Four Ways to Use Automation in CI/CD Pipelines

Four Ways to Use Automation in CI/CD Pipelines

Preface: What is CI/CD? 

CICD, CI/CD Pipelines or Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment is a systemic approach to promoting changes to your applications and environments using scripts or automation, with the intent to reduce manual efforts or improve efficiencies.  

Continuous Integration (CI) methods also tend to lead to more small changes and modifications that are made among team members, generally leading to a better quality of software. Meanwhile, Continuous Delivery (CD) ensures that the code changes are pushed when appropriate to the next environment in the sequence. 

Introduction 

CICD bridges the gap between development and operations teams by automating the building, testing, and deployment of applications. This enables DevOps teams to have more time for value added application delivery through the reliance on automated processes to complete time-consuming tasks. 

CICD pipelines operate on the idea of input being applied in a central starting place and being distributed throughout the appropriate systems, like a call center at a large company that directs all incoming calls to the appropriate people and places. 

Automation should ideally span the entire CICD life cycle to from the deployment to the post-production stages of software delivery. A robust and mature CICD pipeline introduces monitoring and automation to improve the process of application development. 

1) Development & Build 

Without automation, a developer might spend a substantial amount of time working on configuration files instead of creating brilliant code that is quickly approved and moved into production. Many software developers utilize CICD methodologies to build the code that they create and ship to their clients. Automated pipelines can help the development teams collaborate and test their code across various platforms or apps faster.  

While all these parts of development are, by definition, related and frequently interacting automatically, let’s start at the beginning. In standard pipelines, changes in the source code will cause a new execution of the CICD process. The source code components are retrieved, compiled and packaged in order to create the first runnable system of the application. Automating the build stage is crucial because, if the program isn’t prepared the same way each time, the subsequent steps in the process can’t be guaranteed to function. Once the basic structure and code environment are built, the CICD pipeline methods can interact with the system, promoting any changes without the developers having to manually move files or restart systems. 

The source code branches can be set to respond to external events, such as the results of other pipeline tests. Code aware unit tests can be automatically run to ensure that the new version does not break any capabilities. The output of functional or integration tests run on new capabilities could cause code to be rejected, or a defect ticket raised in an ITSM.  

2) Testing and Integration Stages 

After unit level validations on the pushed assets, CICD actions can be used to improve and automate the integration and testing phases. This stage is where regression, baseline and automated black box testing validate the application. CICD pipelines can also be configured to run performance or metric driven tests to ensure response times and load volume demands are met if needed. 

A product that fails under normal or even high usage is tough to sell to clients, so programmers use automated tests to prove that their code is robust and can handle the tasks that the client needs it to. The CICD pipeline helps developers through automating this step, so the developers do not have to remember or spend time waiting for the results of these tests. Automating the execution and reporting of defects reduces the quantity of mistakes or errors that would otherwise be promoted to the next stage. 

Automated testing tools allow our developers to create and run functional UI tests across desktop, mobile, and web applications. These tools also support a wide variety of test types required by a continuous delivery cycle including unit and regression testing.  

Smoke tests are utilized for validating a server’s expected response after a new release is deployed to a target environment. These can be performed both whenever new releases are deployed or at a timed frequency, as a health and monitoring checkpoint to ensure that critical functions are working correctly.   

3) Pre-Production and Production 

Pre-production deployment is typically the endpoint for continuous delivery pipelines. Once the build is completely validated and stakeholders have confidence in the build’s stability and integrity, it is usually deployed manually to the actual production environment. 

With the use of blue-green environments, deployment and validations of production can be performed with a significant reduction in risk to the current production environment. This technique also avoids downtime during deployment. At any time, only one of the environments is live, serving all production traffic.  

As an example, Blue is currently live and Green is idle. As you prepare a new version of your software, it is deployed to Green. Once you have fully tested the software in Green, a manual switch in the router redirects all incoming requests to now go to Green instead of Blue. Green is now live and Blue is idle, and in reserve, in case a significant issue is found. 

4) Flow Between Phases  

Validation steps can be used as decision points to progress through the pipeline, allowing automated promotion of artifacts, and reporting of deployments after they have occurred. In simple pipelines, the stages are run sequentially. An error in one stage halts or delays execution of the next stage. 

There is a wide variety of monitoring and observability tools that are best of breed for their specific abilities. Modern CICD pipelines can make decisions from multiple markers, including these monitoring and observability tools, and decide if a progression or rollback should occur. Modern CICD pipelines are also able to systematically validate the health of what is – or has been – deployed. Testing and validation should not end with a deployment, which is key for continuous testing goals.  

Automation is required to ensure security controls, monitoring and remediation are tightly integrated during the entire process, from initial code uploads on Git to once applications are deployed and distributed. Early stages should be very simple and run very fast to provide rapid feedback. Later stages run progressively more complex tests in a progressively more production like environment. Later stages take longer to run and require more dependencies to run in a production like environment. Each successive stage increases confidence for production readiness as they pass. 

For auditing purposes and to avoid unintended deployments, production runs are often guarded by a manual approval step. For compliance, and when audits occur, automated “audit-ready” pipelines represent one way to ensure that retrieving audit-related information remains constantly available on an as-needed basis.  

Summary  

In brief, a well-established CICD delivery pipeline ensures that: 

  • Software is prepared, validated and delivered consistently. 
  • Required changes to the application can be deployed to production faster as quality and validation steps are consistently applied throughout the process. 
  • Software development teams can significantly cut down their man hours in almost every phase of production and maintenance. 
  • New team members can get started and become productive faster without learning a complex development and test environment. 
  • Automated validations detect and report code that is not fit for delivery, providing feedback as early as possible. 
  • A pipeline provides visibility into and confidence in the code as it progresses through successive stages where the testing becomes more like production. 

At Crossvale, we have experienced team members who have implemented basic and complex CI/CD platforms for our clients. Using frameworks that ensure the delivery of quality solutions and applications. it’s an easy win for us, and our clients in modernizing and transforming their business/institution. Contact us for more details if you would like to see if Crossvale can help modernize your applications and transform your business. 

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