Continuous Delivery: The Advantages, Common Hurdles, and Importance
April 29, 2022 / Katarina Rudela
Reading Time: 10 minutes
Continuous delivery is a software development practice that offers a wide range of benefits, from faster times to market to lower costs to higher quality products. However, continuous delivery is also a practice that entails a number of hurdles that must be overcome. To help you overcome these hurdles in order to enjoy the many benefits offered by the continuous delivery approach, we'll cover everything you need to know about continuous delivery, including what it is, how it works, and the important pros and cons to consider before you decide if continuous delivery is the right approach for your next software development project.
What is Continuous Delivery?
Continuous delivery is a software development practice that entails automatically preparing all code changes for a release to production. With the continuous delivery approach, all code changes are deployed to a testing and/or production environment following the build stage where they are tested and prepared for production. This approach allows software developers to release new features, bug fixes, and other product updates in a quick and sustainable way that causes minimal disruption to the customers using the product.
How Does Continuous Delivery Work?
To understand how the continuous delivery process works, it's first important to define the process of continuous integration. Continuous integration is a vital prerequisite for continuous delivery and entails continually integrating new code into a single repository that is easy to access and shared between team members. Once new code has been delivered to a centralized repository via continuous integration, continuous delivery involves taking the stored code and continuously delivering it to production. Once new code has been delivered from the repository to a testing or production environment, it then undergoes UI testing, load testing, integration testing, API reliability testing, and other vital tests to ensure that the new code is ready for release. All of these tests are automatically triggered each time new code is introduced, ensuring that every update is automatically prepared for update and release. This combination of continuous integration and continuous delivery creates a much more efficient and reliable process for releasing new products as well as for releasing new updates and bug fixes to existing products.
The Advantages of Continuous Delivery
Implementing a continuous delivery process into your next software development project is something that can offer a wide range of advantages, including advantages such as:
Faster Time to Market
When properly implemented, continuous delivery ensures that you always have a deployment-ready build artifact that has undergone a standardized testing process. This allows your team to release new products and product updates much faster than would otherwise be possible, reducing your time to market and giving you a leg up over your competitors.
Improved Test Reliability
It is much easier to test the efficacy of small updates and code changes than it is to test the efficacy of a completed product. By automatically passing each revision/new line of code through a series of thorough testing, continuous delivery ensures that your product is tested in "bite-size" chunks throughout the development process rather than just testing the whole enchilada prior to release. By continually testing your code as it is developed, you can dramatically improve the reliability of your testing procedures and ultimately improve the quality of your final product.
Boosting Developer Productivity
There are a couple of key ways that continuous delivery is able to boost developer productivity. For one, continuous delivery largely automates the process of testing new code by triggering an automated flow of tests that are conducted each time new code is introduced. This eliminates many of the manual testing tasks that your developers would otherwise have to perform, freeing them up to focus on other vital elements of the project. The other way in which continuous delivery is able to boost developer productivity has to do with the fact that continuous delivery reduces the number of errors and bugs that are deployed to customers; when your developers don't have to spend as much time fixing bugs and addressing customer support issues, they once again have more time to focus on other important tasks.
By creating a more efficient and reliable software development process that is less likely to produce time-and-resource-consuming errors, continuous delivery can substantially lower how much money your company ends spending to bring a new product or update to market.
Easier Maintenance and Updates
In addition to reducing the amount of maintenance that you have to perform by reducing the potential for bugs and errors, continuous delivery can also make the maintenance and updates that you do have to perform more efficient. In the same way that continuous delivery ensures that new products are developed and released in the most efficient way possible, continuous delivery can also help ensure that any updates or maintenance-related code changes are developed efficiently and released free of errors.
By continually testing your product each time new code is introduced, continuous delivery provides a wealth of feedback that will improve the transparency of your entire project and allow you to make your product even better. When team members know that they are working on a fully transparent project where each new line of code that they introduce will be thoroughly tested, the accountability of your development team is boosted as well. Lastly, continuous delivery is designed to get your product into the hands of customers as quickly as possible, providing you with more rapid customer feedback that you can use to further examine and improve your product.
More Satisfied Teams
Most developers enjoy creating new features and products much more than they enjoy fixing bugs and testing for errors. By automating many of the time-consuming and painful tasks associated with testing new products and updates, continuous delivery has been proven to boost the overall job satisfaction of software developers. Freeing your developers up to focus on what they do best, therefore, is something that can improve both the productivity and satisfaction of your development team.
The primary goal of continuous delivery is to make software deployments as painless as possible. By ensuring quality standards throughout the development process, continuous delivery reduces the likelihood of risks such as extended downtime whenever the product is released. Continuous delivery also makes the process of releasing updates or fixes to an existing product a much less risky endeavor. By ensuring that each new code addition or revision is fully polished and ready for release, continuous delivery allows for zero-downtime deployments that are undetectable by the product's users.
The Hurdles of Continuous Delivery
There's no denying the fact that continuous delivery offers plenty of benefits when implemented correctly. With that said, the task of implementing an effective continuous delivery process into a software development project is often easier said than done. If you would like to enjoy the many benefits of continuous delivery, here are the top hurdles that you will need to be prepared for:
Poor Communication Between Teams
Successfully implementing a continuous delivery process requires the careful coordination of numerous teams within the company. If continuous delivery is to actually deliver on its promises, no team can afford to operate in a silo. This makes it essential to make sure that all of the various teams within your company that play a role in bringing a new software product to market are coordinating their efforts into one continuous delivery process and effectively communicating with one another throughout the development and release of your product.
Continuous delivery promises to improve the reliability of your product testing procedures both by testing code in "bite-size" chunks and by automating many testing procedures. Many times, though, issues with a product that go unresolved are often just as much a reflection of the quality of the testing that was done on the product as they are a reflection of the product itself. In other words, if your testing procedures are flawed and unable to reliably detect and resolve issues then continuous delivery is only going to take you so far. Before you can enjoy the testing reliability that comes with continually testing each new update or revision via continuous delivery, you first have to ensure that the testing procedures that make up your continuous delivery workflow are up to par.
An Over-Reliance on Automation
Automation is a great way to save time and resources, but only if the processes that you are automating are well-polished and proven effective. Automating a poorly-designed process is something that may save you time in the short term. In the long run, though, rushing to automate a process that is not as efficient or effective as it should be can lead to major bottlenecks that end up costing your company much more time and money than it saves. When implementing continuous delivery, therefore, it's important not to get too caught up in the time-saving benefits of process automation; before you decide to automate a process and employ it on a large scale, it is first important to conduct thorough manual runs of the process to ensure that its results meet your standards.
Successfully leveraging the benefits of continuous delivery requires organizations to employ a carefully developed IT infrastructure complete with all of the tools and systems that a development team will need to achieve continuous delivery. If you want to make continuous delivery the cornerstone of your next development project, you'll need to first ensure that you have the budget for the infrastructure your team will need to execute a continuous delivery process. Trying to scale too quickly without first providing developers with the tools required for continuous delivery can lead to poor product quality and frequent delays, completely negating the benefits that continuous delivery offers.
In a study conducted by 451 Research, 60% of respondents listed "a lack of automated, integrated security tools" as one of the biggest challenges associated with implementing continuous integration and continuous delivery tools.
The same study highlighted the fact that "false positives" are also a big issue when it comes to the security tools used in continuous delivery, bogging down projects and forcing developers to waste time trying to find and resolve security issues that aren't actually issues at all. In order to guarantee the security of products that are developed via continuous delivery while at the same time reducing these false positives, it is essential to identify the security testing tools that best fit with your existing continuous delivery tools.
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