5 weaknesses limiting the success of the CI / CD pipeline

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Continuous integration and deployment (CI / CD) pipelines automate software development processes by running tests and builds every time you change your code. CI / CD is one of the core components of effective DevOps methodologies, where code authorship is combined with IT operations and quality assurance functions to create more holistic workflows.

However, CI / CD pipelines can be difficult to obtain. Deciding which parts of a process need to be automated, streamlining the implementation of individual pipelines, and equipping teams with the tools to get the most value out of the system require deliberate attention and effort across the organization.

In this article, we will look at five specific pain points that often prevent CI / CD from being adopted. Intentionally addressing these common pitfalls can make processes more reliable and easier to control.

1. Pipelines too slow

CI / CD should simplify software development. Some of the biggest headaches are created by slow-running pipelines that prevent developers from completing their work. Having to wait for a long pipeline to run after each code change creates friction and slows the loop.

You can often speed up pipelines by running multiple tasks in parallel. Make sure pipelines are configured to terminate as soon as a failure point is reached – if unit tests detect an error, the entire pipeline should be canceled and marked as a failure without delay. In some situations, simply provisioning additional compute resources for your work runners can be a path to an immediate performance boost.

Another path to increasing performance is to assess whether pipelines are doing too much work in response to each change. Changes to a style sheet used in the front end of your website usually do not require retesting aimed at the backend components. This would unnecessarily increase pipeline runtime without providing additional actionable information to the frontend developer who made the change.

2. Consumption of resources and costs of the cloud

The adoption of CI / CD is beneficial for software distribution, but it also involves significant resource requirements. Large teams with many projects may find that pipelines are continuously running as developers regularly commit new code throughout the day. This can quickly consume infrastructure capacity and result in significant costs for cloud service providers.

Using a managed CI / CD service such as GitHub Actions or GitLab CI can reduce this problem, but you will still have to pay for the minutes of running the work you use. Conversely, keep your fleet of runners on self-managed hardware assets by making sure there is enough capacity to keep pipelines running smoothly.

Setting resource consumption limits on a team or project basis can be a good way to balance peak performance with significant cost savings. This also prevents individual jobs from consuming too many resources at the expense of others.

In addition to accelerating pipelines and reducing expenses, having spare capacity is important in order to quickly implement any necessary emergency changes. It should not be necessary to hastily suspend or cancel jobs that are already running when hotfixes need to be sent to production, but 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 are accepted as the only source of truth in your organization. This relies on everyone’s ability to collaborate to inspect running jobs, see what’s being deployed, and understand how pipelines define workflow.

Clear communication methods are needed between different teams, such as developers and operations, project managers and QA. Isolating pipelines to particular individuals and work groups reduces their overall value. Allowing collaborative access means that project managers can verify if a change has been implemented by personally inspecting the pipeline history, facilitating the seamless exchange of information between disciplines.

In addition to automated tasks like testing and building code, your pipelines should also cater to the manual parts of the process. Most CI systems include ownership and code approval capabilities that allow you to automatically redirect changes between teams to the appropriate review points. Having to leave the platform to collaborate reduces efficiency and creates the risk of information being lost during transmission.

4. Inadequate monitoring and metrics

CI / CD results in a pipeline through which all code passes. This pipeline gives you the opportunity to collect metrics that produce insights derived from data on the effectiveness of your development process.

Tracking statistics such as the number of pipelines run, success rate, and number of errors before success can reveal trends in code quality, delivery frequency, and change lead time. These metrics can reveal hidden opportunities to optimize your cycle. Not monitoring them means losing data that could help you iterate faster and more effectively.

Data collection is also important for auditing and compliance. Being able to verify who started a pipeline, if it passed and what artifacts were produced are key compliance checks when it is necessary to verify if the appropriate processes have been followed during the life cycle of a project.

5. Going straight for continuous delivery

CI / CD is often promoted as a single technology, but its two building blocks are able to stand independently. Continuous integration (CI), whereby new changes are regularly tested, built and merged, is the key element. Continuous distribution (CD) is a second phase that usually involves automating the distribution of these changes in live production environments.

Some organizations believe CD practice is a requirement for a successful pipeline implementation. However, continuous delivery should actually be seen as an optional extra, configured in situations where the organization’s broader culture supports it.

CI allows you to certify that changes made to the code leave it safe for delivery at that time. This is not the same as entering into that code must be delivered immediately. You are free to use the distribution strategy that best suits your product and customers – for example, waiting to implement changes at a certain time each week.

Using CDs without proper care and attention can create new dangers in pipelines. The CD must be protected by guard rails as a well-proven rollback strategy and comprehensive distribution monitoring to identify what is currently released. Going directly to the CD can create problems by increasing the risk associated with each pipeline run and requiring a more complex configuration.

Summary

CI / CD has the potential to transform software delivery processes by automating repetitive aspects. This consistency and allows developers to focus on writing ensures new code. However, pipelines aren’t without problems – as we’ve seen in the previous five points, a sub-optimal implementation can even end up hindering your workflow.

It pays to anticipate these pitfalls early so that you can create mitigations that address them. This will help you come up with an effective CI / CD approach that allows you to develop code faster. An optimized development experience is a valuable resource for furthering your business goals, making it easier to meet customer demands without compromising quality standards.