Software development cycles are complex. As teams, tools, applications, and infrastructure grows, so does this complexity. In order to meet the demand for faster software development cycles while combatting these complexities, organizations have adopted strategies for automating how they develop, test, and release software.
This automated approach empowers teams to quickly and consistently accelerate their software development through three phases: Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Deployment. Also known as the CI/CD pipeline, these related but distinct strategies help development teams transform their software development and release practices.
While Continuous Integration amplifies collaborative development by integrating individual work into a main repository throughout the day, Continuous Delivery focuses on eliminating friction in the release process. Continuous Delivery is all about automating the steps for deploying a build for safer releases. Some teams also take it a step further and include Continuous Deployment which automates deployment to production.
While each of these three CI/CD pipeline phases help accelerate the software development lifecycle, in this guide we’ll get down and dirty with Continuous Delivery. We’ll explain what is Continuous Delivery and how it works, as well as walk you through the Continuous Delivery process, and explore how Continuous Delivery leads to a better deployment process.
What is Continuous Delivery?
Continuous Delivery is a software development practice where code changes are automatically prepared for a release to production. A pillar of modern application development, Continuous Delivery expands Continuous Integration by deploying all code changes to a testing environment after the build stage. It aims to create short, effective feedback loops so software quality can be consistently improved. When properly implemented, developers will always have a deployment-ready build artifact that has passed through a standardized test process.
How does Continuous Delivery fit into CI/CD?
Continuous Delivery is a portion of the CI/CD pipeline, which stands for Continuous Integration Continuous Delivery. The first part of CI/CD pipeline is Continuous Integration, which is the automation of software code changes by regularly building, testing, and merging branches into a shared repository.
Continuous Integration focuses on merging changes into the main branch automatically, minimizing integration challenges between developers’ work. It hones in on automating the beginning stages of the pipeline (the initial build and test), while Continuous Delivery focuses on the end of the cycle. Also sometimes included in that pipeline is Continuous Deployment.
What’s the difference between Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment?
A progression of Continuous Delivery, Continuous Deployment further automates the CICD pipeline, with every change automatically being pushed to production. Continuous Deployment is the progression of Continuous Delivery, removing the manual deployment of production within the software delivery lifecycle.
How does Continuous Delivery work?
Continuous Delivery eliminates manual processes, automating the entire software release practice. It automates how teams commit source code to repositories after the build stage. Changes to applications are automatically bug tested and uploaded to your repository.
Continuous Delivery streamlines deploying to environments for automated testing. Every revision that’s committed triggers an automated flow that builds, tests, and then stages the latest update. In Continuous Delivery the final decision to deploy to production is manually triggered by the developer.
By automating the deployment of your code from development to staging, or other environments for UAT or load testing, Continuous Delivery eliminates inefficiencies and reduces troubleshooting with a consistent code deployment process. Your team is able to release more often, speeding up the feedback loop with your customers.
Continuous Delivery solves poor visibility and communications between development and operations, reducing the effort to deploy new code. Without Continuous Delivery, development and operations are further separated through manual, error-prone hand-offs.
How is Continuous Delivery related to DevOps?
DevOps focuses on cultures and roles, with an emphasis on responsiveness. DevOps intent is to avoid overspecialization or siloing of roles in an org, making responses rapid. DevOps culture breaks down the barriers between Development and Operations by broadening skillsets. This approach leads to higher-quality collaboration and communication.
CI/CD focuses on software-defined life cycles, with an emphasis on tools that provide automation. Continuous Delivery practices support DevOps culture by helping teams understand what configuration, packaging, and operations software are needed to automate the delivery portion of the software development lifecycle. DevOps culture helps create a more valuable Continuous Delivery practice.
DevOps culture seeks to create integrated efforts between the Development and Operations teams, removing the silos between them.
Continuous Delivery promotes DevOps culture like that Daft Punk: “better, faster, stronger”.
It’s about making your software development life cycle better for your team members by removing time-wasting elements, speeding up your process to be faster from end-to-end, ultimately releasing stronger products for your customers by using more coordinated and timely releases. Truly effective engineering teams practice CI/CD within their DevOps culture.
“The time when it was acceptable to wait for days, weeks or even months for someone to build and configure an environment is long gone.” - Gartner
Continuous Delivery Benefits
Continuous Delivery benefits your entire organization with critical business value adds:
Efficient, sustainable, streamlined workflows: Continuous Delivery’s automated processes ensures delivery tasks will be done the same way every time, allowing you to innovate better and faster.
Reduced costs with increased quality: Saving time by removing manual processes with Continuous Delivery means your teams are better utilized and service levels are amplified. Efficiently running teams removes redundant roles, saving costs without skimping on quality products.
Confidence through visibility: Delivering continuously means delivering confidently. Operations and regulations run smoothly, with automated monitoring, reporting and debugging.
Enhanced teamwork: Teamwork makes the dream work with Continuous Delivery by letting your team focus on the business value workload. Automations allow for continuous, fast collaboration between software developers, quality engineers, and application integrators.
Developer happiness: Continuous Delivery’s reduction of team burnout through automated, painless releases might be THE biggest benefit to your organization.
A software development lifecycle without Continuous Delivery means that completed builds will bottleneck between the build/test stages and deployment to the repository.
It brings to mind a story of children’s book character Curious George, who visits a chocolate factory and accidentally pulls a lever, speeding up production so that the worker at the end of the conveyor belt can’t put chocolate into boxes quickly enough. It becomes a logistical issue that puts too much pressure on a single “team member” to manually solve in an unsustainable way.
You can’t hire a chocolate-loving monkey to help with software development bottlenecks, but Continuous Delivery prevents the same problem from happening in the AppDev world.
Continuous Delivery Best Practices
How do you start implementing Continuous Delivery into your business’s software development lifecycle today? Here’s a down and dirty list of Continuous Delivery best practices to get you started, and keep you continuously improving:
Manage Your Mindset: Not just a process, Continuous Delivery is a mindset - work toward a common vision of CD, taking meaningful steps to build your pipeline. Establish automated tests for your build, align on using the same build of the app through your entire pipeline, and fix problems in your code, not in place.
Refine Your Continuous Integration: You can’t have Continuous Delivery without refined Continuous Integration.
Include a Minimum of One-Stop from Development to Production: Validate in at least one hands-off environment to ensure your code and scripts are production-ready.
Every Environment Deployment is the Same: The core concept behind Continuous Delivery is to use the same automated release mechanism for EVERY environment. Regardless of environment, use the same automated release mechanism to reduce issues deploying and allow for easier troubleshooting.
Treat Version Control like Mission Control: A strong version control system will have your back, and you won’t truly appreciate it until you’re in the thick of laborious rework.
How to Get Started with Continuous Delivery
To get started with Continuous Delivery, you’ll need to make sure your team has successfully embraced Continuous Integration. Here are some steps to get your started:
Embrace Agile: Having a mature agile practice will provide the necessary framework for Continuous Delivery. Establish baseline metrics to track your progress and use componentized architecture as you create new applications, refactoring legacy apps.
Determine Management Approach: Answer higher level questions on whether you want to move your applications and databases to the cloud, whether you should use containers, and how you’ll manage them.
Provision Tools: Configure tooling to teams to manage and support your new architecture. Explore the next section for Continuous Delivery tool options.
Secure your Infrastructure and Operations: Automate your infrastructure for securing your applications and data. With increased delivery speed, security is critical.
Monitor, monitor, monitor: Performance monitoring will provide rapid feedback on your releases, as well as triaging performance dips.
Continuous Delivery Tools
The industry is bursting with tools for Continuous Delivery, many with built-in Continuous Integration capabilities. Solutions focused on automating the steps within Continuous Delivery free up your team to focus on the next feature rollout. With so many options to choose from, we’ve highlighted some of the key tools to help continuously deliver with release, deployment, operations, and monitoring offerings.
At Launchable, we’re pretty familiar with Jenkins, the leading open source automation server, Jenkins provides hundreds of plugins to support building, deploying and automating any project. Originally developed by Kohsuke for Continuous Integration (CI), today Jenkins orchestrates the entire software delivery pipeline – called Continuous Delivery.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world's most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, offering over 200 fully featured services from data centers globally. AWS offers Continuous Delivery tools including AWS CodeCommit, AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodeDeploy, and AWS CodePipeline.
Focusing on operations, PagerDuty supports Continuous Delivery with fast issue resolutions, focusing on uptime with runbook automation, incident response, and intelligent event management.
A monitoring and security platform for cloud applications, DataDog is part of Continuous Delivery through it’s end-to-end traces, metrics, and logs making applications, infrastructure, and third-party services entirely observable.
Another Continuous Delivery tool well known to Launchable crew members, JFrog Pipelines is an automation solution for building, testing, and deploying software as part of CI/CD pipelines. It provides end-to-end orchestration and optimization of all key processes of your DevOps pipeline.
The adoption of Continuous Delivery into your team’s software delivery lifecycle promotes iterating faster by removing pressure on decisions for small, incremental changes. Continuous Delivery removes the complexities plaguing software delivery, establishing a faster cycle time. The ability to release frequently and consistently accelerates your team’s feedback loop with your customers, improving your customer experience.