DevOps is a popular application design philosophy that merges development and operations, hence the clever name. However, there are many terms relating to DevOps, and it’s helpful to sometimes look at one of them and explore it in-depth. By breaking down a concept like DevOps and focusing on one element at a time, we can gain a greater overall understanding of it, which in turn helps us get more out of the process.
So, to get to know DevOps better, we're looking at pipelines in DevOps. This article will answer the question, "What is a pipeline in DevOps?". Additionally, we will explore the components, phases, and stages of the DevOps pipeline and even dedicate some time to explaining what the Azure DevOps pipeline is all about.
What Is a Pipeline in DevOps?
A DevOps pipeline is the set of automated processes and tools that the development and operations teams use to compile, construct, test, and deploy software code faster and easier. However, the term "pipeline" isn't an exact fit; it's more like an assembly line. For instance, an automobile that goes through the factory assembly line undergoes continuous assembly. Workers first build a chassis, add the engine, doors, tires, seats, and instrument panel, and finish it with exterior paint.
The DevOps pipeline works like that, starting with writing the code and then running tests to find bugs, errors, typos, and redundancies. DevOps teams then put fixes and patches to address the issues, test them some more, and finally release the working product to users.
Components of a DevOps Pipeline
The DevOps pipeline is composed of seven components:
- Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery: These two components are typically mentioned together, usually referred to as CI/CD or a CI/CD pipeline. Continuous integration means the system frequently integrates new code changes into the central repository, usually a few times per day. This process makes it easier to merge different code changes and spot bugs.
The continuous delivery aspect means incremental deliveries of software and updates to production. CD helps developers automate the whole software release operation and increase how frequently they release new features.
- Continuous Testing: DevOps personnel use continuous testing to perform automated tests on any code integrations accumulated during the continuous integration (CI) phase. CI ensures high-quality app development and evaluates the release's risks before sending it to delivery.
- Continuous Deployment: This component is often blurred with continuous delivery, although both are very different parts of the process. Continuous deployment follows continuous delivery. Any updates that successfully make it through the automated testing phase get automatically released into production. This way, continuous deployment allows multiple production deployments on a given day.
- Continuous Monitoring: Continuous monitoring validates the environment’s stability and verifies that the applications are doing what they’re designed to do. In addition, the operations teams monitor the applications and systems, keeping an eye on the latter's performance.
- Continuous Feedback: Continuous feedback is often overlooked, which is regrettable because DevOps teams need constant feedback to ensure that the app does what everyone (the developers, stakeholders, and customers) expect it to. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and that’s what continuous feedback does.
- Continuous Operations. This component does exactly what the name implies: maintaining a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation with little to no planned downtime. The ultimate goal of continuous operations is to ensure that end-users won't suffer interruptions due to any hardware or software changes. It's an expensive initial investment but pays for itself in the long run because it prevents costly production losses.
What is Pipeline in DevOps: The Phases of a DevOps Pipeline
Now that we’re familiar with the components of the DevOps pipeline, it’s time to look at the phases, or stages, of the pipeline.
- Develop: The developers write the software code and then push it into the source control repository, after which the source code integration occurs.
- Build: In the next stage, the application is built with the integrated source code from the previous phase’s source code repository.
- Test: In this phase, testers execute various tests (functional, system, unit) on the build created in the previous stage. If the tests reveal issues, they’re kicked back to the developer to be resolved.
- Deploy: This final stage sees the deployment of the final version, conducted when the production environment is created and configured.
How to Create a DevOps Pipeline
Although each company or organization has its unique take on DevOps with its own particular needs, there are five universally recognized steps to create a DevOps pipeline.
Establish a CI/CD Tool
An organization's first step is getting the right tools to build its CI/CD pipeline. Although the choice will revolve around the company's specific needs, Jenkins is a good solid choice since it's easily customizable to fit an organization's situation. Other possibilities include GitLab, TeamCity, and Bamboo.
Source Your Control Environment
Development teams need a sandbox, so to speak, to store and share their code, create different versions of the app, and avoid merging conflicts. Git is a great control management tool, enabling developers to keep their code in a shared repository. Other alternatives include GitLab and BitBucket.
Set up a Build Server
Alternately called a CI server, the build server is a reliable, stable, and centralized environment dedicated to building distributed development projects. These servers act as an integration point for the developers, retrieve integrated code from the source code repositories, and offer a clean, uncompromised environment to ensure the code works correctly. Once again, Jenkins is the go-to choice, although there’s also Travis-CI or TeamCity.
Set Up or Build Testing Automation Tools
Automated testing is integral to the DevOps process, so you need something like TestComplete to run your tests.
Deploy to Production
Here’s where the team’s software gets pushed to production. The least complicated way to do this is to configure the build server to run a script that deploys the application manually or automatically.
Many pipeline choices are available, such as the Azure DevOps pipeline, a cloud service that offers a place to build and test code automatically. The Azure DevOps build pipeline integrates well with resources such as Bitbucket Cloud, Azure Repos Git & TFVC, GitHub, GitHub Enterprise, and Subversion.
This DevOps choice also works with most application types and languages and allows developers to deploy code to multiple targets. In addition, developers can use Azure pipeline variables to customize their environment if they need to manage their builds' configuration values dynamically.
All About Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)
These two tools are the centerpiece of the DevOps pipeline and, as we've seen, make up two of the seven components. CI/CD work together to create a workflow conducive to reducing the cost and time needed for an app development project.
The critical component of both concepts is the word "continuous." The continuous integration aspect lets the system frequently integrate code changes into the central repository, simplifying the merging process and saving time. It also makes it easy for the team to spot bugs.
The continuous delivery stage handles the incremental delivery of the software and its updates into production. This phase boosts the frequency of releasing new updates and features and promotes customer involvement by enhancing the feedback loop.
Deployment Pipeline Automation
DevOps teams should automate everything that can be automated. Automation significantly reduces the time needed to execute the deployment. DevOps teams need to pick the best deployment automation tool for the job. Here’s a list of potential choices. Some of the names may already look familiar:
- AWS CodeDeploy
- Visual Studio
Steps Involved in DevOps Pipeline Implementation
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all roadmap for DevOps pipeline implementation. Instead, DevOps teams need to factor in variables such as the size of their organization, available toolsets, the budget, and what goals the business expects to meet from the implementation.
However, here are three general steps DevOps teams should take when implementing a DevOps pipeline:
- Clearly define and establish your DevOps strategy. Bring everyone together from every involved department and collaborate on setting the goals.
- Incorporate Agile principles into your project. Agile emphasizes software delivery in iterations, and it’s a great supplement to DevOps.
- Make everything continuous. The DevOps foundation is built on continuity, ensuring that deliverable times and code quality are consistently maintained throughout every stage of the DevOps pipeline.
Managing CI/CD Pipelines from the Application Portfolio Management Perspective
Application Portfolio Management (APM) helps businesses increase revenue through digital transformation. APM is especially valuable for enterprises struggling to seamlessly adopt modern technology and methodologies while maintaining their existing portfolio.
If an organization merges CI/CD with APM, they get the increased accuracy, speed, and agility of the former, plus the enhanced business value of the latter.
Here are the stages used for implementation:
- Structure the process: Construct a roadmap by collecting all the data on current IT conditions and observations of the available applications and what they do. Once you have all this information, you can eliminate redundancy by sorting the data into relevant and irrelevant data structures.
- Conduct an evaluation: Create a detailed report that explains the usage and functionality of the organization’s available applications. This process means studying each application’s aspects individually and anticipating needed changes, such as upgrades.
- Define IT’s transformation: Create and test several plans that factor in feasibility, quality, and risk, and compare them. Then, select the one that fits best.
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