CI/CD Strategies for Faster Application Releases
By Sourojit Das, Community Contributor - July 13, 2022
In traditional software development processes, the dev team deals with the source code, the QA team tests the application, and the operations team looks after deployment and monitoring.
While this framework has reaped benefits in the past, it is unresponsive to change. Whenever any change is required, a flurry of communication ensues between the different teams as each operates as a “black-box” for the others. In such cases, even relatively minor defects can derail the entire product launch, as all the teams scramble to get on the same page before hammering out a fix.
DevOps comes from combining the words Developments and Operations. It strives to represent the practices involved in automating and integrating the processes between development and IT operations, as well as the automation of testing processes carried out by the QA team. It enables teams to work together and leverage automation to identify and rectify errors faster than legacy processes.
Research by GitHub shows that DevOps teams “recover from downtime 96 times faster, have a five times lower change failure rate, and deploy code 46 times more frequently.” Thus, they can deploy code and recover from setbacks in several hours, not weeks.
The latter statistic is critical to this article’s scope as it clearly shows that teams that follow DevOps principles can release frequently. And while this may sound too good to be true, the real answer is rooted in how software engineering works.
DevOps as an Extension to Agile
In agile teams, scrum can mean the difference between a constant, unproductive struggle and a productive, focussed team effort. Correctly framed within the scaffolding of a business problem, an agile team is expected to dig deep into the principles of scrum and adapt to become more effective in responding to planned changes.
However, those with agile experience would know the volume of unexpected QA challenges. Performance spikes, unforeseen security vulnerabilities, and sudden system outages can ruin the best-laid plans.
And while CI/CD strategies speed up application releases, understand that the foundation is deep-rooted in Agile Software Development practices. And while it may seem daunting for a QA Leader to integrate CI/CD into their workflow, all it needs is a few simple steps to make DevOps an extension of already existing Agile approaches.
Adopt a Security-First Approach
Security breaches and vulnerabilities have caused massive financial and reputational losses to businesses of every shade. Since the CI/CD system offers access to the codebase and credentials to deploy in various environments, it is often the prime target of hackers.
- It is advisable to store them securely in internal networks with VPN and multi-factor authentication to reduce exposure to threats.
- This paradigm is commonly touted as DevSecOps and helps to significantly reduce the time needed to retroactively run security checks and ensures a more robust and secure release.
Pro Tip: Using Cloud-based automation through Browserstack lends an extra edge to your security stack. Browserstack is SOC2 Type 2 Compliant and guarantees that no user-sensitive data remains on the test systems once the tests are done, and the tester is logged out.
Look Beyond Conventional Infrastructure
Managing IT infrastructure was both time-consuming and required resources with a particular set of skills. However, recent changes in cloud computing have drastically improved how organizations manage their IT infrastructure. And one of the key spearheads of this trend is the concept of “Infrastructure as Code(IAC)”. This concept relies largely on using machine-readable configuration files to manage infrastructure configurations.
- Automated scripts that are not only quicker than the previous process but also allow for scalability (in terms of configuring globally distributed networks) and consistency (as predefined scripts are unlikely to make human errors).
- Since this process is not labor-intensive, it costs less to set up configuration schedules for a distributed process through pre-planned scripts rather than employ dedicated specialists for the same task.
But looking beyond conventional infrastructure models need not necessarily stop at IAC.
Product teams can leverage the power of cross-browser testing to help pinpoint browser-specific compatibility errors so they can be debugged quickly. Certain applications tend to behave differently on different devices – OS – browser configurations. This traditionally necessitates the setting up of expensive infrastructure to ensure on-site testing across these configurations.
Cross-browser testing encapsulates a wide range of activities, including
- Base functionality tests
- Visual testing for checking the UI Design
- Accessibility testing to check compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Responsiveness testing
Read More: What is Cloud Testing?
Running cross-browser tests on a cloud-based testing infrastructure costs only a fraction of what it would have to set up real-world environments and infrastructure, significantly improving your business baselines.
Also, while emulators/simulators and Virtual Machines (VMs) can be used for this platform, they are unreliable on virtual mobile platforms (Android and iOS) and do not take any real user conditions into account while testing.
Automate Manual Steps
Test automation has transformed itself from a niche option utilized by high-performance teams to an industry buzzword. Every software engineering team worth its salt has incorporated automation into its standard operating procedure.
Test automation can work wonders for certain types of tests like:
It is recommended for those which require the repetitive execution of mobile app testing scenarios every time a new pull request is merged to the main branch of code. Having on-premise infrastructure is almost always expensive to set up and maintain. It requires keeping track of, updating, and maintaining new devices, browsers, and operating systems. However, a cloud-based grid is easier since updating and maintenance would be taken care of by the organization offering the grid.
BrowserStack offers a cloud Selenium grid connected to 3000+ real devices and browsers for testing.
Run Parallel Tests
An optimal test grid should enable parallel testing. This means that testers should be able to run multiple tests on multiple devices simultaneously. This reduces test time, expedites results, and offers results within shorter deadlines.
Take a simple example – an automated functional test of a signup form. To perform this test for 45 different Browser/OS configurations, with each test taking an average time of 2 minutes, then the total run time of tests would be 90 mins or 1.5 hrs when run successfully in sequence.
Now imagine, when running three parallel tests simultaneously, the total execution time would have come down to 30 mins.
And for 6 parallels, it would be even further reduced to 15 mins- a far cry from what was expected before.
Set Up a Deployment Pipeline
A well-fleshed-out deployment pipeline enables:
- The instantaneous execution of unit and integration tests with every build in the pipeline. In case of failure, the service’s promotion to the deployment environment is halted until the bug is fixed and regression tests are run.
- Automatic triggers are set up to deploy the services to the deployment environment if all tests have passed. Smoke testing can be incorporated as well to ensure that the core functionality has not been affected due to the changes pushed to the main branch.
- The progression of the code to the QA Environment in case the smoke tests are positive.
- The execution of regression tests in the QA environment to cover all the scenarios which are absent in the lower part of the test pyramid
Read More: How to implement a CI/CD Pipeline?
CI/CD strategies seek to ensure faster application release for higher quality software by developing and delivering software in short cycles of build-configure-deploy-test-release.
While CI has become ubiquitous in DevOps practices, CD lags behind. This is extremely suboptimal as CD is key to shifting left, and hinges on streamlining unit tests and static code analysis (SCA) with functional, load, and UA Testing. These are generally critical areas for automation and are essential in the context of DevOps.
Thus even before we start considering CI/CD strategies for accelerating application releases, we must make sure that we pay CD the due attention it deserves.
Shift left and the Promise of Continuous Everything
Shifting left isn’t just about tools either, it also needs people and practices to make up the Holy Trinity for DevOps. This means teaching a culture of change where everyone has a stake in the reliable, repeatable delivery of high-value software.
- This means getting the documentation team to join the engineering team when stories are being picked for a release.
- It means product marketing sits down to the same meeting as research on the market opportunity for such a feature.
- It means that customers beta test features and give meaningful feedback that can be immediately acted upon by the Dev team.
- It means DevOps is at the very heart of the business and every function from marketing and sales to support and services are informed and invested from ideation onward.
This prevents the creation of “islands of oblivion” where each team performs their tasks in silos irrespective of the larger picture and prevents the proverbial passing of the buck. This is the promise of Continuous Everything – an organization primed to adapt to change and respond rapidly.
To get the optimum mileage from a CI/CD strategy, consider using BrowserStack Automate, which seamlessly integrates into developers’ CI/CD pipeline to help agile teams scale up.