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CI/CD Explained

Let's discuss what CI/CD is and how its revolutionary structure can benefit your business.


We don't need a word counter to tell you what themes will appear the most:


1. Continuous 2. Automation


The CI/CD procedure harnesses the practicality of uninterrupted, constant development. Sections that suffer from human error and take valuable time away from developers are instead automated.


In case you haven’t heard of it or need a refresher:


CI/CD - Definition

noun. Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (or Delivery). A set of procedures that streamline code changes for improved software development. It “introduces ongoing automation and continuous monitoring throughout the lifecycle of apps, from integration and testing phases to delivery and deployment. Taken together, these connected practices are often referred to as a CI/CD pipeline.” - Red Hat
A CI/CD Pipeline represented as 8 sections of an infinity or figure-eight symbol. The sections are labeled: Plan, Code, Build, Test, Release, Deploy, Operate, and Monitor. After the final step, Monitor, the system loops back into itself on the first step again: Plan. The letters CI (standing for Continuous Integration) are inside the loop on the left-hand side, while the letters CD (standing for Continuous Delivery or Deployment, depending on your choice) are inside the loop on the right-hand side.

Let's break apart those sections:


Continuous Integration

This part of the procedure refers to merging copies of work. “Developers regularly merge their code changes into a central repository, after which automated builds and tests are run.” - Amazon Web Services

In the figure eight above, the steps that correlate to Continuous Integration are:


1. Plan - The precursor step: mapping out the procedure.

2. Code - Continuously writing and integrating code into a shared repository.

3. Build - Compiling and assembling code into executable artifacts / packages.

4. Test - Running automated tests to ensure the code functions as expected.


Continuous Delivery

The second part refers to automating the process of delivering code changes to a production-like environment, which tests and validates the code: “By developing in short cycles, teams can reliably release their software at any time… this reduce[s] the cost, time, and risk of delivering each change.” - Synopsys

The pipeline steps that correlate are:


5. Release - Preparing and packaging the app for deployment.

6. Deploy - Moving the app to the staging environment for further testing.

7. Operate - Managing in the staging environment; tasks like configuring servers, setting up databases, and ensuring the environment is stable.

8. Monitor - Tracking the app's performance and health (which is an ongoing process).


Continuous Delivery allows final testing and approval before actually deploying the code to production. The decision is typically made manually.


Delivery Vs. Deployment

The concept above is taken a step further: Once the code changes pass all tests and quality checks, they are automatically deployed without manual intervention. This means that the key difference between ‘Delivery’ and ‘Deployment’ is the level of human intervention in the decision-making process.


Therefore, which the better option for your project? That may depend on these key factors:

  • Is there a desire to achieve faster release cycles?

  • What is your organization’s risk tolerance?

  • Is there a systematic or legal need for final human approval before releasing changes into production?

Consider these with your engineering team to pick the best process for your startup.


Benefits of CI/CD

Faster Development & Fewer Errors

Since CI/CD automates the building, testing, and code change deployment process, it reduces manual errors and speeds up the cycle. No developer wants to release faulty code by mistake; CI/CD makes it less likely for errors to be deployed to production, which minimizes downtime and potential end-use issues.


Improved Collaboration

Developers can focus on writing code while operations teams manage the deployment process. Collaboration streamlines communication and also fosters a more efficient environment.


Continuous Feedback

Through automated testing, developers receive immediate feedback on their code changes. This feedback loop helps them identify and address issues early in the development cycle, promoting a culture of continuous improvement.


Real-World Examples:

Amazon

The online retailer's move to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud "spurred a transition to a continuous deployment process that allows any developer to deploy their own code to whichever servers they need, whenever they want." - TechBeacon.com. This transition reduced the amount and duration of outages, which increased revenue.


Netflix

Their custom-built platform called Spinnaker "allows Netflix to deploy code changes to production environments in minutes rather than hours or days... Before using CICD pipelines, the website becomes unavailable; why push the updates on it?" - Shiksha Online


Etsy

"Etsy struggled with the development of their organization because they adopted the monolithic architecture." They adopted DevOps practices with a "CI/CD pipeline [that] helped in deploying services about 50 to 100 times a day." - Medium.com. They started automating integration with the tool Jenkins and developed Kale to monitor deployment.


Challenges & Considerations

While CI/CD pipelines are being implemented by top-name brands, it still may not be best for your project. Consider each of these potential outcomes with your team before rolling out a new structure plan:


Complex Growth & Skillset Gaps

As your application and pipeline evolve, the configuration files and scripts get more elaborate. Managing these can become complicated, leading to potential errors and inconsistencies. Team members may need to acquire new skills to effectively work with CI/CD tools and updates. Providing training and support will be essential.


Storing and version-controlling pipeline configurations is also crucial. Use tools like Git to manage files and ensure consistency.


Test Environments & Coverage

Ensuring comprehensive test coverage can be challenging, especially as the app becomes more complex. Setting up and maintaining test environments can be resource-intensive.


To address this, identify which areas need testing and maintain a balance between unit, integration, and end-to-end tests. Containerization and infrastructure as code (IaC) can help.


Scalability

As your application grows, you'll need to ensure that your CI/CD pipeline can scale with it. This includes scalable infrastructure for running tests and deploying to multiple environments.


Security Testing

It can be challenging to keep up with evolving security threats and vulnerabilities, but integrating security testing into the pipeline will be essential. Regularly update your security tools and practices, and manage access control and permissions. Implement robust authentication and authorization mechanisms to prevent unauthorized changes or deployments.


Third-Party Integrations

Integration Dependencies. If your pipeline relies on third-party services or tools, you are dependent on their reliability and availability. Consider redundancy or fallback mechanisms for critical integrations.


Compliance and Regulation

Depending on your industry, you may need to adhere to specific compliance standards. Ensuring that your CI/CD pipeline complies with these standards can be a complex, ongoing effort.


Handling Failures & Preparing Rollback Strategies

Despite all precautions, failures can occur. Having well-defined incident response and recovery procedures is essential to minimize downtime and data loss. Consider the rollback complexity and whether you need a "canary" or "blue-green" deployment strategy to minimize risks.


Addressing these challenges requires a combination of technical solutions, process improvements, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Successful CI/CD implementation involves not only selecting the right tools but also fostering a culture of collaboration, communication, and adaptability within your development and operations teams.


Wondering if CI/CD is right for your team? We're here to help! At BearPeak, we can analyze your company's framework, needs, and goals to determine if CI/CD would be a beneficial new structure.



 
It's important for us to disclose the multiple authors of this blog post: The original outline was written by chat.openai, an exciting new AI language model. The content was then edited and revised by Lindey Hoak.
"OpenAI (2023). ChatGPT. Retrieved from https://openai.com/api-beta/gpt-3/"
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