I am often asked, “if we are using a continuous integration (CI) server and adopting a continuous delivery pipeline, where does continuous deployment fit in?” Good question. In a nutshell, continuous delivery engines such as CloudBees or Blue Ocean are designed to trigger the execution of CI workflows across the dev, test and prod environments. Continuous deployment is called as part of the CI workflow to do the actual release of code out to endpoints. Continuous deployment can be managed by application release automation tools or supported by one-off scripts. Regardless of how sophisticated the deployment step of your CI workflow is, it is still continuous deployment.
To understand both continuous delivery and continuous deployment, one must go back to their roots, continuous integration. CI is a key component of Agile practice. Agile developers understand the importance of adopting a methodology that can manage smaller incremental software changes to release software, and therefore business value, to end users quicker and cheaper. The activities of deploying to testing and production historically have been in the hands of testing and data center teams, separate from Development. But in the Agile practice, these activities cannot be separated from development. The concept of separate development, testing and production teams is a waterfall concept, not an Agile concept. In Agile, everyone is on the same team. This means that testing and production teams must become part of the Agile process.
Mastering Agile’s last Mile
Ultimately, the goal of continuous delivery is to accelerate release cycles and get new code out to production fast. However, for most companies this is not happening. Developers and testers may have embraced continuous delivery, but when it comes to production, the code is moved to a staging area where it languishes until production is ready to perform the update. The last mile of Agile is not achieved. And we are back to where we started: waterfall.
There are many reasons for the production roadblock. Lets’ review the top four.
- Agents: Both open-source and commercial CI servers are agent-based. An agent based system works fine for developers and can be tolerated by testing. However, production teams are not that excited about installing yet another agent on to the production end points. For this reason, production team use their own method of deploying code. Therefore, the deployment scripts used for releasing code to dev and test are not used by production. The way they see it: Production does not want a deployment process that requires them to re-configure their data center environments with agent from a development tool.
- Scripts: Production teams want input and visibility. One-off scripts obfuscate the deployment process. For this reason, production teams will write their own scripts. Scripts simply do not have the intelligence needed to meet the audit, rollback and transparency requirements needed by production teams. Production teams perform many steps manually. This takes time and cannot be done in an agile cadence. The result: Great code languishes in staging areas. Production stays several releases behind what continuous test has approved.
- Cost, cost, cost: Most of what developers create in a continuous delivery workflow comes from open-source or consumption-based licensing models (think Jenkins and Jira). Tools that can achieve continuous deployment such as application release automation solutions are far to expensive for one development team to acquire and incorporate into the CI workflow. These types of tools are sold at the CIO level and cost upwards of $250,000. Production teams are often hesitant to purchases these tools, as the high cost equals high risk. And ‘one ring to rule them all’ does not work. This type of operational tool acquisition is waterfall-based and does not fit into the leaner Agile DevOps tooling. The result: One-off scripts continue to be used and dev and test. Production does not adopt agile.
- Sustainability: During waterfall, a production release was performed as infrequent as two times per year, or at most once per quarter (considered aggressive). In other words, production is staffed to support a production release on an infrequent basis. With agile, the demand for production releases increases 10-fold. Instead of doing at most four releases a year, they may be required to do four releases a month. Production cannot keep up the agile pace. They are staffed for waterfall.
Automating Continuous Deployment: Key to Maturing Continuous Delivery
Continuous delivery cannot be successful without continuous deployment. If you want to roll code out to end users faster, the deployment process itself must be modernized. Using the same one-off scripts that were used in the waterfall approach will not achieve your CD goals.
Continuous deployment automation is performed by a new set of agile DevOps tools called application release automation, or ARA. ARA solutions are designed to support a model-driven software deployment that allows development, test and production teams to use the same process without the need for one-off deploy scripts. ARA adds all of the features and functions needed to support continuous delivery and data center deployment requirements. ARA is designed to fully perform the heavy lifting of software releases including application packaging, release versioning, database updates, server configuration management, calendaring, roll-forward, rollback, security access and auditing.
ARA solutions are called by a templated CI workflow that is defined by the development team. The workflow is moved up the pipeline and adapts to the changes at the various pipeline stages (System Test, Integration Test, Pre-Production, Production, etc.) Because the process is driven by the ARA tool and not a script, the changes are automatically addressed across the pipeline reducing the workload for all teams and supporting frequent changes that can be easily traced and audited down to the server inventory level, including the production environment.
Developers, Get Your Hands on Deployment Automation Tool
To achieve a repeatable CD pipeline that supports production, developers must embrace the automation of continuous deployment at development. The dysfunction however is the outrageously high cost of ARA tools. Developers don’t buy expensive operational solutions. More ARA solutions must be offered on a consumption-based model or offered as open source with the ‘out of the box’ integrations into CI/CD. When considering the purchase of an ARA solution, look for agentless models that can be implemented one project team at a time. Embracing this level of corporate process change must be done project by project. The operational big bang approach does not work well in an agile practice. Not everyone can use the same solution. However, if done correctly, there are big benefits.
ARA is a process that strengthens the foundation of the continuous delivery pipeline and is core to the agile DevOps initiative. It facilitates agile practices by allowing the testing teams and data center teams the tools needed to become more agile and accept the frequency of changes being pushed across the pipeline by Development. Ultimately, the goal is repeatability across the pipeline, pulling together Dev and Ops.
About the Author / Tracy Ragan
Tracy Ragan is CEO and Co-Founder of DeployHub. Tracy has extensive experience in the development and implementation of business applications. It was during her consulting experiences that she recognized the lack of build and release management procedures for the distributed platform that had long been considered standard on the mainframe and UNIX. Tracy has worked with hundreds of development teams in implementing a team-centric standardized build to release process. Connect with her on LinkedIn.