How to Build a DevOps Pipeline: A Beginner’s Guide
In today’s hyper-competitive tech environment, launching a new app or SaaS product is the first step in a never ending journey of writing and deploying code. Modern tech users have little patience and even less loyalty—if an app or SaaS product doesn’t work the way that users need, they will switch to a competitor at the drop of a hat. That’s why development teams around the world are constantly pushing out updates, patches, bug fixes, and new features. Operations teams have their hands full making sure that new code works properly before deploying updates to the product for every end user. If this process is not managed efficiently, it can result in more bugs and even downtime, two things that users hate.
By now, most tech companies should be familiar with DevOps—a term created from blending the words “development” and “operations”—and should be taking advantage of the tremendous benefits brought about by opening up collaboration between these traditionally siloed departments. When development and operations teams work together in a DevOps format, code gets checked and deployed dramatically faster, while ideas for new features and fixes based on user data are consistently being fed into the development cycle. From planning to deployment and monitoring, the journey that all new code takes is called a DevOps pipeline.
What is a DevOps Pipeline?
A DevOps pipeline is a set of tools and automated processes utilized by the software engineering team to compile, build, and deploy code. Building an effective DevOps pipeline enables companies to rapidly develop, test, and deploy new code on an ongoing basis. One of the key objectives of a DevOps pipeline is to automate the software delivery process, eliminating the need for manual changes through every step of the pipeline. Manual work is time-consuming and introduces the potential for human error, often pushing back deployments. The shift from manual changes to automated changes not only results in fewer errors, but also allows developers to push out higher-quality code faster than ever before.
Components of a DevOps Pipeline
There are several different approaches and tools that organizations can use to create a customized DevOps pipeline. Common pipeline components facilitate continuous delivery to ensure that code moves seamlessly from one stage to the next, automating the entire process and minimizing manual work.
- Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) – CI/CD, which allows for the rapid integration of new code, is one of the cornerstones of DevOps pipelines.CI allows for the rapid integration of small chunks of new code from multiple developers into a shared repository. CI also allows you to automatically test the code for errors to identify bugs early on, making them easier to fix. CD is an extension of CI, enabling developers to perform additional tests such as UI tests, which helps ensure bug-free deployment. CD also helps the DevOps team deliver bug fixes, increase the frequency of new feature releases, and automate the entire software release. These features reduce the overall time and cost of a project.
- Continuous Testing (CT) – CT allows companies to perform automated testing at every stage of the development process. A CT strategy allows for quick evaluations of the release risks of code integrations. Tests begin to run automatically once code is integrated.
- Continuous Deployment – Continuous deployment is often confused with continuous delivery, but there’s a substantial difference between the two. At the Continuous deployment stage, the entire release cycle is automated and code updates go directly to the end user without manual interventions. The downside to these automated deployments is that if bugs have not been detected along the way, they will be released and can cause the app to fail. Continuous deployments are only recommended for minor code updates. In the worst-case scenario, you can roll back the changes. The upside is that continuous deployment enables frequent deployments in a single day.
- Continuous Monitoring – Continuous monitoring enables rapid detection of compliance issues and security risks, empowering SecOps (a word that blends of “security” and “operations”) teams with real-time information from across a company’s IT infrastructure as well as supporting critical security processes like threat intelligence, forensics, root cause analysis, and incident response.
- Continuous Feedback – Once code is successfully deployed, continuous feedback shows the impact of the release on end users. By automating feedback, the company gets insights and information on how users are reacting to the new build. If critical issues are discovered, development teams will get notified and can immediately start working on bug fixes.
- Continuous Operations – The goal of continuous operations is to reduce or eliminate the need for planned downtime, which results in minimal interruption to the end users. Setting up continuous operations is a costly endeavor, but it may be worth the extra cost considering its advantages.
How to Build a DevOps Pipeline
Companies use a diverse set of tools and approaches to build unique and effective DevOps pipelines customized for the needs of their organization. Common steps include establishing a CI/CD tool, sourcing a control environment, setting up a build server, setting up build automation tools for testing, and deploying to production.
Step 1: Establish CI/CD Tool
For companies just getting started building a DevOps pipeline, the first order of business is to pick a CI/CD tool. Each company has different needs and requirements, so not every tool will be right for every situation. While there are many CI/CD tools available, Jenkins is one of the most commonly used tools. Jenkins features hundreds of community-contributed plugins and tools, so it can easily be customized to work well for many different applications.
Step 2: Source a Control Environment
Companies working with large development teams need a dedicated place to store and share the ever-changing code, avoid merge conflicts, and easily create different versions of the app or software. Source control management tools such as Git allow for effective collaboration with team members from anywhere in the world, storing code from each developer in a separate shared repository. BitBucket and GitLab are two other popular source control management tools.
Step 3. Set up a Build Server
Setting up a build server, which is also called a continuous integration (CI) server is a crucial next step before your project can make its way down the rest of the pipeline. A build server is a centralized, stable and reliable environment for building distributed development projects. Build servers retrieve integrated code from source code repositories, acts as an integration point for all developers, and provides an untainted environment to make sure that the code actually works.
Like other tools mentioned above, companies can choose from many build servers, each with different features. Jenkins is one of the most popular solutions for creating builds. Other solutions include TeamCity, Travis-CI, and go.cd.
Step 4. Setup or Build Automation Tools for Testing
Once code is configured on the build server, it is time to test it! In the testing phase, developers run automated tests to ensure that only error-free code continues down the pipeline to the deployment stage. Several automated tests are performed at the testing stage including unit, functional, integration, and regression tests. Most tests are run through CI and run one after the other.
To start running tests, TestComplete is a good option. It has a Jenkins plugin that enables you to run tests in a Jenkins Pipeline project with added features such as storing the test history and enabling you to see the results directly from Jenkins.
Step 5. Deploy to Production
The final stage of your pipeline is the deploy stage where your software is ready to be pushed to production. The easiest way to deploy the code is by configuring your build server, such as Jenkins, to run a script to deploy your application. This can be set up to run automatically or you can do it manually. Automatic deployment should only be used if you are fully confident that bad code won’t end up in production. You can link this to your test builds, so that the script only runs if all the tests have been passed.
Ready to Create a DevOps Pipeline?
We’ve covered the key elements and tools to building an effective DevOps pipeline as well as the steps needed to create one. A strong pipeline can help organizations of all sizes ensure that their code gets deployed to the world in a predictable and controlled manner, minimizing errors and deployment time. PagerDuty works with some of the world’s most sophisticated technology companies to help them set up modern and effective DevOps pipelines that deliver on their deployment and monitoring goals. We’re here to help in case your organization needs more resources or advice in setting up your own pipeline, including everything from recommending the best tools for your situation to creating custom multi-stage build plans, and we can even advise on how to use DevOps principles to boost your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Get in touch with a representative to find out how we can help your organization.