Introduction to CI/CD

Introduction to CI/CD

In a business world where time is money and every dollar counts, efficiency and productivity are critical success factors. Continuous Integration (CI)/Continuous Deployment (CD) is a process that helps organizations rapidly release software with confidence The process relies heavily on automation and modern cloud-based services to provide tools for build management, monitoring, testing, and deployment automation. In this article, we will explore how CI/CD works and how you can implement the process in your organization for rapid, reliable, and automated software delivery.

Life Before CI/CD

Before CI/CD teams faced long, slow-release cycles that were full of uncertainties, manual deployments were the norm, and any change required extensive testing to ensure quality control. Teams would spend days or even weeks in a “staging” environment, where they tested and validated the release. If something went wrong, there was often no way to track what happened during the release, making troubleshooting near impossible.

These long release cycles had another drawback. Since everything was manual, it was difficult to scale up the process to meet increased demand.

With the advent of CI/CD, all that has changed. Deployments are now automated, predictable, frequent, and quick. The release process follows a well-defined and structured series of steps. No manual intervention is required; CI/CD is a proven methodology that can help any organization bring about significant transformation in their business. Let’s explore further.

The Three Phases of CI/CD

Successful CI/CD relies on structure and automation. The process consists of three distinct phases; continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment. Each stage handles specific tasks in the build and release cycle.  

Continuous Integration

Continuous integration is a software development practice where team members integrate their work frequently. Usually, each person integrates at least daily, leading to multiple integrations per day. Each integration is verified by an automated build (including a test) to detect integration errors as quickly as possible. Many teams find that this approach leads to significantly reduced integration issues.

Continuous Delivery

Continuous delivery is an extension of continuous integration in which software is built, tested, and released more frequently. Continuous delivery automates software release processes such that changes can be released automatically anytime new code gets pushed to the repository. The aim is to eliminate the need for human intervention in the software deployment process. This allows organizations to have confidence in their deployments and enables them to deploy changes with less risk, so they can move fast. Continuous delivery is a cornerstone of agile software development. 

Continuous Deployment

Continuous deployment is an extension of continuous delivery where all production code changes are automatically deployed into production after passing automated tests. This practice reduces the need for extensive manual testing before deployment and allows teams to react quickly when problems arise. 

Continuous deployment is especially ideal for large-scale projects where changes are deployed often, automated testing is essential, and the business impact of a single change is significant. Continuous deployment is often associated with agile development methods, but it can be beneficial for any team that depends on the frequent delivery of new code.

The CI/CD Pipeline

The CI/CD pipeline can be visualized as a set of stages, each stage representing a different environment that the code must pass through on its way to production. The most common stages are development, staging, and production, with many teams adding additional environments such as QA or UAT in between the development and staging environments.

CI/CD pipelines are composed of a series of steps that are executed automatically when code changes are pushed to the code repository. These steps typically include:

  • Build: The code is compiled and packaged into an executable form.
  • Test: Automated tests are run to verify the functionality of the code changes.
  • Deploy: The code changes are deployed to a staging or production environment.

Benefits of Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery

One of the key benefits of CI/CD is its ability to support business agility. By automating the build, test, and deployment phases of the software delivery lifecycle, CI/CD enables businesses to rapidly release new features with confidence. This increased speed and efficiency helps businesses stay ahead of the competition and improves their agility. Additionally, by automating the deployment process, CI/CD can also help reduce the amount of time required to deploy new features or updates. Additional benefits include:

  • Improved Code Quality: CI/CD encourages developers to integrate code into a shared repository frequently, which leads to fewer code changes and therefore fewer bugs.
  • Faster Feedback: By integrating and deploying code frequently, teams can detect errors early in the development process.
  • Reduced Deployment Risk: Automated testing and deployments reduce the risk of errors when releasing new features or products.
  • Improved Collaboration: CI/CD fosters collaboration between developers as they integrate their code changes frequently.
  • Increased Efficiency: Automating the build, test, and deployment processes enables developers to focus on more important tasks rather than dealing with deployment issues.
  • Streamlines Development Workflow: Developers won’t need to focus on build-related tasks. They can remain focused on code and adding new features. 

DevOps and CI/CD: The Key to Rapid Deployment

DevOps is a set of practices that combine software development (Dev) and information technology operations (Ops) to shorten the software development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. This encourages collaboration between software engineers and operations engineers to improve the build and release cycle. The main goals of DevOps are to increase business agility, improve software quality, and reduce time-to-market. DevOps is a culture, a set of processes, and a continuous improvement model that enables organizations to quickly and efficiently respond to changes in business requirements. 

DevOps Benefits

The goal of DevOps is to make software development and deployment a more collaborative and efficient process. By automating most of the tasks involved in the process, developers can spend more time working on new features and solving customer issues. By integrating QA into the development process, teams can make sure every new piece of code meets quality standards before it goes live. And by streamlining communication between departments, DevOps creates a company culture of collaboration.

  • Increased Business Agility: With the rise of DevOps and agile development, businesses can now respond more quickly when market conditions change. By automating testing, deploying code more frequently, and having engineers work together, companies can now adjust course more quickly. This increased business agility makes businesses more nimble and helps them adapt to market shifts.
  • Improved Software Quality: One of the biggest benefits of integrating DevOps into your organization’s software development process is improved quality. DevOps is designed to increase communication, collaboration, and integration between the various teams involved in software development — from programmers to quality assurance engineers. By increasing communication and collaboration among team members, you can also expect to see better software product quality overall.
  • Reduced Time-to-Market: By automating routine tasks and eliminating manual steps in your software delivery process, you’ll cut down on the time it takes to deliver new products to your customers faster, with less risk, and with better results.
  • Improved Customer Satisfaction: With the help of DevOps, you can deliver new software more quickly and with lower risk, which will help you retain customers. Quick and consistent delivery of new features and capabilities improves customer satisfaction. The feedback from your customers will be more meaningful and consistent, which will help you improve the quality of your products and services. You can also collect data from your customers, which will help you understand how to retain customers.
  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: When done correctly, DevOps helps engineers, IT staff, and other employees work more efficiently by automating as many tasks as possible.
  • Reduced Costs: In the process of integrating software development and operations, you can reduce costs by decreasing the amount of time spent on maintenance and troubleshooting
  • Improved Collaboration and Communication: Collaboration and communication are crucial in a DevOps environment. When developers and operations teams work together, they can share knowledge and best practices. They can also troubleshoot issues together and learn from each other’s mistakes.
  • Improved Monitoring and Reporting: When it comes to monitoring and reporting, DevOps offers a much more detailed picture of application performance. With DevOps, engineers monitor application and environmental metrics throughout the development process. They also use these metrics to track the health and performance of the production environment. Monitoring and reporting are much more detailed with DevOps, thanks to application profiling. Application profiling provides a detailed view of performance bottlenecks throughout the development process. In addition to monitoring and reporting, application profiling helps engineers identify and address performance bottlenecks before they release code into the production environment.

Putting It All Together: DevOps and CI/CD

Now that we’ve seen how things work individually, let’s take a look at how all of these processes align to make a more efficient release cycle:

  1. Development: The developer writes code on their local machine. Once they’ve completed their updates, the developer pushes their code into the code repository.
  2. Continuous Integration: The CI tool initiates automated tests as soon as it detects new code in the repository. If the tests fail, the build fails and the developer gets a notification. The developer must fix the code before they can continue with the build.
  3. Continuous Delivery: Once all testing including automation run, security checks, etc. passes, CD tools push the build artifact to the next environment, typically staging.
  4. Continuous Deployment: At this stage, the build artifact gets pushed to the production environment. 

Common CI/CD Tools

There are a number of different CI/CD tools and services available, so it is important to choose the right one for your organization. Some of the most common CI/CD tools and services include:

Build Automation: Jenkins 

Jenkins is a popular open-source build automation tool. It can be used to automate the build process, including the compilation of code, testing of code, and deployment of code.

It can also be used to monitor applications, track code changes, and report metrics. Since Jenkins is open .source, it’s free to use, and it’s widely used. It’s a great choice for almost any team. It’s easy to get started with Jenkins, and there are lots of resources to help you along the way.

Deployment Automation: Puppet

Puppet is a popular tool used to automate the deployment process, including the system configuration and software installations and managing updates. Puppet has a built-in package manager that makes installing new modules easy. This is different from many other tools that require downloading and compiling code. Puppet can also be used to configure a server’s firewall, set up users and groups, and handle routine maintenance tasks such as monitoring software licenses. 

Test Automation: Selenium

Selenium is a popular test automation tool used to automate the testing of websites, applications, and other software. Selenium works by recording your actions in a browser. You can then replay these actions to test a different website or build an automated regression test suite with Selenium IDE.

Cloud Computing Providers

In the simplest terms, a cloud platform is a set of tools and software that allows the creation and hosting of an app in the cloud. Cloud platforms are designed to solve a variety of problems, including ease of use, scalability, and a flexible business model. They can be used for everything from basic data collection to complex AI computations.

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS): AWS is a set of cloud-based products and services offered by Amazon. It is designed to provide a scalable, reliable, and cost-efficient approach to hosting your websites and data in the cloud. It offers a broad range of products and services, including compute, storage, search, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile, Internet of Things (IoT), serverless, robotics, machine learning, and content delivery.
  • Google Cloud Platform: Google Cloud Platform is a managed cloud computing service provided by Google. It is designed to be a comprehensive solution for businesses looking to move their workloads to the cloud. It offers a variety of services and software for businesses, from machine learning to artificial intelligence, to Infrastructure as a Service.
  • Microsoft Azure: Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform operated by Microsoft. It is used for a wide range of tasks, such as data processing, machine learning, high-performance computing, and video rendering. Azure has a wide range of services for data analysis, visualization, and machine learning. It also provides a variety of libraries for common tasks. 

Key Considerations for Implementing CI/CD Into an Organization

There are a few implementation considerations that should be taken into account when implementing CI/CD in an organization. First, it is important to ensure that all stakeholders are on board with the initiative. An effective way to do this is by communicating the benefits that the organization will receive from implementing CI/CD, such as increased speed and efficiency, easier testing and debugging, and higher quality products. Second, it is crucial to consider the resources that will be needed to implement and maintain CI/CD in an organization. Finally, it is vital to ensure that CI/CD is integrated with other software delivery processes such as configuration management. 

Top CI/CD Resources

Getting started with CI/CD can seem overwhelming at first. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources to help you along the way. Here are a few of our top picks to get you started:

CI/CD and DevOps are critical to supporting the agility a company needs to respond to shifting market conditions. By automating software releases, companies benefit from more frequent releases, stable deployments, and more robust code.

Originally published June 6, 2022. Updated November 2022.