Feb 25 · 4 min read
Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) is key to implementing DevOps practices. Any organization that embraces DevOps principles starts with setting up a CI/CD pipeline and process. While CI/CD promises more frequent and higher quality releases, it comes with its own set of CI/CD challenges.
In this post, we look at the top CI/CD challenges teams face when adopting CI/CD, and how they can overcome these obstacles;
When it comes to CI/CD, the old adage ‘Garbage in, garbage out’ does apply. If the code committed by developers is fraught with errors, a CI/CD pipeline will not magically fix that code. It takes a conscious effort to continuously test your code before and after deployments. This continuous testing isn’t scalable if done manually, it needs to be automated. Test automation begins with unit testing, but it extends far beyond this to integration tests, security testing, functional testing, and more. A CI/CD pipeline needs adequate checks and balances in the form of test automation.
CI/CD involves automating the software delivery process end to end. This includes build automation, test automation, and release automation. Once set up, a CI/CD pipeline is like a line of dominoes that topples one after the other. Naturally, any issue that starts upstream will trickle down to affect the entire process. This would be a case of automation gone wrong, and many teams struggle with the downsides of automation. These issues make root cause analysis difficult.
One remedy to this is to assign clear ownership at every step of the CI/CD process. There should be one person who has deep visibility into each phase of the process. They should be able to pinpoint the exact piece of code, or third-party tool, or incompatibility within the phase of the process they own. Additionally, having end-to-end visibility across the entire CI/CD pipeline is critical for root cause analysis.
Security is different when transitioning to CI/CD. There are many possible security loopholes such as vulnerable container images, code that includes credentials/keys/tokens/secrets information, exposed databases, and more. It takes security testing to spot these diverse vulnerabilities. Developers are often concerned about features and functionality, and not so much about security. Yet, SecOps teams are concerned about the security of every release.
It helps to have security policies for each step of the CI/CD process. For example, SecOps teams can enforce policies for developers to only download approved container images from a single controlled registry. Or make readymade templates available with configuration for new services. Helm Charts, Terraforms or a cloud service like AWS CloudFormation can help with this. It gives SecOps teams more control over security, and ensures developers bake in security best practices by design.
In a large organization with numerous internal and external applications, there are typically multiple CI/CD pipelines. Here, standardization becomes a challenge as each team would have their own prefered way to deliver applications.
What helps here is to break up CI/CD pipelines into stages and steps, and re-use these steps across the various CI/CD pipelines. For example, mobile testing practices can be duplicated across different CI/CD pipelines to ensure they all meet the same bar for mobile app performance.
When implementing CI/CD, organizations often stop with just automating the beginning and middle of the CI/CD pipeline and ignore the last mile of deployments. They automate builds, and testing, but hesitate to send any code out into the world without being manually reviewed by a human. This fear is understandable for a team that has done releases manually for years.
However, by automating deployments it enables organizations to take full advantage of the benefits of CI/CD including greater speed of releases, and more predictable releases. It does take courage to pull the trigger and automate deployments, but that’s what completes the loop of CI/CD.
GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket have become a staple of every developer team. Developers love how these tools enable collaboration, which is especially important in today’s remote-only workplace. These Git tools have led to the modern GitOps approach. This essentially makes Git repositories as not just the starting point, but the building blocks of the entire software delivery pipeline. It requires defining target deployment locations in Git repositories.
Builds need to be checked early in the development pipeline. This includes checking public repos that were used in the builds and ensuring they are free from vulnerabilities.
It helps to keep an eye on developments with GitOps. There are numerous open source tools innovating in this area including Flux, Jenkins X, and Argo CD. GitOps represents the next wave of automation in CI/CD.
By keeping these best practices in mind, DevOps teams can make their transition to CI/CD seamless and successful. For organizations that have already embarked on the journey, there is always room to improve a CI/CD pipeline. We hope this blog post gives you practical ways to manage CI/CD challenges.
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