Balancing the Software Development Tightrope with a Sturdy Continuous Delivery Pipeline

by Alastair Wilkes in

Workflows, Benefits, Tools, and Best Practices in a Well-Built Continuous Delivery Pipeline

Developers are constantly working to balance a software development tightrope: customers want top-notch, flaw-free, high-quality software and apps - delivered as fast as possible. 

The CI/CD pipeline helps DevOps teams release high-quality software and apps, at a rapid velocity, through automation of the entire software development process. DevOps teams harness the CI/CD pipeline to meet delivery demands.

The CI/CD pipeline consists of three phases: Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Deployment. While each of these phases works in conjunction with the larger CI/CD pipeline, each phase also operates its own pipeline. The goal of each pipeline should be to create the most efficient, rapid workflow possible throughout the software development life cycle.

We’ve discussed the first stage of the CI/CD pipeline, Continuous Integration, in-depth before. So today we’re going to dive deep into the Continuous Delivery pipeline, the second part of CI/CD that automates software delivery pipeline functions

In this post, we will answer all of your burning Continuous Delivery pipeline questions, including:

  • What is Continuous Delivery?
  • What are the benefits of implementing Continuous Delivery?
  • What are the specific parts of the Continuous Delivery pipeline?
  • What are the tools used within each part of the Continuous Delivery pipeline?
  • How can you improve your Continuous Delivery practices?
  • Ready to ramp up your Continuous Delivery pipeline?

What is Continuous Delivery?

Continuous delivery is a software development practice where code changes are automatically prepared for the release to production. Or, you can think of Continuous Delivery as the process that streamlines deployment to environments for automated testing

Continuous Delivery follows the Continuous Integration phase in the CI/CD pipeline, and deploys all code changes to either a testing environment or a production environment after the build stage. If sent to testing, this automated deployment tees off another automated flow of building, testing, and finally staging the latest release.

With an effective Continuous Delivery pipeline in place, developers will always have tested, deployment-ready artifacts. Continuous Delivery helps developers by automatically preparing development changes to software and automatically preparing for the release to production.

What are the benefits of implementing Continuous Delivery?

There are three key benefits to implementing Continuous Delivery including:

  • Reduce errors 
  • Create more effective teams
  • Improved customer satisfaction

To start, one huge benefit to implementing Continuous Delivery is the possibility for better, more efficient deployments. Continuous Delivery automates code deployment from development to staging, which helps to reduce and even remove manual errors and inefficiencies. For DevOps teams, this means deployments can become a lower risk. Additionally, all that automation gives developers the ability to commit changes at any time.

Another benefit to implementing Continuous Delivery is it helps DevOps teams to run more streamlined workplaces. Thanks to the automation of the Continuous Delivery pipeline, developers can shrink down redundant, manual, rote work and redundant roles. Quality is never compromised with Continuous Delivery, and the amount of developer brainpower needed to perform rote tasks, like testing, is minimized. That’s good news for everyone!

Finally, one more major benefit to implementing Continuous Delivery is improved customer satisfaction. The Continuous Delivery pipeline automation paves the way for faster release cycles of new features and apps. For customers with a need for speed, Continuous Delivery well, delivers. 

And here’s one more bonus benefit: Continuous Delivery also offers an additional boost to customer satisfaction, in the form of improved transparency and feedback loops. With an efficacious Continuous Delivery pipeline in place, communication on updating code, changes, and release times is streamlined and readily visible for developers, operations, and clients.  Thanks to the automation of code change deployments after the build stage, Continuous Delivery creates faster, more effective feedback loops, which customers love.

Continuous Delivery leads to more efficiency through automated testing, building, and staging that allows for faster software release times and ultimately happier users.

What are the specific parts of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline?

The goal of the Continuous Delivery pipeline is to eliminate manual processes and automate the entire software release cycle. This automation of code deployment from development to testing eliminates inefficiencies and implements a standardized code deployment process. 

That said, in order to understand the key components of the Continuous Delivery pipeline, it’s best to understand a typical Continuous Delivery workflow. The typical Continuous Delivery pipeline is a set of steps that new code changes travel through, en route to production.

Continuous Delivery Pipeline

The Continuous Delivery Pipeline consists of 5 stages:

  1. Continuous integration - In order to have a successful CD pipeline, there must first be a Continuous Integration pipeline in place that automates the merger of changes into the central repository.
  2. Acceptance test - Once a new code change is entered into the central repository, the next step is automated testing to evaluate the compliance of the new code and to test if the code is ready for delivery.
  3. Deploy to staging - If the code passed testing, the code is now deployed to the staging environment (which should be as similar as possible to the production environment), for more testing.
  4. Deploy to production - Code is now ready to be released to production as soon as needed.
  5. Smoke tests  - Wait! There’s one more step. It’s time to ensure code is truly up to par and all of the most important functions actually, you know, work. Running smoke tests, a subset of regression tests, will test the top priority functions and make sure the code is truly ready for deployment.

What are the tools used within each part of the Continuous Delivery pipeline?

There’s a big toolbox of platforms, services, and tools available to boost the efficiency of your Continuous Delivery pipeline.

All Continuous Delivery tools fall into three key categories: QA and Testing, Deployment Monitoring and Verification, and Deployment Rollback.

QA and Testing tools help developers with testing and quality assurance. The best Continuous Delivery tools wrap test automation into the pipeline. 

Deployment Monitoring and Verification tools help developers automate the verification of successful deployments and unsuccessful releases. These tools monitor releases and ensure production deployments are successful. 

Deployment Rollback tools help developers automate the returning of flawed releases and send error-riddled deployments back, after monitoring and verification tools flag them for issues.

Now, let’s get even more specific. Check out this list of tools that can improve your Continuous Delivery pipeline within each category, including:

QA and Testing tools: Katalon, Selenium, Launchable.

Our Predictive Test Selection harnesses an ML model to identify the most critical tests to run. This reduces your test suite size by streamlining the tests you’re running during development, which reduces testing cycle times and increases the velocity of the entire CI/CD pipeline.

Deployment Monitoring and Verification tools: Atlassian Opsgenie, Datadog, PagerDuty 

Deployment Rollback tools: AWS, Jenkins JFrog, GitLab

For a comprehensive exploration of the best Continuous Delivery tools, check out this tool roundup: Continuous Delivery Tools for Rapid Software Development Cycles

How can you improve your Continuous Delivery practices?

Alright. We’ve talked about the benefits of Continuous delivery, the pieces and typical workflow of the Continuous Delivery pipeline, and the best tools for Continuous Delivery. Now, let’s get into some of the best practices for an effective Continuous Delivery practice and pipeline.

To start, in order to have a high-functioning Continuous Delivery pipeline (and Continuous Deployment pipeline for that matter), you need to have an effective Continuous Integration pipeline in place.

But, assuming your Continuous Integration pipeline is operating efficiently, there are several best practices your team can take to improve your Continuous Delivery pipeline.

Create a culture of Continuous Delivery. A successful Continuous Delivery pipeline relies on an entire team. Together, everyone must commit to the creation of automated tests for each build, to using the same build for the lifetime of a project, and to frequently update and fix errors in the code. Continuous Delivery is a culture!

Standardize environment deployment. For a truly effective Continuous Delivery pipeline, the same automated release mechanism must be used for each and every environment. This speeds up deployment, reduces errors, and creates avenues to more efficacious troubleshooting.

Establish key metrics. To make the most of your Continuous Delivery pipeline, your DevOps team must establish key metrics to help track progress along the way. On that note, it’s also important to make sure your team adopts and uses componentized architecture, an application architecture built out of reusable and independent blocks.

Monitor more. Once key metrics have been established, make the most of your Continuous Delivery pipeline with consistent performance monitoring. More consistent monitoring can highlight issues sooner, create faster feedback loops, and ultimately lead to higher quality software and app releases at the speediest of velocities.

Make security a part of the entire process. As the speed of your software development process ramps up, it becomes more important than ever to secure data, applications, and your work. Automate your security infrastructure, so security is integrated into every part of the Continuous Delivery pipeline.

Adopt Continuous Quality. Operating from a Continuous Quality mindset will help your DevOps team find and fix errors and reduce the risk of security vulnerabilities as soon as quickly as possible. Remember the ultimate goal of Continuous Quality and the CI/CD pipeline:  improve the software development lifecycle and workflow, while releasing at the fastest speed possible.

Related Article: How to To Implement Continuous Integration

Achieve Continuous Delivery Pipeline Liftoff with Launchable

If you’re ready to improve your testing suite and release high-quality software, Launchable can help. Contact Launchable for a free demo, right now.

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