The best SaaS organizations aren’t just using powerful tools and employing seasoned developers. They’re also embracing the benefits of Continuous Delivery (CD). Imagine a train delivering goods regularly, reliably, and right on time. That’s CD for software. It means deploying updates and new features quickly and seamlessly.
But, making this happen isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a journey involving agile planning, fine-tuning your DevOps, and focusing on incremental releases. This way, your software keeps evolving and improving without a hitch. To make this a reality, let’s dive into workflows that help achieve this sustainable, dependable delivery process.
What is Continuous Delivery?
Continuous delivery is a software development practice. It automatically gets code changes ready for release. This step is key in making apps today. When done right, a version of the software that passed all tests is always ready.
This practice allows many tests to run automatically. These tests can check user interfaces, handle a lot of users, and see how software parts interact. This way, issues are found before customers find them. Thanks to the internet, making and copying test environments is now easier and less expensive.
Continuous Delivery vs. Continuous Deployment
Continuous delivery and continuous deployment are often confused. But they are different. Continuous deployment is sending all code changes to production quickly. It’s good for web services but not for firmware or mobile apps. But, continuous delivery can be used for all software and in strict areas. Even if you don’t plan on using continuous deployment, you can start with continuous delivery.
People often see continuous delivery and continuous deployment as risky. They think it’s not suited for regulated or safety-important areas. But, continuous delivery actually reduces software risk. Studies show that top performers using it have more reliable and available software. The practices that support continuous delivery are even more important in strict and safety-critical areas. Continuous delivery has been used successfully in regulated areas like financial services and government.
Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)
Continuous integration is a way of coding. It encourages teams to make small code changes often and check them in a control place. With many modern apps, teams use different platforms and tools. So, they need a reliable way to join and check changes. Continuous integration is this way. It automatically builds, packs, and tests applications. This consistent process helps developers make code changes more often. This leads to better teamwork and code quality.
Continuous delivery starts where continuous integration ends. It automatically delivers applications to chosen places. These places could be for making, testing, or using the applications. Continuous delivery is an automated way to send code changes to these places.
Stages in SaaS Continuous Delivery Pipeline
Continuous delivery in SaaS automates pushing applications to multiple environments for testing and review. DevOps engineers often use tools like AWS CodeBuild, Jenkins, or CircleCI to make these steps automatic and provide detailed reports.
For example, in Jenkins, engineers define their pipelines in a Jenkinsfile. This file describes stages such as build, test, and deploy, and includes important details like secret keys and certificates.
Here’s a typical journey through these stages:
- Code pulling and building: First, the system pulls code from version control and builds it.
- Automated checks: Next, the system runs automated checks for security, quality, and compliance. It can also set up approvals if needed.
- Infrastructure automation: Then, the system performs any needed steps to start or stop cloud infrastructure.
- Code movement: After that, the system moves the code to the target computer environment.
- Variable management: The system then manages environment variables and configures them for the target environment.
- Component pushing: Next, the system pushes application parts to their correct services, such as web servers, APIs, and database services.
- Service restarting: The system takes necessary steps to restart services or call service endpoints needed for new code pushes.
- Testing and rollbacks: The system runs continuous tests and, if a test fails, it rolls back the environment.
- Log provision: The system provides log data and alerts about the delivery state.
- Database updates and alerts: Finally, the system updates configuration management databases and sends alerts to IT service management workflows about finished deployments.
In more advanced pipelines, the system might also synchronize data, archive resources, or patch applications and libraries. If the team uses continuous deployment for production, they might use different practices to manage deployment risks and reduce downtime, like configuring canary deployments to gradually shift usage from the old software version to the new one.
Continuous Integration: Steps to Follow In SaaS
Set Up Continuous Integration Process
First off, establish a continuous integration process. This allows you to build, test, and shift your code across various environments. It offers fast feedback when changes are made and detects issues at the onset. It ensures changes aren’t pushed forward until they’re reliably built and tested.
Use a Continuous Integration Server
Next, deploy a continuous integration server. It allows developers to test code across different environments and tests, ensuring system stability. It bolsters confidence when moving code to production, enabling quicker product updates.
Establish a Continuous Deployment Process
For a SaaS startup, systematic spinning up of new environments or servers to deploy code for development, testing, or production is vital. Software should always be ready for deployment. This is the button-pushing phase: when a new feature arrives, the infrastructure gets deployed, and the code is already penned, ready to go live.
Utilize a CI/CD Pipeline
A CI/CD pipeline helps deliver features and fixes quickly to your customers. It starts with building your application or feature, integrating it, and then deploying it. This process helps prevent user-impacting errors before deployment. If something slips, the source is easily identified for quick fixes.
Verify the code
It’s essential, though challenging, to implement automated quality processes for web applications. Tools like Selenium are excellent for functionality testing. However, the verification should start even before that. Static code analysis tools such as PMD are crucial to ensure your team is coding against a single style. Set a team style and make sure everyone follows it. Unit test coverage, with a minimum of 75% coverage, is also critical.
In continuous delivery, packaging involves capturing changes so they can be incrementally released into the next stage or environment. Assign a branch for each stage and bundle incremental changes into a promotion branch. This strategy allows you to take advantage of the merge conflict detection in your Version Control System (VCS).
Releases should move through a well-defined pipeline with strict quality gates. These gates ensure verification steps and maintain the order of release stages. It’s essential that developers can’t bypass stages, such as integration and testing, to release directly from development to production. Keep differences between stages minimal as smaller changes lead to reliable, predictable releases.
Quickly delivering new features to customers boosts your product’s reputation and draws in new customers. For SaaS startups, it’s crucial to have an expert DevOps team. The speed at which you convert an idea or customer request into a feature determines its business value. DevOps and CI/CD may appear daunting, but they revolutionize how you build and deploy solutions. With managed DevOps, you can tailor the perfect pipeline for your needs, letting your team focus on creating the best SaaS solution possible.
Introduce Automated Testing in your CI/CD Pipeline
Incorporate automated testing in your CI/CD process. It expedites feature delivery to customers with improved quality and security. Traditional testing methods often slow down the pipeline. Automated testing, on the other hand, removes this bottleneck.
Monitor, Monitor, Monitor
While most SaaS companies monitor service availability and performance, the best ones also monitor data access to detect improper configuration changes. They even monitor end-user feature usage, providing product managers with valuable insights.
Security Automation with Continuous Delivery
Automated testing, a vital part of continuous delivery, doesn’t stop at regression tests. It extends to performance, API, browser, and device tests. An advanced step includes incorporating static code analysis and security testing right into the CI/CD pipeline. This method, known as ‘shift-left’ testing, promotes early and more proactive detection of potential issues.
Furthermore, teams can test interactions with external systems, such as third-party APIs and SaaS, using service virtualization. This testing is triggered via the command line, a webhook, or a web service and delivers a clear success or failure response.
In continuous delivery, the idea of continuous testing is integral. It means that test automation is thoroughly integrated into the CI/CD pipeline. Early detection tests like unit and functionality tests are run during the continuous integration process.
Other tests that demand a full delivery environment, such as performance and security tests, are part of continuous delivery and are executed after a build reaches its target environments. By intertwining continuous testing and security automation, teams enhance their ability to create secure, high-quality software efficiently.
Pipeline Management: Efficient Use and Maintenance
A CI/CD pipeline is like a car. You don’t just build it, you maintain it. This keeps the pipeline efficient and up-to-date with software changes. Part of the upkeep is checking pipeline health. You can do this with key measures like deployment speed, change time, failure rate, and recovery time. Regular checks can show where to improve the pipeline.
The pipeline must also be flexible. It should adapt to different needs. This includes handling feature flags, canary deployments, and blue-green deployments. This flexibility lets teams experiment safely and roll back changes if needed.
Using CI/CD Tools: Exploring New Horizons
Tools and technologies are always evolving in the fast-paced SaaS world of SaaS. Teams must stay ahead by exploring new tools that can boost their CI/CD pipeline. For instance, consider Infrastructure as Code (IaC). Tools like Terraform or Pulumi can automate infrastructure setup and make it more reliable. Similarly, container orchestration tools like Kubernetes or Docker Swarm can help manage application deployments more efficiently.
There’s also an increase in Serverless technologies. These remove the need to manage servers and can be great for specific use-cases. AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Functions are examples of Serverless platforms. Exploring and adopting these new tools can provide teams with a competitive edge. They can deliver faster and maintain higher quality in their software.
Continuous delivery can be a game-changer for the SaaS industry. With so much software at play, it’s only natural to use this approach to streamline the development process. If you’re thinking of leveraging CD to improve your custom development and testing processes, make sure to follow the best practices mentioned in this article. Here’s a recap:
- CD is the practice of getting code changes ready for release quickly and reliably.
- It’s important to distinguish between continuous delivery and continuous deployment. CD applies to all software and can be particularly beneficial in regulated sectors.
- A good CI/CD pipeline involves building, testing, and deploying code. Automated testing helps maintain code quality and security.
- Effective CD includes steps like packaging and releasing, following strict quality gates.
- Using modern tools and technologies can make CI/CD pipelines more efficient.
- Lastly, maintenance and flexibility are crucial for a successful CI/CD pipeline. They ensure the pipeline stays relevant and adaptable to changing needs.
By mastering these, a SaaS organization can make the most of Continuous Delivery. They can deliver better software, faster, and in a more reliable way.