Continuous Integration and Delivery

CICD is a modern DevOps methodology, focusing on automating aspects of the code review phase to streamline software deployment. This post breaks down the pieces that make up CICD and stresses the importance of proper implementation.

Frank Garland - Technical Researcher
Continuous Integration and Delivery

What is CI/CD?

The processes of designing and building software all originate from that one crucial place: the code. The writing and deployment of code is the seed from which all DevOps projects grow. It’s no wonder then, that as the code we work with grows ever more complex, so too does the desire for an optimal coding workflow and best practices structure to optimize the efficiency of this crucial first step in software building.

A modern approach to organizing DevOps methodologies is Continuous Integration and Delivery (CI/CD). CI/CD streamlines the deployment phase of new code by automating essential operations in the code review phase, enabling high-quality content validation without having to pay such a steep price in overhead. CI/CD encompasses the best practices of Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Deployment. Here’s how they work.

Continuous Integration

The cornerstone of the CI/CD process is Continuous Integration. Coding used to be a solitary activity (Some of you reading this are already saying “used to be?”) You’d work on building your discrete piece of the project, and after you’d build it out all on your own, only then would you rejoin the rest of your team so each of you could try to fit your unique puzzle piece into the larger hole. This setup doesn’t harm the final product, provided you take the time to manually solve all the inconsistencies necessary to turn these ill-fitting parts into a whole, but it does introduce a lot of friction into that crucial integration step of the process, and can create an unnecessary bottleneck for DevOps teams. As enterprises have become more complex, so has the integration process, which can involve scores of developers working on myriad code branches and re-committing their changes back into the main branch of a software project. The distribution of work and parallel processes make integration even more complex…

This is where Continuous Integration comes in. Continuous integration is a process focused on making the integration phase easier by making it a much earlier step in the DevOps process. Instead of throwing all their code together at the end and hoping it fits together, developers are incentivized to compile their work in a shared repository right from the get-go. And, instead of happening just once, continuous integration is iterative, involving cycles of adding, committing, pre-validating, building, and testing, each integration attempt giving developers a better understanding of how their code does and does not connect properly to the work of the rest of the team, allowing them to see the whole picture rather than just the isolated part they’ve been working on. This way, developers don’t get overwhelmed by one big bundle of inconsistencies. When the only time you view how your code functions in relation to others is at the very end of the development cycle, the amount of errors that you find can be of such a magnitude that finding the source of any single problem becomes a tangled mess of confusion. By breaking it down into bite-sized chunks several times a day, developers are given much less to work with at a time, and are able to exclusively focus their problem solving efforts on the code that has been added and changed since the last time they integrated. This can still be a needle-in-a-haystack search, but at least it’s a much smaller haystack.

Continuous Delivery

Step two of the CI/CD package, Continuous Delivery does for delivery what Continuous Integration does for integration (Surprise!). Continuous Delivery is all about making sure that your software is release-ready at every stage of development which can go through at least three stages of development, and finally to production environments. The release stage can be a difficult and painful step, full of error-proofing and last-minute patches. Continuous Delivery automates this phase, effectively removing it from the DevOps workflow. By setting up a system that automatically and continuously prepares your software for release as you build it, developers are freed up from having to devote time and energy to the release process, allowing them to focus more clearly on just building the software. Partly, Continuous Delivery works simply by folding it into your organization’s best practices. By building code with a focus on deployability from day one, teams are able to streamline the release process simply by planning for it in advance. But organizational restructuring only goes so far. The secret ingredient to Continuous Delivery, and the CI/CD package as a whole, is automation. CI/CD systems streamline the chain of activities involved in building, validating and deploying code without the need for human intervention.

For Continuous Delivery, that automation is handled by systems called deployment pipelines. At the most basic level, deployment pipelines run tests. A lot of tests. deployment pipelines are configured with increasingly rigorous performance test tiers that it then automatically runs on your software at multiple stages of the development process. The software levels up, facing increasingly more advanced tests from the deployment pipeline until it finally fails against one, at which point the pipeline notes where and how the software failed and presents the information to the DevOps team. Once the code passes every test in the deployment pipeline’s suite, it is deemed production-ready, able to be released at any time.

Continuous Deployment

Continuous Deployment is the final step in this whole process, although some people like to lump it together with Continuous Delivery. Continuous Deployment focuses on the Deployment Phase immediately after Continuous Delivery approves software for release. With Continuous Deployment enabled, any software successfully tested by Continuous Delivery is automatically released for production. There’s no step where the developers re-look at the code and hem and haw over whether their baby is ready to be born. If Continuous Delivery says it’s ready, that’s all Continuous Deployment needs to hear.

This is the step in the process that makes some developers leery of implementing CI/CD. When they hear that there isn’t a human behind the release button, they envision nightmare scenarios of flawed systems approving unready code for release to the public. This is a super valid concern, and it’s why the best implementations of CI/CD focus on making the deployment pipeline airtight in its testing. A sufficiently rigorous deployment pipeline, at the highest levels of its testing, introduces the software to a simulated environment that is functionally identical to the production environment it is meant to be released to. This means that before any software can be approved to be released by Continuous Deployment, it first must prove that it will succeed in the real world. This level of rigor is vital in order to prevent mistakes from making it to production, but once implemented, it creates an elegant automated workflow that integrates, tests, and delivers top-tier software out into the world.

Our CI/CD Solution

The proper implementation of CI/CD requires the ability to swiftly deploy and manage the software architectures that give CI/CD its power. Here at Azion, We’ve found the most efficient way to handle our own CI/CD needs is by moving the process to the edge. By utilizing CI/CD over a distributed edge network, we’re able to improve upon the very thing that CI/CD does best: boosting DevOps performativity by cutting down on unnecessary delays. Basically, all of those rigorous performance tests that CI/CD runs can be a lot for legacy infrastructure to handle. Our modern edge network speeds the whole process up, enabling CI/CD to do its thing without being hampered by latency or lag time.

Moving CI/CD to the edge requires tools built to handle the complexities of an edge network. Our Azion Edge Orchestrator tool lets you remotely provision and configure CI/CD services, creating a simple and scalable way to handle CI/CD, using Edge Orchestrator’s powerful zero-touch capabilities. Once your CI/CD is up and running, Edge Orchestrator’s configuration management capabilities offer you the flexibility of control to monitor and reconfigure the system in real-time. This minimizes CI/CD administration needs and ensures that any performance issues on the CI/CD end can be reported and addressed as they arise, creating a stronger, healthier, DevOps workflow.

If you are thinking of implementing CI/CD practices in your workspace, but are daunted by the complexities of CI/CD software deployment and management, the Edge Orchestrator may be just the tool you’re looking for. CI/CD makes it easier for the DevOps team to do its job, but Azion Edge Orchestrator makes it easier for CI/CD to do its job. Give it a try today!

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