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Saif is Director of Product Marketing for Dynatrace’s Cloud Automation and DevOps solutions, bringing over 10 years of IT and marketing experience from his previous roles at VMware, Apple and Deloitte.
The demands of today’s digital business landscape require that organizations achieve both speed and reliability when bringing new products and services to market. To meet this demand, they are adopting DevOps practices — such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (and the related practice of continuous deployment), referred to collectively as CI/CD.
These interconnected processes empower developers to build quality software through well-aligned and automated development, testing, delivery and deployment, which ensures better collaboration and greater efficiency for DevOps teams throughout the software development life cycle.
Here’s what you need to know about these software development practices, how they relate to each other, and how they benefit organizations and their DevOps teams in their drive to optimize and automate more CI/CD processes and achieve ever faster time to value for customers.
Continuous Integration Solves Development Woes
According to Deloitte, continuous integration (CI) streamlines the process of internal software development. CI enables multiple software developers working on different features or modules of the same application to individually commit their updates to a shared code repository as they complete them, often many times a day. Each time, the build management system automatically creates a build and tests it. If the test fails, the system notifies the team to fix the code and moves it back to them. This practice helps software teams quickly detect and resolve any bugs that come up during the development process.
Continuous integration also prevents “merge hell,” which occurs when two or more developers inadvertently make conflicting changes to code that breaks the build when the lines are merged back into the master branch. Reconciling substantial amounts of conflicting or redundant code requires code freezes, or even a dedicated integration stage in the pipeline.
When software development teams continuously integrate incremental changes into their build, each developer is free to make changes without worrying about throwing someone else’s work off track, or about their own work being stepped on by another. Smooth, regular merging dispenses with code freezes and helps developers complete projects quicker and more efficiently. It also ensures there is always a testable, up-to-date build that will properly compile — which is critical for frequent and rigorous application testing.
This approach saves time and resources that would otherwise be spent fixing issues later in the software development life cycle; or worse, after release. Once faulty code has been released into production and built upon, it’s often much more difficult to fix issues with it.
Continuous Delivery Facilitates Agile Production
Continuous delivery (CD) is a process in which DevOps teams develop and deliver complete portions of software to a repository — such as GitHub or a container registry — in short, controlled cycles. Continuous delivery seeks to make releases regular and predictable events for DevOps staff; and seamless for end-users. Another goal of continuous delivery is to always keep code in a deployable state, so that updates can go live at a moment’s notice with little or no issues.
DevOps teams can automate CI/CD pipelines to move code through the appropriate environments with no human input, which accelerates the build, test and deployment stages of software development — or any additional stages they have in place, depending on the processes they use.
For example: when a feature is ready for client demonstration, the DevOps team can have a CD tool automatically deploy it to a test server, so the client can see how it works and provide feedback before it is released to the production server.
Continuous Delivery vs. Continuous Deployment: Which Is It in CI/CD?
If CD stands for continuous delivery and continuous deployment, which is it when people refer to CI/CD practices?
In short, it’s either continuous delivery; or continuous delivery and continuous deployment.
You can think of adopting these practices as three steps in a continuum of DevOps automation:
- Continuous integration to streamline development, and automate building and testing.
- Continuous delivery to automate the process of delivering completed code blocks into the main branch.
- Continuous deployment to automate the process of deploying completed and tested code into production for customers.
When an organization first starts adopting agile DevOps practices, they often start out with continuous integration and mature quickly into continuous delivery — thus achieving CI/CD. Many organizations stop here, preferring to release production code manually. Others progress into continuous deployment, so they can automate the entire software development, delivery and deployment pipeline.
The Benefits of CI/CD
CI/CD reduces the time required to develop applications and features, giving companies that use this best practice a competitive advantage compared with businesses that still take a manual approach to software development.
CI/CD works well for agile developer teams that want to constantly iterate and release new features. These practices ensure everyone is working with the same version of the applications, as they write and refine code. With administrative and organizational burdens automated, engineers can focus on what they do best: coding. Further, if teams have implemented continuous deployment, the fruits of their work spend less time awaiting testing and deployment and more time in production, accelerating feedback from users and (ultimately) improving business outcomes.
Increased efficiency, reduced time to market and quicker innovation make CI/CD an attractive proposition for organizations of all types.
The Drive to Optimize and Automate More CI/CD Processes
To meet competitive demands, organizations know they must release new products and services more quickly than ever, without compromising quality or reliability. They know basic CI/CD practices are fundamental to DevOps initiatives that look to develop applications with more effective collaboration and greater precision.
Teams that implement CI/CD practices successfully rely on many tools and methods to manage features, versions, testing and builds. Automation happens at every stage of the pipeline — from building, packaging and testing, to pushing applications to different production environments.
To accelerate the development pipeline for ever-faster releases with less risk, teams need continuous automation and advanced AI-driven observability across all the tools in their DevOps toolchain. This allows them to automate manual steps and identify quality issues earlier in the software lifecycle.
If your organization uses or is considering adopting CI/CD DevOps processes, a best practice is to adopt a full-stack observability platform that can provide code-level visibility of all software builds, apps and services in your environment — whether they’re in development or deployed to end users. With improved collaboration on a single platform and a shared data model, you can automate manual quality validation processes and ensure that your entire team has continuous situational awareness across the lifecycle.
For more on the effects of continuous integration and delivery for DevOps, watch how my company enabled the creation of an automated, integrated application delivery pipeline for a major telecom firm; or check out this guide to event-driven SRE-inspired DevOps for leveling up your existing CI/CD strategy.
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