Why Incorporate CI/CD Pipeline in Your SDLC?
Why Incorporate CI/CD Pipeline in Your SDLC?
Dive deeper into the benefits of a CI/CD pipeline and understand how and why it should be implemented.
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The software development community, like the human species, has undergone certain evolutionary changes to find out what’s most suitable for them. For starters, the challenges and limitations of the traditional Waterfall methodology pushed the developers to learn from their grueling experiences and move on to the much efficient Agile model.
Not only did Agile save teams from major development pitfalls, but it also helped in achieving immense business value. However, soon it was realized that the charms of the revolutionary Agile model had drained out too. In the rapidly evolving digital world with cut-throat competition, this was certainly inevitable.
In order to constantly push new features into the hands of their customers, companies are compelled to deliver code much faster and fast forward the software release process. According to the State of DevOps report published in 2019, the leading software publishers deploy code to production and release it to users multiple times a day.
And what essentially enables them to do so? A blend of contemporary delivery approaches - DevOps, CI (Continuous Integration), and CD (Continuous Delivery). So, let’s explore in detail how this modern software development approach where CI/CD pipelines are leveraged can help developers and what are its overall implications on the SDLC and the business as a whole.
To dive deeper into the benefits of a CI/CD pipeline and understand how and why it should be implemented, it is essential to figure out what its core elements, i.e. CI (Continuous Integration) and CD (Continuous Delivery) mean.
Continuous Integration (CI)
Aptly described by Martin Fowler, a renowned software development expert, “Continuous Integration is a software development approach where members of a team 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 test) to detect integration errors as quickly as possible.”
In a typical CI development environment, code changes of all developers working on a software project are merged into a single central repository regularly. With each code commit, an automated build and test chain is activated and correspondingly developers get the necessary feedback as quickly as possible.
Continuous Integration truly reflects the collaborative and transparent development culture of DevOps. The cultural component is substantially important as it requires development teams to communicate and collaborate swiftly. CI essentially requires key implementation components like branches, push and pull requests, commit, code review, and others, followed by the use of automation tools like Jenkins, Git, Azure DevOps, etc.
How CI Is Implemented?
To implement CI, it is essential to have a Source Code Manager like Git to allow the centralization of the code. Having a CI server (Automatic Build Manager) like Jenkins or Azure Pipelines is also necessary to allow continuous integration of code. As the developers continuously commit their codes, the CI server integrates the commits and initiates the build process. After executing unit tests, rapid feedback is provided to the team members as well.
After the successful implementation of CI, the subsequent step is to automatically stage the application in one of the several non-production environments.
Continuous Delivery (CD)
Continuous Delivery or CD can be referred to as an extension to CI and it incorporates the automation of the software release cycle. After CI prepares the application package, continuous delivery initiates a set of automated tasks like stopping and restarting the application package, unzipping, replacing configuration, copying files, and so on. CD aims at testing the entire software along with all its dependencies by conducting acceptance and functional tests as well.
How is CD Implemented?
Continuous delivery is simply the continuation of CI. The CD process initially requires a package manager like Azure Artifacts or ProGet to recover and store the CI packages. A configuration manager to manage configuration changes is also required. It is important to notice that while a deployment during CD in a pre-production environment is automatically triggered, the final deployment to the end-users is triggered manually.
An extension of Continuous Delivery is Continuous Deployment where the entire process beginning from code commit to deployment in the production environment is automated. Mature development teams generally deploy CI and CD together in the same integrated environment called a CI/CD pipeline. It enables developers to execute unit tests after each commit and also verify the functional aspects of the application as a whole.
As soon as you put CI and CD in place in your SDLC, the deployable environment you get is called a CI/CD pipeline. A typical CI/CD pipeline automates processes like initiating and integrating code builds, performance tests, and even deployment to a production environment. As a result, manual errors are reduced and standard feedbacks are received which enables developers to make swift product iterations.
At first, having and integrating such a pipeline to your SDLC may sound a bit redundant, but it isn't like that in reality. All the steps which incorporate a CI/CD pipeline are anyhow required when a new version of some software product needs to be delivered. This pipeline just makes everything so efficient and simplified. And in its absence, developers would still perform all those functions, but manually and with very little productivity.
Adoption of CI/CD practices not only helps development teams to match their customer expectations but also swiftly adapt to the changing business and market landscape. Whenever we talk about a CI/CD pipeline, it becomes essential to highlight its crucial stages in order to understand its implications better.
The stages of a typical CI/CD pipelines are:
Building Infrastructure as Code
The initial stage in a CI/CD pipeline is commonly known as the build phase. This phase is triggered when the developers push their new codes to a central repository. As the individual codes are stored across numerous small branches, the system integrates them into a central codebase. Later on, the compiler gathers all the features of the code and related dependencies to create the desired piece of software and further test it.
In the automated testing phase, the essential tests are performed to check whether the built features are qualified enough to be pushed to production. To meet the desired requirements, there are numerous testing methodologies ranging from performance to functional tests. They make sure that the errors are found and fixed as early as possible. CI/CD pipelines even make it possible to run such tests in environments that are very similar to the end-user environment.
In the final stage of the CI/CD pipeline, the built and tested software is deployed into production. This usually takes place after the developers have simulated the product in an environment similar to the production environment and adjudge the features and functionalities properly. With the help of CD, this step can be automated to ensure reliability during product delivery to users.
Advantages of Implementing CI/CD Pipelines in Your SDLC
As far as the advantages associated with the implementation of CI/CD pipelines are concerned, it is almost impossible to cover all of them. However, we can highlight some of the major advantages:
There is no questioning the fact that adopting a CI/CD model will lower your operational costs significantly. A majority of fixed costs related to building and debugging your app will surely be eliminated. A simple thing like going for an automated testing environment will reduce testing costs substantially. Moreover, conducting parallel tests will reduce the number of machines needed. And by regularly committing code, the time and costs incurred on bug fixing will be reduced.
As you push towards more and more automation, the number of errors that used to arise earlier out of the repetitive steps will vanish. This lets developers channel their time and efforts towards more critical tasks like product development as there aren't many code changes to make now. Without a doubt, reduced costs and enhanced product quality makes ways for an enhanced ROI also.
Effective and Faster Release Rate:
In the CI/CD pipeline, the rate of failure detection is high as compared to the traditional SDLC environments. As a result, they can be fixed faster and the release rate increases correspondingly. CI/CD assists developers by continuously monitoring and merging their scripts and later deploys it to the production environment after running thorough tests. This always keeps the code in a ready to release state.
Development teams have always felt the need for a production environment that closely resembles what the users have in real to test their efforts more realistically. CI/CD pipelines make this possible through containerization. Through this method, the developers can test their code in a production-like environment and make only the necessary changes and speed up the release process efficiently.
Another distinguished advantage of having CI/CD in your pipeline is that it enhances test reliability. As the system gets more fault sensitive, more accurate tests can be conducted, delivering full-proof results and insights. As individual features continuously get merged and released, it becomes important to be assured that no unnoticed errors pass by and cause trouble to the end-users. With enhanced test reliability, development teams rest assured that their efforts are not going in vain.
Higher Product Quality:
In many cases, business owners think that if they opt for CI/CD pipeline, they will be trading off quality for enhanced speed. But truly speaking, this is not the case. The best thing about CI/CD pipelines is that along with speed, they also ensure enhanced product quality.
With continuous integration, bugs are found and eliminated early in the development cycle. Moreover, automated and parallel tests improve the coverage of protection and make sure that your application works efficiently across numerous environments. All these changes ensure that your end-customers receive the most fulfilling and quality product they ever wished for.
Continuous Integration Improves Collaboration and Reliability
According to Jez Humble, “Combining the work of multiple developers is hard. Software systems are complex, and an apparently simple, self-contained change to a single file can easily have unintended consequences that compromise the correctness of the system. As a result, some teams have developers work isolated from each other on their own branches, both to keep trunk/master stable, and to prevent them from treading on each other’s toes.”
Traditionally, developers used to work on separate parts of the same application and would combine their code with the rest of the team’s work manually. Depending on the timeline of the builds, it was nearly impossible to guess in advance if the combined scripts would work fine. No doubt the process of finding bugs was more messed up than ever. However, the introduction of continuous integration changed everything.
Implementation of CI/CD makes sure that developers can collaborate efficiently among themselves and with other teams as well. Only due to this collaboration it is possible to roll out new releases faster and detect and fix bugs earlier. This also enhances responsible accountability as the problems across teams are now more visible than ever due to increased transparency.
Moreover, due to the innovative changes applied across the SDLC, testing reliability also increases as more specific tests can now be conducted. Also, having a comprehensive version control allows developers to make quality functional changes to the software as they now trust the reliability of their entire software development pipeline more than ever.
We are practically living in a world where almost every company functions as a software company. That is why organizations that are able to deliver innovative software changes to their end customers swiftly have a competitive edge over the others. Correspondingly, it becomes essential to enhance the rate of innovation and ensure that all the hurdles in SDLC are properly mitigated.
Implementation of the CI/CD pipeline in your organization's SDLC will not only ensure a collaborative integration between testing, development, and operations teams but also enhance the level of innovation and allow fast decision making. This would lead to functionally correct and secure software updates being delivered to end-users on a regular basis. And most importantly, it would enable you to adapt and respond effectively to the emerging cybersecurity and other business challenges.
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