DevOps Lifecycle: Building the Continuous Pipeline
A DevOps lifecycle enables software development teams to create a continuous workflow that maximizes quality and efficiency. DevOps lifecycle workflows typically include seven continuous phases — development, integration, testing, deployment, operations, monitoring, and feedback.
Pipelines based on the DevOps lifecycle focus on all parts of the software development and maintenance processes, rather than solely the build stage. When implemented correctly, the result is improved development productivity, but successful adoption can be challenging.
In this article, you will learn:
- What is the DevOps lifecycle?
- 7 phases of the DevOps lifecycle
- 3 challenges affecting the DevOps lifecycle
What Is the DevOps Lifecycle?
The DevOps lifecycle is a feedback-based process that begins with project planning and continues until a product or version is deprecated. This cycle helps R&D, DevOps, and SRE teams account for the current and future states of their products without interruption.
The purpose of the lifecycle is to help teams standardize development and operations processes and identify issues or inconsistencies. When implemented correctly, it helps ensure that no procedures are missed and enables teams to focus on maximizing quality and efficiency.
Phases of the DevOps Lifecycle
There are seven phases, which apply to each change in a project (whether it is a change to business logic or configuration). However, changes may be sent back to previous phases (i.e., rolled-back) if issues are found.
Since multiple changes are often developed and deployed simultaneously to existing live services, many of these phases run concurrently. This concurrency is why processes in the cycle are referred to as continuous.
During development, new code is created and submitted to the master branch of the project. Typically, developers will work on a single feature or user story at a time. Working in small segments improves the chances that changes remain compatible with the codebase and reduces the chance of bugs going unnoticed for long periods of time.
This phase relies heavily on source control tools that enable multiple developers to work on the same codebase. Tools such as Git or Subversion enable each developer to introduce modifications based on a reliable master branch. This helps reduce conflicts created by changes and reduces the chance that one developer’s work will negatively impact another’s.
Once a developer is finished with a piece of code, they submit a pull request to have the code integrated into the master branch. This request initiates a code review and starts the integration process.
During this phase, code is checked by other developers for quality and logical consistency. It also undergoes automatic tests, including linting, unit testing, contract testing, and more. These tests verify that submitted changes do not destabilize the existing code base, and ensure that submissions meet the fundamental requirements for production-readiness.
Assuming there are no issues, a build is created against which the rest of the testing suite can run. A new build is created for each code submission, and the same build is used throughout testing. This ensures that tests are performed reliably and eliminates the chance that errors in subsequent builds affect testing.
During testing, new builds are pushed through automated test suites to detect functional, quality, performance, and security flaws. If tests fail, the results and the code are sent back to the originating developer for corrections, and the build is discarded.
Typically, when builds are tested, the fastest and most critical tests are performed first. These are followed by lengthy, more complex, or less mission-critical tests. The reasoning for this order is that DevOps teams want tests to fail as early as possible. This eliminates unnecessary use of resources and provides feedback to developers faster.
Provided a build passes all tests, the changes being tested are merged into the master branch, and a new build is created for delivery. This new build becomes the latest functioning iteration of the product. From here, it can either be held for manual approval or pushed directly to deployment.
Deployment ensures that the latest working build is running on all the environments needed. Typically, for Software-as-a-Service environments, this means either staging or production environments. For cloud-native implementations, this requires packaging software in containers.
During deployment, most teams rely on configuration templates and automation tools to ensure repeatable, successful results. These tools allow teams to generate new environments or to deploy components to existing environments uniformly, and to define roll out procedures that orchestration systems can follow.
These procedures include any configuration changes that are needed, as well as guidelines for how traffic should be shifted from old to new releases. For example, teams may want to make a release available in phases, with certain user regions being moved in order. Such guidelines are called “progressive deployment.”
Once a release is deployed, it is ready for operation. This is when customers can begin using the release. During the operations phase, teams are responsible for ensuring that the service environment resources remain operational and can handle traffic demands. They are typically also responsible for providing user support and continuously verifying and maintaining the security of a product.
Monitoring is an essential phase that starts together with the operations phase. It helps teams ensure that services remain operational and helps identify any issues in performance, security, or availability. When issues are identified, alerting / paging mechanisms ensure that they are brought to the attention of relevant owners in the organization, who can resolve the issues.
During the feedback phase, performance metrics and customer feedback are collected. This data is then applied to planning future changes or additions to the product. Collecting continuous feedback is also useful for identifying any bugs that may have slipped past testing processes.
Key Challenges Affecting the DevOps Lifecycle
When managing your DevOps lifecycle, several common challenges may arise.
Ideally, as many of your processes as possible should be automated; however, not all processes can or should be automated. Some processes happen infrequently and are complex or expensive to automate. The challenge then is to find the balance between automation and manual effort.
When you automate, focus on those processes that are highly repetitive or those that are more likely to result in configuration errors. If you are completing the same process over and over, there is often little reason it needs to be done manually. For complex processes, automating as many parts of the process as possible can help reduce manual work and ensure standardization.
A frequent challenge in traditional development workflows is the deployment of consistent environments. If developers and testers deploy environments on their own, they can move fast without waiting for operations teams. But this can lead to development and test environments that do not match production configuration. If operations teams deploy all environments – consistency is easier, but speed is significantly decreased.
A solution for this is to build environment creation via templates into your pipeline. When a new environment is required, it will be automatically spun up and made available. Integrating environment creation in this way helps ensure environments are not leftover or re-used. Each environment is associated with a specific change in the pipeline – letting teams know how it is used and when it is no longer needed.
Working with outdated tooling
High-speed releases are the goal when it comes to your products but can be a major hurdle when it comes to your tooling. You don’t want to have to continuously update internal systems, but continuing to use older versions can put your security at risk. It can also create issues when new tools or versions are adopted that no longer support integration with older versions.
On the other hand, upgrading an internal tool can cause interruptions in several continuous phases of the DevOps Lifecycle and should be coordinated.
Unfortunately, there is no one best solution for this. One option is to try and reduce your tooling into a single unified solution. This makes it easier to apply updates since you don’t have to worry as much about compatibility issues between tools. However, this doesn’t enable you to integrate the best fit tooling for your needs and restricts your ability to customize pipelines.
The other option is to carefully assess what updates are vital and which can be pushed off. This option enables you to continue using the tools that fit your exact needs but requires greater responsibility in ensuring that security is managed. It may also require you to sacrifice access to feature improvements.
Whichever option you select, you need to at least remain aware of what updates and patches are available. Once you know about a newer version, you can begin taking appropriate action to either prepare for an update or develop a comparable fix.
Automating Monitoring and Feedback stages with StackPulse
Every system, no matter how well-engineered, will have production alerts. These will either be local issues having little to no impact on the end-users or critical issues impacting the availability of the service to its users.
In both cases, the issues should be investigated, analyzed, and fixed if needed, by the relevant owners. Without proper automation, the large number of incidents and alerts in most organizations will lead to:
- Negative productivity impact on R&D and DevOps teams
- “Alert fatigue” for owners and supporting teams
- Longer downtime for production services
StackPulse is an automation platform for the operations, monitoring, and feedback stages of the DevOps cycle. It allows DevOps teams to define codified playbooks for these processes. This allows your organization to automate processes in a repeatable and measurable way and trigger them as frequently as needed, without additional manual labor.
Get early access and be among the first to try our DevOps / SRE automation platform.