Today, quality software is among the key drivers of modern business. The faster companies get the necessary software updates, the more competitive they become. Operating in dynamic contact with customers also matters. It is crucial for businesses to make regular improvements to their existing software in accordance with customers’ needs. How is it possible to have an efficient workflow in this very challenging environment and provide new functional solutions on a daily basis? Continuous delivery!
Continuous delivery (CD) helps you deliver and/or update software as fast as possible with minimal risk. It not only helps you optimize the work of your IT department but also enhances the business value of the whole company. In this article, we explain how continuous delivery makes your business better and we describe the experience we gained from working with GitLab. Keep reading!
Before discussing the benefits of continuous delivery, we explain what it is and how it works.
To put it simply, continuous delivery (CD) is the ability to make safe and quick changes to production by ensuring that a code always remains in a deployable state, no matter how many thousands of developers change it on an hourly basis. As a result, the software can be deployed at any time with a single click. Speaking metaphorically, continuous delivery makes sure that all the builders at a construction site follow the designated architectural drawings.
In the past, and even in some companies today, business agility has been far from perfect as a result of the segregation of responsibilities between developers, operation teams, testers, and other specialists. As a result, when operation teams had to put an application into production, they often couldn’t integrate all of the changes made by various team members due to the lack of communication and integrity. In particular, some code changes contradicted others, which made bug fixing nearly impossible.
If you start thinking about continuous delivery for a new project, architecting will be easier. But if you already have a piece of software that you need to change, there are more steps to take into account.
It all starts with a monolith. The first challenge of continuous delivery is to break down a monolithic architecture into smaller parts in order to ensure the process of continuous delivery. The service-oriented architecture could be a solution, but it doesn’t contribute a lot to decoupling the system, so microservices save the day. They have looser connections between components and each component is responsible for its own task. It makes microservices more flexible and adaptable to changes.
However, be careful with the process of moving to microservices. Since microservices are harder to test and have more complex distribution, your team should be prepared and trained to implement this architecture.
In software development, there are two more notions that start with “continuous”: continuous integration and continuous deployment. All three processes are connected into one flow that allows fast and efficient software development, but it’s important to know the difference between continuous delivery and deployment and continuous integration.
With continuous delivery, all code changes go through a “pipeline”, or a set of automated steps on the way to production. A typical “pipeline” includes the following stages: building, testing, staging, and eventually production. Each step is equally important for the software release. Any change to a software code must pass successfully through all the “pipeline” stages prior to being deployed into a production environment.
As soon as any code change is introduced, a “pipeline” immediately triggers a test suite. In case a code change passes all of the tests, it is allowed to merge with the so-called master branch of a source code, which is a process also called continuous integration (CI). Continuous delivery, in its turn, includes all of the “pipeline” processes as well as continuous integration itself.
Sometimes continuous delivery is confused with continuous deployment, although these two software approaches are essentially different. Continuous deployment presumes that all of the changes go through the deployment “pipeline” and then later on they are automatically put in production. In contrast, continuous delivery is about manual deployments. Consequently, continuous deployment results in numerous production changes every day. With continuous delivery, on the contrary, you can choose the frequency of the daily deployments.
So why Continuous Delivery? For many business organizations, releasing a new product is still a major source of stress, which includes sleepless nights devoted to bug fixing and making configuration changes. If your team still relies on manual testing and semi-scripted deployments, it is no wonder that a pre-release preparation takes countless hours and feels like hell.
With Continuous Delivery all sorts of releases are no longer stressful. New products are released more frequently and with lower expenses as CD presumes smaller teams, regular changes based on a real-time feedback, and fast deployments.
Cost reduction particularly stands out among the numerous business benefits of continuous Delivery. In particular, CD reduces the amount of time spent on deployment and integration, which carry no business value. In Continuous Delivery, integration, testing, and deployment are continuously performed throughout the whole development process. With automated building, testing, deployment, and release you save a lot of money on those tasks in comparison with their manual performance.
Apart from that, speaking of the financial benefits of Continuous Delivery, business costs become significantly more predictable. With traditional software development, not only is it always difficult to estimate the release time but also the release costs. In Continuous Delivery, which is based on a constant flow of small changes, tracking progress becomes much easier. Consequently, the costs for every set of changes are realistically measurable.
In fact, Continuous Delivery is available for both big and small players, from large businesses to start ups, from complex product environments to simple apps. At the same time, we should also mention that launching a CD “pipeline” requires investment and effort. First, you should already have a high level of operational culture and organization of the technical processes. Second, be prepared to invest in a company’s software delivery infrastructure. Third, creating a CD “pipeline” requires the best specialists available due to the complexity of this task.
Here, we explain how Continuous Delivery helps businesses grow. The business benefits of continuous delivery include:
With the help of Continuous Delivery automated deployment cycles, you can track the project’s progress and obtain real-time feedback. Therefore, you will be able to fix any shortcomings as soon as possible. As a result, your product will be deployed much faster to the market to the joy of your customers.
Obviously, CD lowers risk to your system and customer service, as the software is regularly tested and modified. While most errors are discovered prior to a production deployment, even in case a small failure happens, it will be easy to fix.
As developers spend less time on fixing bugs, they are able to concentrate on research and product improvement. Furthermore, due to frequent user feedback, a development team can concentrate on the essential features to work on.
Continuous small changes can be easily reprioritized, and teams don’t have to wait until the following release cycle.
It is easy to experiment by arranging the quick development and deployment of alternative features and later on testing each of those features with real users.
With the help of various CD metrics, such as quality, velocity, lead time, and defects you can measure the performance of each feature and select the best one for your business needs.
Finally, we touch upon the degree of happiness in your office. Continuous Delivery will significantly reduce the level of stress faced by development teams when doing tiresome last minute fixings. Apart from that, technical talent can be redirected into more creative and fulfilling tasks, which really matter. As a result, people will avoid burnout in the workplace and keep their spirits high.
Implementing continuous delivery is not a one-time action. There is no magic wand that will get everything done in seconds. To receive the most benefits from continuous delivery, you should start gradually and one step at a time. Here is a general strategy to complete the implementation. You can adapt it to your company and change it if necessary.
There is no need to rush and opt for a big, complicated project to start with. It’s understandable that those responsible for CD integration want to gain more profit, so they try to address the complex structure of a huge project. Such an approach can result in big rewards, but also can generate big problems.
You can ensure a better start by choosing something small and easily manageable. That way, your company can try this approach, see its strong and weak points, and get used to new processes.
When you have chosen the project to start with, you need to describe the steps to reach the goal. Technically, you will need only a whiteboard and markers for it. Your team should collectively think about the necessary actions and link them into a workflow. Without this step, all the tools you get and the goals you set won’t work.
Speaking of CD, the notion of continuous delivery metrics should also be mentioned. It is a tool for measuring CD performance. If you solve particular business problems, such as a poor deployment rate, or too many defects when implementing new features, overseeing CD metrics will help you improve product quality and deployment frequency as well as reduce production defects. The key metrics of continuous delivery are:
Now, when all the previous steps are complete, you can set several agile practices to ensure and stabilize the continuous delivery process. For example, the best agile practices to consider include a user-oriented approach, iterations, Scrum methodology, and automated testing. The list can be bigger depending on your business goals and internal policies.
At Yellow, we love working with GitLab, which is a popular tool for code management. We use GitLab as a git-repository to host the source codes of our projects. The use of GitLab possesses several benefits: it is open source, saves costs, and offers powerful tools for continuous delivery.
With GitLab, development processes occur in feature branches, so each feature has its branch. For each particular feature branch, there is a separate deployment. It makes sure that all of the features are deployable, and all of the deployment-related troubles can get fixed in feature branches.
There is also a master branch where feature branches are merged. As soon as a feature branch is merged with a master branch, there is an automated deployment to the staging environment, where code changes are tested prior to going to a production. It is important to note that a master branch is usually a protected branch, which only merges with those feature branches with the relevant testing done. In this way, the whole CD “pipeline” is protected.
In summary, Continuous Delivery is a cool automation tool that can save you a lot of time and money. It is one of the key pillars to a flexible development process, which results in quick software deployments and updates.
The adoption of Continuous Delivery within companies might take a longer time and require certain investments. Launching a CD “pipeline” might be a challenging task as it depends on a range of factors, including different types of applications, infrastructure, and production environments. At the same time, numerous benefits of Continuous Delivery for business include a better response to market changes, an increase in business productivity and sustainability as well as a reduction of manual labor force.
Therefore, Continuous Delivery is totally worth it. Your employees won’t experience sleepless nights before release dates, and your business won’t run out of steam any more. On the contrary, you will get an opportunity to become more creative and to experiment with new things without fear. The business value of Continuous Delivery is high, so don’t hesitate to give it a try!
What is continuous delivery?
What is the difference between continuous delivery, continuous integration, and continuous deployment?
How can continuous delivery benefit my business?
How to implement continuous delivery?
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