DevOps combines software development and IT operations. DevOps tools and methodologies designed to speed up the development of a product and facilitate efficiency throughout its lifecycle. DevOps manages and automates the monotonous and repetitive tasks that slow down development and deployment processes. DevOps automation speeds up tasks related to building, testing, deploying, and monitoring software to create tighter feedback loops and faster iteration cycles. Automation reduces the burden and cost of repetitive manual tasks. In this article, you will learn how you can use automation to achieve a fast and efficient DevOps workflow.
Why use DevOps automation?
The entire deployment process can be automated - no human intervention required. Your developers can focus on coding, and you will know that only working, well-tested code will be deployed. Without the risk of human error, your deployments will be faster, smoother, and more consistent. Using CI/CD to automate development gives your team tools to monitor these deployments, which will help you be proactive when it comes to bug fixes and changes.
Automating DevOps with CI/CD
A continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline is a DevOps tool that facilitates the automation of some development and deployment lifecycle processes. A pipeline is constructed of workflows you define. A workflow is a series of steps, called jobs, that are triggered when a change like a new commit in your code repository occurs in your application ecosystem. CI/CD pipelines allow you to use configuration as code to programmatically define the tasks you wish to automate, ensuring every change to your application is processed using the same series of steps.
What can be automated?
Many of the routine and time-consuming tasks developers must do when deploying applications or updates can be automated. In fact, the CI/CD pipeline can automate steps throughout the entire software delivery life cycle.
Some of the tasks that can be automated with pipelines include:
- Building code
- Running tests on the code
- Running security scans
- Deploying the code
- Monitoring and observing the deployments
Although most CI/CD processes are triggered by a new commit to a shared repository, you can kick off an automated pipeline from a variety of triggers that may or may not involve changes pushed by a developer, including webhook events, API calls, and scheduled pipelines that run at regular intervals.
Use cases for DevOps automation
This section details the two top use cases where automation can be a tremendous boon to the DevOps process:
- During development
- During deployment
During the development of applications, developer spend time building the code, running unit tests, and ensuring that a pull request does not break anything. These tasks are repetitive and they take up valuable time developers could spend working on new features. While all these tasks must be completed, your developers do not necessarily have to be the ones to do them.
You can set up a pipeline on the development branch of your version control so that once a developer has committed to it, the pipeline will build the code and run the tests. And once all these tasks run successfully, the pipeline will create a pull request to your main branch. The pipeline can then assign a user to review the code.
You can set up the pipeline on the pull request to build and run more comprehensive integration tests and security scans, making the review process much simpler and less prone to human error. The reviewer (if you choose to include manual checks in your pipeline) will make sure that the code does not have any breaking errors, and the tests will ensure that the logic of each component is working as expected. If one of the tests fails or the pipeline cannot build the code, the pull request will be rejected, and the developer responsible for the change will be notified. The reviewer doesn’t need to manually pull the code and build it or run tests to see if anything is broken, saving time for other tasks.
While building and running tests on code is an integral part of the development lifecycle, it can be a long, drawn-out process that only grows as the application gets larger. And the larger an application gets, the more places there are for something to go wrong.
Automating the build and testing process frees your developers’ time so they can focus more on actual code changes rather than worrying if the code can be built and if all the tests pass.
Deploying code to a server and monitoring it to make sure everything is running smoothly is another key process that can be automated with DevOps.
A CI/CD pipeline can be set up to deploy to your servers once a change has been committed to the main branch, or you can set up a time-based deployment to deploy the application at a specific time. With the power of the pipelines, code can be built and tested without much human intervention. If anything fails, the code will not deploy.
Automation ensures that only working and tested code will be deployed, relieving a source of developer stress.
Multiple endpoints can be set up so you can deploy a website to a cloud-hosted server while deploying a database to your on-premises servers. After deployment, you can use monitoring tools to make sure that everything is running smoothly. If something goes wrong, the administrator and developers will be alerted. The developers will then be able to access the logs and start working on a solution before the end user notifies support about the issue.
Which DevOps processes should be automated?
Many aspects of the development process can be automated to save time and money and reduce the risk of human error. Start by looking for repetitive, monotonous, and time-consuming tasks — like building and testing the code that has been pushed to a branch. These are good places to begin automating.
Afterward, you can move forward with automating the rest of the processes. Once triggered, a pipeline can run immediately and follow each step in the process as soon as the previous step has been completed. Some tasks can even be run in parallel with each other. This means a pipeline is able to build, test, and deploy code at a much faster rate than if you were to rely on manual labor.
How DevOps processes are automated
Creating a fully automated CI/CD pipeline does take some work, but the return on investment can be significant.
A pipeline is usually built on top of a source control system, and uses scripts and webhooks to integrate third-party tools and services to automate development and deployment. Because the pipeline is built on top of your code, it can be triggered when a developer commits code to a specified branch or when a pull request is created.
YAML is the language most often used to set up pipelines. A YAML configuration file outlines the steps that the pipeline must take with the code once triggered.
Benefits of DevOps automation
The top benefits of DevOps automation include:
- Easier collaboration
- Time savings
- Speed to market
- Faster troubleshooting
- Peace of mind
The pipeline will build and test your application after each commit, so multiple developers can work on the same feature at the same time without time-consuming merge conflicts.
Developers working on different sections of the same feature don’t need to spend time testing other developers’ code. Each developer needs only to focus on their own section, allowing your team to iterate faster and more efficiently.
Speed to market
Automations allow for instantaneous action. This means the system can execute each step as soon as the previous one has been completed, and some steps can even be done in parallel. In this case, deployment can happen faster than with manual labor.
The monitoring and alerting capabilities of pipelines notify developers if their committed code fails to build, fails a test, or if errors occur after deployment. If something goes wrong in production, your team of developers can immediately get to work on a solution before end users start reporting issues.
Peace of mind
After each commit, the branch is built and tested according to how you have set up the pipeline. After each operation, you will know whether or not your code is runnable and if the rest of the system is working as intended. Each deployment can be made to multiple endpoints with as little downtime as possible.
DevOps automation can help make your life a lot easier. With CI/CD pipelines, you can automate time-consuming tasks in the development lifecycle and reduce the costs, complexity, and toil associated with repetitive manual tasks. Additionally, you can use pipelines to add an extra layer of quality control and assurance to the deployment process and post-deployment monitoring, giving you the confidence you need to move quickly and deliver value to your customers.
Although building a full CI/CD pipeline does require a learning curve, it is well worth the investment. To get started automating your development workflows with best in class CI/CD, sign up for a free CircleCI account and follow our quickstart guide to get your first pipeline up and running in 10 minutes or less.