A continuous delivery pipeline handles continuous integration, delivery, and deployment and is often referred to as a CI/CD pipeline. Since the CI/CD pipeline is a subset of a larger toolchain that includes automated testing and version control, a continuous delivery pipeline is often used to describe the entire system.
Continuous delivery pipelines move application code from its source (developers) and deliver it to end users as an application or online service. Yet building and managing a continuous delivery pipeline cannot be successful without fully understanding how to manage the risk involved. But what exactly does “risk” entail? Here we will look at five key areas of risk within a continuous delivery process along with their causes, consequences, and solutions.
The 5 Risks
Test automation is the foundation of all modern delivery pipelines and a critical piece that can make or break your pipeline. When a developer commits new or updated code into your version control system (VCS), a series of tests are launched. Automated tests serve many roles, one of their most important being to act as a gatekeeper that prevents unstable, risky, or insecure code being released and deployed to customers.
The biggest risks regarding test automation have a number of causes, including over-reliance on manual testing (not enough automated tests) or having too many functional tests (and not enough integration tests). Teams or organizations that want to build and use a delivery pipeline but are heavily reliant on manual tests face the greatest risk of failure. This is because current DevOps delivery practices emphasize an efficient build system that deploys new software versions as fast as possible. Manual tests are simply incompatible with DevOps because they are slow and labor intensive and will cause bottlenecks.
Since writing new tests from scratch could delay launching your automated build process, you might be tempted to repurpose existing automated tests. The problem is that these tests are functional unit tests that developers use to verify that what they build works. They are not designed to test how they work together or the operational aspects of the entire system, such as API calls, performance, and networking. These tests need to be run before and not after you release a product into production.
The best way to resolve test automation risks is by creating a comprehensive range of automated tests. You must also create detailed integration tests that ensure that the new code can be integrated into the system. Some tests will perform non-functional tests that check performance, networking, external APIs, dependencies, and security. Your test sets should include some functional tests, but these should not be at the expense of operational or integration tests.
Any automated process is only as good as the tools selected to do the job. The process must be as seamless and transparent as possible from the user’s perspective.
One of the risks involved in choosing the wrong tools is creating a bad user experience. If user’s feel the new tools make the process cumbersome, those forced to use it will come to resent it and look for their own alternatives. It doesn’t matter if the problems are concentrated in a single subsystem or across an entire pipeline, choosing the wrong CI/CD tool set that gets in the way is a risk you should avoid at all costs. In addition, if some tools are not properly configured, or integrated into the system, they will cause bottlenecks. A system that creates delays will be a problem not just within a company but for its potential and existing customers outside the company as well.
After the system becomes operational, resolving tooling-related risks becomes more difficult. So the best way to resolve these risks is during the planning stages of your pipeline. Finding the right tools for the job requires performing extensive research, and any team or organization unwilling to allocate enough time to this selection process is already taking unnecessary risks. One important factor to consider is the number of options available for any given product. A toolset that tries to cover too many options risks not producing the desired results.
3. Unversioned Code
The output of your delivery pipeline is only as good as its input. In other words, the quality of your end project is highly dependent on the quality of the original source code. This means that version control is an important part of reducing risks.
If version control is not enforced and developers are left to commit code at their discretion, this code will not be tested by your automated tests. This in turn will lead to potentially new issues as well as defects not being discovered before major production releases. This problem is often made worse when an organization ends up supporting multiple version control systems. If a developer chooses to commit code to a repository that is not part of the delivery pipeline, it will not be included in the final build.
A version control system is a key part of your continuous delivery pipeline, You could start by ensuring that all developers commit code into a single distributed version control system, such as Git. An additional benefit of enforcing version control is that it pushes developers into the continuous delivery pipeline, encouraging them to improve the quality of your system’s automated integration tests and to supplement them via additional tests as needed.
Reducing security-related risks entails dealing with a range of both technical and non-technical risks.
Building a delivery pipeline is an important DevOps practice. However, DevOps practitioners are focused on managing application features and functionality as well as the process of building, releasing, and integrating software. Most of them do not have the training or motivation to handle these issues, and, as we all know, ignoring software security is a risky proposition that always results in tragic consequences.
One of the biggest issues when building an automated delivery pipeline is the risk of prioritizing convenience and efficiency over security. Proper enforcement of software security involves paying attention to the news, being aware of the latest exploits, and deploying patches. This process can be exhausting, especially if it’s not your core area of expertise or responsibility.
Many security risks are caused by a lack of awareness and knowledge, which can be resolved by education and training. Being able to identify potential risks and understand how to resolve them is easier to perform during a period of calm than at the same time you are having to deal with their negative impacts.
5. Organizational Confusion
Your pipeline’s success also depends on the people in your organization. The problem is that people and processes entail their own risks, a major one being the confusion involved with building and running a delivery pipeline.
If no one knows what methodology they are following, what it entails, why it matters, and the expected goals and outcomes, the project is lost. If you are building a project based on agile and DevOps principles, a lack of common standards coupled with poorly defined project-related terms will create confusion. Often this results in everybody arguing over definitions and how to apply them. It doesn’t matter if you create great automated tests or have perfect tooling. Your delivery pipeline will fail if you do not create a supportive environment and organizational culture.
The risks associated with organizational confusion and chaos can be reduced by creating, standardizing, and enforcing policies and practices. This involves standardizing the relevant agile, DevOps, and pipeline terminology and practices across your organization and can also be reduced via better communication methods and tools. It is equally important to ensure that all stakeholders and team members have the appropriate agile and DevOps training.
Risk-Free Continuous Delivery
Many of the root causes for these risks are similar. They include unmanaged processes, the lack of useful data and insights, and the inability to monitor and track projects across an organization.
These are the result of wider organizational problems that are made worse by not having systems in place to handle communication, collaboration, analysis, and reporting.
This is where a third-party tool can help you assess and resolve the five risks to your continuous delivery pipeline discussed above. With Panaya’s Release Dynamix [RDx], you can manage your continuous delivery pipeline from value streams, projects, portfolios, tests, and releases. Panaya’s integrated solution provides real-time data collection, planning, tracking and collaboration functionalities for accelerated workflows. Gain powerful analysis and reporting tools to help you make informed decisions and mitigate risk as you manage and track multiple projects with RDx’s graphical dashboards and real-time insights.
For end-to-end business process testing across large enterprises, leverage Panaya Test Dynamix to remove the risks associated with the delivery process. With real-time monitoring and tracking, gain up-to-date insights into project risk and quality, manage defects, and ensure full traceability of all changes.
Building a continuous delivery pipeline involves numerous risks that can seriously derail and potentially destroy your pipeline. Panaya gives you the tools to address the five risks discussed in this article—as well as many others—and can be used to support the processes that minimize risks, such as requirements management, code reviews, and risk-based testing. This gives you a truly integrated approach to risk management for continuous delivery pipelines.