Continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) is a development and delivery methodology that is ripe for automation. There are several reasons for this, but two stand out in particular: they cover processes that are reasonably well-standardized, and they are processes where mistakes and errors can have drastic consequences. In addition to saving time and manpower, automating these processes also streamlines them and provides greater quality assurance over two very important stages of the software development life cycle. Read on to find out how CI/CD automation benefits software teams.
The Benefits of CI/CD Automation
To comprehend the advantages of CI/CD automation, you must first grasp the fundamentals of CI/CD. Continuous integration refers to the process of continually integrating new code into a project’s software repository as soon as it has been written, as opposed to batching changes up into larger commits that are pushed to a project’s repository on a much less frequent basis. Continuous delivery is a natural continuation of this, whereby new changes added to a repository are pushed to production as soon as they are submitted and pass testing. This leads to much shorter software delivery life cycles, allowing teams to be more flexible in responding to customer feedback and market trends.
The need for automation may well be apparent already. These processes work very differently from more traditional methodologies like agile, where each stage in the process is a discrete step that is stretched across 2-week sprints. While this is a tried and true development and delivery process, CI/CD automation offers a number of benefits over this older and slower approach.
Faster Release Cycles
The two-week sprints of agile development were considered fast at one point, but contemporary software development moves at a much faster pace. Teams may now push releases several times a week, or even multiple times a day in some cases. Agile is simply not fast enough to keep up the pace, but automated CI/CD processes can handle this kind of development pace. Once these processes are put in place, they rarely require intervention by developers or testers.
The deployment process in particular can be a delicate and risky affair when done manually, no matter how many times the process is completed. Simple human error and oversight is the root cause behind a large percentage of failed deployments, yet these kinds of mistakes are very difficult to account for. Accidents by their very nature are unintentional but they can cause significant problems during the deployment process in particular. Even the biggest names in the industry, such as AWS, have suffered from outages caused by human error.
Automating these processes also standardizes them. One can be assured that an automated process will not vary from one run to another, and this consistency offers significantly reduced risk which is welcome in business-critical operations such as deployment.
Automated integration and deployment processes are also significantly cheaper than their manual counterparts. Once these automated pipelines have been put in place, they require very little manual intervention. This means that expensive assets like developers and testers can focus on higher-priority tasks, while significantly cheaper assets like server resources can be put to use to integrate and deploy code instead.
Higher Quality Output
Every team faces challenges at some point, whether an initiative is pushing up against an inflexible deadline or a mission-critical bug is discovered somewhere in a project. In either case, rush jobs can happen in even the most well-planned of projects. In these cases, something (usually quality) suffers in the name of getting a project out the door or fixed in a limited amount of time. Developers often refer to this as ‘tech debt’ – quick, hacky solutions that they pay the price for later down the line when those shortcuts end up causing more problems than a well-thought-out solution would.
The same is true of the CI/CD process. Tech debt inevitably has to be paid back at some point and prevention is always cheaper than the cure. Automated CI/CD processes don’t just obviate the need for these hacks, they outright prevent them. Standardized processes for the integration and deployment of code makes it difficult to circumvent, which is a good thing. This results in more consistent, higher quality output, without corner cases and exceptions that need to be documented, remembered and accounted for.
“Move fast and break things,” was coined by Mark Zuckerberg and was the internal motto of Facebook until 2014. The intention behind this phrase was simply to get things out the door and ship new changes and features as quickly as possible. Even back then, the need for speed was apparent. Nowadays, this would be considered unacceptable. The need for speed is still there, only now you can’t afford to break things.
Delivering on these incredibly short software development life cycles without sacrificing in other areas like testing and quality assurance requires moving away from manual testing processes, which are simply too slow and inefficient. Keeping up in a competitive marketplace means saving time and money whenever and wherever possible. Automation of two key aspects of software development, code integration and code deployment, helps cut down on both of these without having to make sacrifices elsewhere.
How to Implement CI/CD Automation
Implementing CI/CD automation into an existing project requires careful thought and consideration. Due to the large difference in timescales between methodologies like agile and CI/CD, it’s not a simple change to make. The specifics of these processes require more consideration than can be covered in this article alone, so it is recommended that teams looking to integrate automated CI/CD processes into their existing projects reach out to a team or business with the expertise to help guide you through the process.
At a very high level, it typically involves using a range of deployment tools and services that communicate through webhooks or Github Actions that automatically trigger upon certain conditions. In this way, pipelines can be created through GUI interfaces that automate some or all of your development and deployment processes.
As an example of how this may work using Github Actions, a project may be configured so that once a new commit is pushed to a repository, a build command is run, upon the completion of which a test suite is run and on completion of that, the commit in question is pushed to the production branch and deployed to live.
There is much more to consider during this process, such as what happens if tests fail, or how to ensure each stage of the process runs in a timely and efficient manner. These are cases where enlisting the help of somebody with expertise in the process is well worth considering.
Fortunately, there are many tools and services that can help you automate and integrate CI/CD pipelines into your project. Docker and Kubernetes help you to encapsulate your environments into standardized containers so that development, testing and deployment all occur within identical environments.
When it comes to CI/CD, there are many tools and services that allow you to test and deploy your projects automatically. These include, but are not limited to:
- Travis CI
- AWS CodePipeline
- Azure DevOps Server
Get Your CI/CD Automation Locked Down
Automated CI/CD pipelines are well worth the investment if your team or project does not already use them. They save significant time and effort in the long run compared to manual processes, and they help to prevent mistakes or oversights by standardizing the entire process. This means that your developers and testers can better spend their time and effort elsewhere, in areas that are less easily automated.
If you’re ready to make the switch to CI/CD, then get in touch with the experts at ProdPerfect. We can help guide your team to make the change as smoothly and painlessly as possible.