Continuous integration and delivery pipelines (CI/CD) automate software development processes by running tests and compilations each time you change your code. CI/CD is one of the main components of effective DevOps methodologies, where code authorship is combined with IT operations and quality assurance functions to create more holistic workflows.
CI/CD pipelines can be tricky to get right though. Deciding which parts of a process should be automated, optimizing the implementation of individual pipelines, and equipping teams to get the maximum value from the system all require deliberate attention and commitment across your organization.
In this article we’ll look at five specific pain points which frequently hinder CI/CD adoption. Intentionally addressing these common pitfalls can make your processes more reliable and easier to control.
1. Pipelines That Are Too Slow
CI/CD is supposed to streamline software development. Some of the biggest headaches are created by slow-running pipelines that block developers from completing their work. Having to wait for a long pipeline to execute after every code change creates friction and slows down the cycle.
You can often speed up pipelines by executing more tasks in parallel. Make sure your pipelines are configured to terminate as soon as a failure point is reached: if unit tests encounter an error, the whole pipeline should be cancelled and marked as a failure without delay. In some situations, simply provisioning additional compute resources for your job runners can be a route to an immediate performance boost.
Another path to increased performance is to assess whether your pipelines are doing too much work in response to each change. Modifications to a stylesheet used in your website’s frontend don’t usually need to repeat tests that target backend components. This would unnecessarily increase pipeline execution time without providing any more actionable information to the frontend developer who made the change.
2. Resource Consumption and Cloud Costs
Adopting CI/CD is advantageous to software delivery but it also brings significant resource requirements. Large teams with many projects may find pipelines are continually running as developers regularly commit new code during the day. This can quickly consume infrastructure capacity and lead to significant cloud provider costs.
Using a managed CI/CD service such as GitHub Actions or GitLab CI can lessen this problem but you’ll still need to pay for the job execution minutes that you use. Conversely, maintaining your own fleet of runners on self-managed hardware tasks you with ensuring there’s sufficient capacity to keep pipelines running smoothly.
Setting up resource consumption limits by team or by project can be a good way to balance maximum performance with meaningful cost savings. This also prevents individual jobs from consuming too many resources to the detriment of others.
Beyond accelerating pipelines and reducing expense, having spare capacity is important so you can rapidly rollout any emergency changes that you require. You shouldn’t need to hurriedly pause or cancel already running jobs when hotfixes need to ship to production, yet this can be the case in organizations with overloaded CI servers.
3. Too Many Obstacles to Collaboration
CI/CD implementations are most powerful when they’re accepted as the single source of truth in your organization. That relies on everyone being able to collaborate to inspect running jobs, see what’s deployed, and understand how pipelines define your workflow.
You need clear methods of communication between different teams, such as Developers and Operations, and Project Managers and QA. Siloing pipelines off to particular individuals and working groups reduces their overall value. Allowing collaborative access means Project Managers can check whether a change has deployed by inspecting the pipeline history themselves, facilitating seamless information exchange between disciplines.
Beyond automated tasks like testing and building code, your pipelines should also cater for manual parts of the process. Most CI systems include code ownership and approval features that let you automatically redirect changes between teams at appropriate review points. Having to go out of the platform to collaborate reduces efficiency and creates a risk of information being lost in transmission.
4. Inadequate Monitoring and Metrics
CI/CD results in a pipeline through which all code passes. That pipeline gives you an opportunity to collect metrics that produce data-derived insights into the effectiveness of your development process.
Tracking statistics such as the number of pipelines that have run, the percentage that have been successful, and the number of failures before success can surface trends in code quality, deployment frequency, and change lead time. These metrics can uncover hidden opportunities for optimizing your cycle. Not monitoring them means you’re missing out on data that could be helping you iterate more quickly and effectively.
Data collection is also important for auditing and compliance. Being able to verify who initiated a pipeline, whether it passed, and which artifacts were produced are key compliance controls when you need to check whether proper processes have been followed through a project’s lifecycle.
5. Heading Straight For Continuous Delivery
CI/CD is often promoted as a single technology but its two constituent components are capable of standing independently. Continuous integration (CI), whereby new changes are regularly tested, built and merged, is the foundational element. Continuous delivery (CD) is a second stage which usually involves automating the deployment of those changes to live production environments.
Some organizations believe that practicing CD is a requirement of a successful pipeline implementation. However continuous delivery should actually be viewed as an optional extra, configured in situations where the organization’s broader culture supports it.
CI lets you attest that changes made to your code leave it safe to deliver at that point in time. This isn’t the same as stipulating that code must be delivered immediately. You’re free to use the deployment strategy that makes sense for your product and your customers, such as waiting to roll out changes at a particular time each week.
Using CD without due care and attention can create new hazards in your pipelines. CD needs to be protected by guard rails such as a well-rehearsed rollback strategy and comprehensive deployment monitoring that lets you identify what’s currently released. Jumping straight into CD can create pain by increasing the risk associated with each pipeline run and necessitating more complex configuration.
CI/CD has the potential to transform software delivery processes by automating the repetitive aspects. This guarantees consistency and lets developers concentrate on writing new code. Pipelines aren’t without problems though: as we’ve seen in the five points above, a sub-optimal implementation can even end up hindering your workflow.
It pays to anticipate these pitfalls early on so you can build mitigations that address them. This will help you devise an effective approach to CI/CD that lets you develop code more quickly. A streamlined development experience is a valuable asset for furthering your business goals, making it easier to deliver on customer demands without compromising on quality standards.
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