Main Steps for Creating an Efficient DevOps Pipeline
If you want to frequently and rapidly release new product versions without fearing bugs, performance inconsistencies, or other issues, you need to adopt DevOps. Assuming you are already familiar with this methodology, we won’t speak much about it - but we will explain how to build a DevOps pipeline instead. Curious to learn what exactly it is and how one designs it right? Scroll down and get ready to bring clarity and organization to your business.
The definition of a DevOps pipeline
A DevOps pipeline is a combination of tools and processes that helps an organization adopt DevOps and enables development and operations departments to work in unison. The main idea behind the DevOps pipeline is automating and streamlining the process of product development, from coding to deploying to a production environment. This is done through the development and Continuous Integration as well as continuous testing - we’ll talk more about it a bit later.
So how exactly does the DevOps pipeline help your business or projects? Here are the biggest benefits.
The implementation of a DevOps pipeline resolves one of the biggest issues for many business owners: it enables faster delivery of software products. Because DevOps implies Сontinuous Integration and Сontinuous Delivery (CI/CD), you can go from monthly releases to weekly and even daily ones.
Reduction of possible risks
When your processes are not streamlined and closely monitored, there is always a higher risk of an error or bug sliding in. But with continuous testing and DevSecOps adoption, you significantly mitigate possible risks and greatly reduce any chances for them to occur.
One of the main ideas behind DevOps implementation is the automation of the majority of your current processes. In this way, you eliminate mundane manual work, minimize the chance for human error, and let the system do the work. As a result, many tasks are performed much faster and more accurately which greatly benefits the product delivery.
While some may argue about extensive logs being a benefit, they actually are. When you create new products at a high velocity, you’ll want to closely observe the process in order to understand where mistakes are coming from (if they are). Hence, if you have extensive logs, it will be much easier for you to pinpoint the main cause behind an error and prevent it next time. And with proper CI/CD, extensive logs are created at every development stage so you won’t have to worry about that.
Now that you better understand why the implementation of a DevOps pipeline is so important, we can move on to the next section aka the main pipeline components.
Components of a DevOps pipeline
When talking about components of a DevOps pipeline, we mean the necessary processes that you will need to adopt. All these processes are equally important and altogether, they enable a proper DevOps implementation.
Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery
CI/CD is often called the cornerstone of DevOps and an essential element of a true digital transformation. Setting these loud words aside, what’s CI/CD exactly?
CI/CD stands for Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. Continuous integration implies frequent commits to the main and shared repository. The process is accelerated by the fact that these small code chunks are automatically tested for bugs and hence, there is very little possibility of an error creeping in.
Continuous delivery implies the automation of the delivery process and checking that the main part of an app is always ready for release and is bug-free. In other words, continuous delivery automates the transfer of all changes to production. These changes might be new features, configuration changes, or fixed bugs.
It would be impossible to frequently release new versions without proper testing. So it’s logical that continuous testing is another important component of a DevOps pipeline.
The continuity of testing is achieved by its automation. As well, testing is performed at every stage of development. This approach also significantly minimizes the chances of bugs and errors occurring during the development.
There are two things to remember about continuous deployment before elaborating on it. First, it’s not the same as continuous delivery. Second, it’s not a must and mostly happens in unicorn businesses.
Continuous deployment means that your processes are automated to such an extent that all code updates go directly to the end-user without any manual intervention. There is a flip side of the coin here: if you have not detected a bug earlier, it would go unnoticed by the end-user and might crash the application. To avoid such an issue, you can add an automatic rollback feature to the CD process. It would not work so smoothly if the database is involved though. In this case, a rollback would not be enough and you will have to act depending on the project features.
Building a DevOps pipeline: main steps
It may seem like the implementation of a pipeline is too much trouble, especially if you are new to the concept of DevOps. Luckily, there are available tools in the market (we’ll talk about them a bit later) that will automate the majority of processes and will make your transition to DevOps easier and faster. For now, let’s focus on the main steps of building a robust DevOps pipeline.
Establish CI/CD with a specialized tool
The first step towards successful DevOps pipeline implementation is the establishment of the CI/CD process via a specialized tool. A CI/CD tool usually performs the following functions:
- Supports app building;
- Automates processes;
- Automated testing;
- Ties builds, tests, and releases in one workflow;
- Issue tracking;
- Automated Rollback option.
The most popular CI/CD tools are Jenkins (which is an open-source CI automation server) and GitLab CI/CD. However, there are several good alternatives: GitHub Actions, Bitbucket Pipelines, CircleCi, Travis CI.
Select your source control environment
The next step is selecting a source control environment that you’ll integrate with your CI/CD tool. A source control environment such as Git allows you to avoid merge conflicts and create different app versions in one place. This tool also allows efficient collaboration as it stores your code in a shared repository so all developers can contribute and know where exactly the code is kept.
Set up a build server
A build server is a centralized environment that retrieves integrated code from the shared repository and serves as a point of integration for the developers. A build server allows ensuring that the code works as intended. You can refer to this part of the DevOps pipeline as a stage when the code is assembled altogether and is ready to be tested.
Perform automated tests
Once your code is ready, it’s time for automated tests. There are a number of tests that are performed at this stage: unit, integration, functional, regression, e2e. The good news is that developers will only have to select the corresponding action button in a specialized tool and the machine will do the rest. An example of a good automated testing tool is TestComplete. It has a Jenkins plugin and hence can work seamlessly with your Jenkins tool to prepare the product for deployment. One more benefit of tools like TestComplete is that they provide you with test history and transfer the results directly to Jenkins or another tool of choice.
The final step in the DevOps pipeline creation is product deployment into production. Now, the easiest way to do it is to configure your build server to automatically deploy the app by running a script. A build server can do it either automatically or the process can be initiated by developers.
Bonus: deployment strategies
Automatic deployment may be risky because you have to be 110% sure your code is error-free. Hence, a good way to secure yourself is to configure the build server to run the script only after all tests are performed and passed and to select a suitable deployment strategy. The DevOps methodology offers several deployment strategies to choose from and each will depend on your available resources.
With a canary strategy, you roll out an update to a small user group in order to collect the metrics and decide whether the new feature works well or not. So while the old version of the app is still running, your Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) will use a load balancer to target individual user groups and allocate a certain amount of traffic to this group. This is a safe way to test the feature with real users and use feedback to quickly fix an issue (in case it is present).
Pros of canary deployment:
- The flexibility of testing updates;
- Fast rollback process;
- Real traffic testing;
- Zero downtime;
- Affordable in case of limited infrastructure spendings.
Cons of canary deployment:
- Long deployment cycle;
- No targeted users.
Best for: when you have limited infrastructure resources but can’t afford downtime during an update.
This strategy implies placing an old version of an app as a backup while running a new version in parallel. In case any bug or error is spotted in a new version, the load balancer will instantly direct the traffic from the new version (Green) to the old one (Blue). In this way, the user experience remains unchanged and consistent. Note that both the old and the new versions remain available in the production environment which means high costs.
Pros of Blue/Green deployment:
- Instant rollback;
- Zero downtime.
Cons of Blue/Green deployment:
- High infrastructure costs;
- There may be issues with user experience.
Best for: when you can afford a large infrastructure setup, have a scalable infrastructure, cannot afford downtime, and your app environment can support two app versions at once.
In simple words, shadow deployment means running a dummy application (a “shadow” of the new version) in parallel with your old version. This is quite a complex deployment strategy as it requires running two app versions at the same time. On the other hand, this strategy provides highly accurate results due to testing in the real-world environment with real traffic without impact for the response.
Pros of shadow deployment:
- High accuracy of testing;
- Testing of real traffic in real-world conditions.
Cons of shadow deployment:
- High infrastructure costs;
- Complex setup;
- Possible mocking of certain services.
Best for: when you can afford high infrastructure costs and want to test in real-world production.
A/B testing strategy
This deployment strategy implies testing a new feature with a specific and targeted user group (based on common parameters though). To do so, an SRE routes a subset of users to a new functionality under specific conditions. This strategy is more effective if combined with the Canary deployment.
Pros of A/B strategy:
- Testing of multiple A/B tests in parallel;
- Use of real-world statistical data;
- Accurate testing of user behavior.
Cons of A/B strategy:
- Need for expensive and efficient load balancer;
- The high complexity of setup.
Best for: when your databases and app environment can run two app versions at once and when you have full control over the traffic.
Setting up a DevOps pipeline is not as complex as it seems once you got your planning right. Also, make sure to assemble a strong team of DevOps engineers to help you along the way, and don’t forget that DevOps only works in case everyone on the team understands its principles and importance. Hence, dedicate some time to training and take one step at a time - and you will be rewarded with a smooth development process and a significantly improved quality of service.