DevOps: Understanding Continuous Integration & Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)

The DevOps methodology has been helping businesses increase the speed and quality of their software development cycles for some time now, but what exactly does it entail? DevOps is an approach to software development that focuses on the rapid delivery of features through continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD).

CI/CD, two of DevOps’ main components, helps development teams create applications that are more stable, efficient, and easier to maintain. The DevOps movement has been gaining momentum for some time now, but understanding its concept might require some unpacking. 

This article breaks down CI/CD and explains how they can help your business deliver better software in less time.

What is CI/CD?

At its core, CI is an automated process in which developers merge their code into a central repository several times a day. The tools then test each piece of code for bugs, automatically notifying team members when something goes wrong. 

CD is an extension of CI, where software builds are pushed directly to production and monitoring occurs on both endpoints to identify any issues that pop up after deployment. 

The Benefits of CI/CD for IT Professionals

DevOps professionals understand that one of their jobs is to keep code flowing out of development. The more often a developer pushes code, the more quickly it gets into production and onto users’ desktops.

And, because users are quick to flag problems, having a steady stream of new code makes it easier for IT teams to respond with fixes. It also allows them to learn what didn’t work well enough in previous builds, so they can make improvements going forward.

That’s why CI/CD strategies have gained widespread adoption in modern IT organizations; when these strategies are implemented correctly, businesses experience increased productivity, better application quality, and faster time-to-market. 

The business value of CI/CD

Faster time-to-market 

When coders create a new piece of software, it can take weeks or months before all critical bugs are fixed. With continuous delivery in place, however, testing happens much sooner during every iteration of development; if something needs fixing once again, fixes happen just as fast.

This means that customers get access to updates more quickly than ever before, and companies see big gains in revenue by getting products out faster. 

Cost savings 

While there isn’t always a direct correlation between cost savings and automation, there are two ways CI/CD reduce costs: First, automation ensures less manual effort, which saves time, and second, automation facilitates efficiency. In other words, automating processes result in speedier execution of functions, which equals cost savings. 

Overall team productivity 

If your developers aren’t able to share code and keep releases in sync, it takes longer to find and fix bugs. Consequently, deployment windows stay smaller, which affects business continuity more broadly. It may not affect end users specifically, but it still contributes to low team morale and lower overall team productivity.

Regardless of what department you work in, being part of a high-performing team is rewarding, and with continuous integration and delivery in place, teams will be better equipped to perform. 

Fast feedback cycles 

The earlier that feedback arrives, the better chance you have at resolving issues before they cause downstream problems. Even small issues can cause massive problems over time. CI/CD facilitates fast feedback cycles, which help you resolve problems early in development or before they even start. 

Reduces technical debt

Code that doesn’t meet company standards and deadlines (i.e., technical debt) slows down your organization and makes testing more challenging. Development teams can mitigate risks of technical debt through automated testing, which limits human error but, more importantly, gives testers access to real-world scenarios that they otherwise wouldn’t come across until later.

Also read: NetOps vs DevOps: Bringing Automation to the Network

CI/CD Use Cases

Testing 

CI/CD offers a variety of testing tools you might need, including automated acceptance testing; load, performance, and security testing; API testing; A/B testing; regression test suites; and more. 

Deployment Automation 

When you make automated deployments part of your release process, every time a developer checks in a changeset to source control, the deployment pipeline kicks off automatically. That way the developer gets feedback about how well the changes work very early on. This ensures that they deliver working features instead of buggy ones. 

Configuration Management Database (CMDB)

While CD can play a role in simplifying your deployment and release cycles, it can also improve your configuration management database (CMDB) efforts. Since CI/CD solutions provide you with data about changes to your code and metadata, such as who made a particular update and when, it will give you an improved view of what is happening in your organization. 

Testing Automation

CI/CD solutions are ideally suited for testing automation. In fact, many CI/CD solutions offer built-in testing capabilities you can use to create your own automated tests. And if you already have some automated tests in place, you can use a CI/CD solution to run them whenever needed, freeing up your development and testing teams to work on other tasks. 

Monitoring & Alerting 

Many CI/CD solutions come with built-in monitoring tools, while others can be integrated with existing monitoring tools in your organization.

CI/CD Best Practices

At a high level, CI/CD requires five functions: version control, code testing, packaging and deployment tools, automation, and infrastructure. More specifically, here are some best practices for implementing CI/CD in your organization.

  • Start with one central hub for all information related to builds, releases, tests, issues, and more.
  • Automate build and test environments whenever possible with everything from Chef or Puppet scripts to blue-green deployments of virtual machines. 
  • Use cloud resources when necessary to get test machines up quickly, so developers can make multiple changes per day without having any major downtime when they switch between versions. 
  • Test new features before checking them into master. 
  • Make checksums to ensure that no files have been corrupted during transfers between development, staging, and production environments.
  • Build releases in small batches, and constantly deploy new incremental updates rather than updating once a week or once a month. 

Also read: A Guide to DevSecOps: What is it and Why is it Required?

How Can These Development Cycles Help Advance Network Management?

DevOps is a culture based on collaboration, automation, and measurement to ensure that code developed works as expected.

In relation to networking, CI/CD development cycles help advance network management by allowing continuous monitoring of the software in real-time. By pushing code in small increments, developers are more aware of errors and are able to fix them faster.

This is especially helpful for large networks that have many moving parts since proper monitoring is key to keeping a system running smoothly and efficiently. Network automation  and monitoring allows for both CI/CD by leveraging application programming interfaces (APIs) to better understand software components and give users instant feedback on changes as they occur.

Top CI/CD Tools

Jenkins logo

Jenkins

Jenkins is an open source project that serves as a CI system. It is designed to help coordinate and automate your software development processes, and it is especially good at helping in situations where teams work in multiple locations.

TeamCity 

Teamcity logo

An integrated development environment (IDE) for professional software developers, build engineers, testers, and project managers working with popular programming languages ​​and technologies. TeamCity is a CI server that helps you automate your build and release processes with easy-to-configure and easy-to-use tasks.

Travis CI 

Travis CI logo

Travis CI is a CI/CD platform that allows developers to set up a build process for their code. Setting up CI for your project allows you to automate what needs to be done whenever you make changes, such as pushing new code or updating branches in git.

Codeship 

Codeship logo

Codeship is a CI platform that makes it easy to build, test, and deploy your apps. Once you’re ready for a live production deployment, Codeship automatically rolls out your changes with zero downtime.

Bamboo logo

Bamboo 

It is regarded as one of the most widely used CI tools. Bamboo enables the deployment and testing of up to 100 remote build agents. It may be either cloud-based or self-hosted.

Circle CI logo

Circle CI

CircleCI is a CI/CD platform that lets you build and test your code on every commit. Circle CI takes advantage of several open-source projects such as Docker, .NET Core, and Kubernetes.

Why Should You Care About CI/CD? 

Continuous integration increases the productivity of your team by relieving developers of manual work and promoting habits that limit the number of errors and bugs delivered to users.

Each check-in is verified by an automated build, allowing teams to detect problems early. In addition, having code accessible 24 hours a day allows for further development as necessary without disrupting anyone else. Finally, deploying small changes frequently instead of big ones leads to higher quality software releases with fewer bugs overall.

Read next: Best DevOps Tools & Software of 2021

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (educate + entertain) his reader about business, technology, growth, and everything in-between. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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