automatically pushed to multiple work environments through CD.

Additional benefits include activating all the restart services like web servers, databases and other procedures that must be activated when features are deployed.

Continuous delivery acts as an extension of CI by automating the software delivery process. Whenever teams need to make code changes or deploy new features, Continuous Delivery feature make it possible for the codebase to be always in a deployable state. This makes deployment and feature updates a simple event, and not a complicated ritual.

Continuous Integration becomes successful when there is a successful combination of organization and technical improvements in the company. For the technological side to be competent, there exists a deployment pipeline that acts as an automated system, which runs rigorous test suites against the builds. Continuous delivery continues when Continuous Integration finishes its tasks, so it is imperative to have a reliable CI system for implementing fail-proof CD.

As the teams work with different environments, apart from production (for example, development and testing environments), CD makes it possible to have an automated way to push code changes. You can make better incremental updates to the applications so the time involved in the cost, the resources used and the risk levels are all very minimal. Through Continuous Delivery software deployment becomes a simple, straightforward and repeatable process.

Best Practices:

Implement micro-agility: Developers must have proper understanding of where they have to commit their codes after making the changes. They have to know where and when to test the code and update it, sometimes several times a day. This becomes a subset of quality assurance. Through CD and CI, micro-agility can be easily implemented.

Automated QA: Sadly enough, several organizations faced rough bottlenecks with their QA team. It could probably be not because of lack of skill, but rather because of the lack of people on the QA test environments. To avoid this from happening, you can automate the QA, with the focus on micro cycles. This means testing of small batches rather than on a macro level. There is a constant feedback loop and tracking of bugs to ensure standards are met.

Mirror production environments: The development and testing environments must mirror production very closely to increase the efficacy and effectiveness of the apps. It would be a good idea to set up an environment where the developers, with the push of a button can deploy new environments to test their apps. This allows the developer to create an environment, break and recreate them with the help of tools like Jenkins to ensure a fail-safe product. This can be done easily by streamlining the CI/CD processes.

Seamless move to production: If you have a well-architected CI/CD pipeline in your organization, you can enjoy seamless movement from production to deployments. There will be no friction between development and operations. You can make the DevOps journey as smooth as possible by combining container technology and automation with cloud infrastructure, as it helps you optimize the processes across teams.

Automated deployments: The last factor, but definitely not the least one in an efficient CI/CD pipeline is a fully automated deployment procedure. Configuration changes made by the different teams first passes through the QA team, and they should then be automatically deployed. During deployment, the changes can be continuously monitored to check for any issues. These can be curbed right at the beginning, by fixing the problem and finally, a faster rollback.

Conclusion

For a successful DevOps in any organization, you need to have the CI/CD pipeline as its strong pillar. The article shows how important it to have both Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery to develop builds and release fail-safe, well-tested software in the market, quickly and competitively. There are many CI/CD tools in the market, so you need to know which one suits your business requirement. And once the tool is selected, the teams must ensure the configuration of all environment variables for a successful deployment. Additionally, you can also use containers like Docker and Kubernetes to packages and ship the apps in a simple and easy manner.

Don’t hesitate to implement an efficient CI/CD pipeline to enjoy a reliable delivery process or to update and improve applications regularly.

Interested in adopting Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery in your organization? Allow us to help you!

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