By: IBM Cloud Education

This guide explores the concept of a continuous deployment strategy and how it supports enterprise scalability.

What is continuous deployment?

Continuous deployment is a strategy in software development where code changes to an application are released automatically into the production environment. This automation is driven by a series of predefined tests. Once new updates pass those tests, the system pushes the updates directly to the software's users.

Continuous deployment offers several benefits for enterprises looking to scale their applications and IT portfolio. First, it speeds time to market by eliminating the lag between coding and customer value—typically days, weeks, or even months.

In order to achieve this, regression tests must be automated, thereby eliminating expensive manual regression testing. The systems that organizations put in place to manage large bundles of production change—including release planning and approval meetings—can also be eliminated for most changes.

Continuous deployment vs. …

Continuous deployment vs. continuous delivery

While “continuous deployment” and “continuous delivery” may sound like the same thing, they are actually two different approaches to frequent release.

Continuous delivery is a software development practice where software is built in such a way that it can be released into production at any given time. To accomplish this, a continuous delivery model involves production-like test environments. New builds performed in a continuous delivery solution are automatically deployed into an automatic quality-assurance testing environment that tests for any number of errors and inconsistencies. After the code passes all tests, continuous delivery requires human intervention to approve deployments into production. The deployment itself is then performed by automation.

Continuous deployment takes automation a step further and removes the need for manual intervention. The tests and developers are considered trustworthy enough that an approval for production release is not required. If the tests pass, the new code is considered to be approved, and the deployment to production just happens.

Continuous deployment is the natural outcome of continuous delivery done well. Eventually, the manual approval delivers little or no value and is merely slowly things down. At that point, it is done away with and continuous delivery becomes continuous deployment.

See the following video from Eric Minick for more on the difference between continuous deployment and continuous delivery:

Continuous deployment vs. continuous integration

Another key element in ensuring seamless, continuous deployment is continuous integration. In order for automation of deployment processes to work, all the developers working on a project need an efficient way of communicating the changes that take place. Continuous integration makes this possible.

Typically, when working on the same software development project, developers work off of individual copies of a master branch of code. However, functionality issues and bugs can occur after developers merge their changes onto the main codebase, especially when developers work independently from each other. The longer they work independently, the higher the risk.

With CI, everyone merges their code changes into a repository at least once per day. As updates occur, automated build tests run to ensure that any changes remain compatible with the master branch. This acts as a fail-safe to catch integration problems as quickly as possible.

For a closer look at how continuous integration differs from continuous delivery and continuous deployment, see the blog post “Continuous integration vs. continuous delivery: A quick explainer” and the video "What is Continuous Integration?":

Continuous deployment tools

To continuously develop and deploy high-quality software improvements, developers must use the appropriate tools for building effective DevOps practices. Doing so not only ensures efficient communication between both developmental and operational departments but also minimizes or eliminates errors in the software delivery pipeline.

Here are some of the most crucial tools used in a continuous deployment workflow:

  • Version control: Version control helps with continuous integration by tracking revisions to a particular project’s assets. Also known as “revision" or “source” control, version control helps to improve visibility of a project's updates and changes while helping teams collaborate regardless of where and when they work.
  • Code review: As simple as it sounds, “code review” is a process of using tools to test the current source code. Code reviews help improve the integrity of software by finding bugs and errors in coding and help developers address these issues before deploying updates.
  • Continuous integration (CI): CI is a critical component of continuous deployment and plays a major part in minimizing development roadblocks when multiple developers work on the same project. A variety of proprietary and open source CI tools exist, each catering to the unique complexities of enterprise software deployments.
  • Configuration management: Configuration management is the strategy and discipline of making sure all software and hardware maintain a consistent state. This includes proper configuration and automation of all servers, storage, networking, and software.
  • Release automation: Application release automation (or application release orchestration) is very important when automating all of the activities necessary to drive continuous deployment. Orchestration tools connect processes to one another to ensure developers follow all necessary steps before pushing new changes to production. These tools work closely with configuration management processes to ensure that all project environments are properly provisioned and able to perform at their highest level.
  • Infrastructure monitoring: When operating a continuous deployment model, it’s important to be able to visualize the data that lives in your testing environments. Infrastructure monitoring tools help you analyze application performance to see if changes you make have a positive or negative impact.

Working with Kubernetes

Kubernetes is a great open source solution to use when developing a continuous deployment pipeline. Because of its flexible, logical, and intuitive user interface, Kubernetes makes it possible to reduce the common problems that arise when running into server usage restrictions and outages while supporting modern infrastructure and multicloud deployments.

Kubernetes helps increase the agility of DevOps processes. Because of its modular design, Kubernetes allows alteration of individual pods inside a service, as well as seamless transitions between pods. This flexibility helps development teams avoid server downtime and allows for maximum resource utilization when running microservices. Kubernetes is also an extremely reliable platform that can detect the readiness and overall health of applications and services before they’re deployed to the public.

Continuous deployment across diverse applications

When creating continuous delivery or continuous deployment infrastructure, it’s important to source the right enterprise solution that will give your business the confidence it needs to automate software testing and deployment processes. IBM UrbanCode Deploy is an application deployment automation platform that provides the visibility, traceability, and auditing capabilities businesses need to drive their software development needs in one optimized package.

Multicloud deployments

Using UrbanCode Deploy’s Easy Process and Blueprint Designer, organizations can create custom cloud environment models to visualize how their applications should be deployed to public, private, and hybrid cloud. Blueprint Designer allows users to create, update, and break down full-stack computing environments while enabling full cloud orchestration capabilities. All environments can then be provisioned to deploy application components automatically or on demand.

Distributed automation

UrbanCode Deploy is a highly scalable solution that supports the dynamic deployment of all mission-critical applications and services. Architected to meet the unique requirements of enterprises deploying across multiple data centers, UrbanCode Deploy supports master server clustering and uses lightweight deployments to provide immediate availability of services.

Quality gates and approvals

Being able to rely on the accuracy of automated testing environments is absolutely critical to successfully achieving continuous deployment. For some environments, however, it’s necessary to create certain conditions that flag manual approvals to ensure that the right information is pushed to production at the right time. UrbanCode Deploy features deployment approvals and gates to give administrators more control, visibility, and auditing capabilities over their continuous deployment processes.

Tested integrations

While UrbanCode Deploy supports the use of your own scripts, out-of-the-box plugins make deployment processes easier to design and manage. By using tested integrations, developers can utilize pre-built automation that has already been proven. This replaces the need to create custom scripts specifically for UrbanCode Deploy.

IBM UrbanCode Deploy features advanced process orchestration and collaboration tools that make it possible for enterprises to organize all of their deployment needs in one easy-to-use, customizable dashboard. Whether deploying applications on-premise, off-premise, or across thousands of managed servers, UrbanCode Deploy gives you all the solutions you need to ensure continuous delivery and rapid deployment across your entire enterprise.

To learn more about IBM UrbanCode Deploy and how it can evolve your deployment process, explore IBM’s deployment automation solution.

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