Continuous deployment is a strategy that's increasingly popular for many businesses when it comes to developing new software solutions. But while this can offer a wide range of benefits when it’s done correctly, implementing it can be more difficult than many firms anticipate.
If companies don't manage these processes properly, it can be easy to become overwhelmed in a seemingly-never ending cycle of development sprints, testing and changes. And testing is one area that's particularly easy to overlook, as it’s traditionally something that has been left until later in the development process.
But in a continuous environment, there’s no clearly-defined end-stage testing will naturally slot into, so instead it’s something that must be factored in at every stage of the project. This, in turn, requires a change in thinking to software development teams.
The challenges of continuous delivery
What's often referred to as 'continuous delivery' will actually be a set of related, but distinct processes that need to come together in order to create a coherent strategy for software development. This includes continuous building, continuous integration and continuous deployment.
A common issue for dev teams when it comes to this is simply keeping pace with the ever-changing requirements. Often, by the time they’ve got to grips with one set of requirements, the environment has moved on. But developers will still need to ensure their existing solutions remain compatible.
A real-world example of this is the constant evolution of mobile operating systems. While iOS and Android typically get big changes to a new version once a year, there are constant new iterations and security patches between these major updates. Therefore, when developing software for these platforms, programmers need to make sure their apps will still work. Starting from scratch isn’t an option, so they must be continually testing their code to ensure it stays compatible.
How DevTestOps can help businesses
A key tool to help meet these challenges is DevTestOps. This builds on the DevOps trend - which seeks to erase traditional boundaries between the development and operations. This has become one of the most important strategies for companies seeking to streamline their processes.
DevOps aims to automate as much of the development process as possible, removing the time-consuming and often error-prone manual steps that slow down development cycles. For example, in traditional approaches, each stage needs to be handed off to the next person in the pipeline, which is often a highly bureaucratic process that results in no-one actually taking ownership of a project.
By removing these distinct, siloed phases, DevOps seeks to eliminate issues such as these. And including testing throughout the cycle - turning DevOps into DevTestOps - ensures such processes are performed by everyone involved in the project at all times, not just those explicitly assigned to these activities at certain times.
Key steps for enterprises
An important step for successfully implementing this is to practice test-driven development (TDD). This ensures developers are factoring in testing at every stage of their work, writing tests for every piece of code they produce as they go along, and not simply leaving it until major changes have been done before undergoing tests.
Businesses may think this will increase the amount of time taken to get a project ready to go live if every minor change is being tested. But in reality, this approach can greatly reduce the overall timelines, as issues can be spotted and corrected before they have a chance to cause major issues that will require more significant correction. While transitioning from more traditional ways of working may take some getting used to, continuous testing should quickly become second nature.
Another technique to consider is a 'canary releasing' strategy. This involves releasing new versions of software into production, but only exposing it to a small number of users, who in effect act as beta testers - though they won't be aware of it. After it passes these real-world environmental tests, you can then release it to more servers in your infrastructure and open it up to more users.
In continuous environments, such techniques can reduce the risk that updates are widely distributed in production before they’ve been adequately tested, helping to achieve zero downtime, which should be the goal of any DevTestOps strategy.