7 Rules for Faster Releases with Containerized CI/CD

Both CI/CD and containers have changed the world of software delivery, helping teams become more agile and speeding up development and release cycles. However, there is some confusion about how these techniques can be used in conjunction with one another. How do you build a CI/CD pipeline if you’re using containers or microservices apps? The answer lies in containerized CI/CD, where software teams architect a continuous build for containers and orchestration.

Containers make it easier for software engineers to continuously build and deploy applications and, by orchestrating container deployment, software teams can achieve replicable, continuous clusters of containers. Containerized CI/CD has the advantage of further speeding up release cycles and improving build quality. By following these best practice rules, software teams can use containers to improve their software delivery environment.

Automate the build with containers

Containers are designed to bundle the correct tool, version and other execution assets in a package. This makes it easy to build applications using a given set of tools and scripts, because the package is already prepared and ready to run. The container itself can be orchestrated by providers such as AWS ECS or Kubernetes Jobs.

Test using containers

Like build automation, testing tools and scripts can be packaged in separate containers. Each ‘quality gate’ can be containerized and run separately.

Create a clean CI/CD environment

A clean environment for execution has always been a best practice for CI/CD. Executing in a clean environment is valuable, because this practice reveals any flaws inherent in the product; however, containers are, by default, clean. A well-packaged image would not contain any impurities or cached data that would affect the execution of a given build. A new container is created for every build and destroyed immediately. This ensures no old content can affect the current execution, nor will the current execution affect future builds. It also means that parallel executions do not compete to share resources if all resources are containerized. Each execution obtains its own set of containers to run tests and then can be wiped.

Security is also enhanced by using containers, as any rogue scripts cannot access data or resources from other executions. This protects current, as well as any other, applications from data breaches during CI/CD.

Clone a production environment

Production-grade containers with the same tools and versions, operating systems and capacity specifications can be used for testing and executing scripts. Doing so ensures consistency between builds. By following continuous delivery principles, the application remains production-ready, since it was created and tested in a production-grade environment.

Keep it fast and lightweight

Container best practices recommend packaging only what is required. This keeps the image lightweight, single purpose and allows easy scaling. This is achieved by downloading the image, creating, running and destroying containers quickly; using as little of the hardware resources as possible.

Using containers, it is easy to replace the quality gate by simply replacing the image. So, if a given DevSecOps tool is not providing results that meet or exceed required organizational standards, the image can be replaced with another without having to modify several traditional machines or recreating them.

Pick the best CI/CD tools for the job

Containers provide a great platform for teams to experiment with, test and adopt different tools and technologies including operating systems, tool versions, vendors, languages and development kits with different versions.

Teams can shift left more effectively by adopting and using the correct base images as well as DevSecOps images. Developers would be able to locally recreate and run nearly identical quality gates even before committing the code. Additionally, teams find it easier to switch technologies as the entire software development life cycle (SDLC) is containerized, enabling faster adoption of new technologies.

Scale with containers

Scaling is easier with containerized CI/CD pipelines. Containers can scale in seconds, compared with traditional infrastructures that take minutes or even hours, in some cases. They can also be scaled both vertically and horizontally to meet CI/CD requirements. Scaling containers simply requires a container orchestrator, such as AWS ECS or Kubernetes, which has the added advantage of making container management easy.

Advancing software delivery further with containerized CI/CD

Containerized CI/CD has several significant advantages over traditional CI/CD and, with a few tweaks in the way teams conduct builds, they can benefit from improved agility, faster cycles and improved product quality.

As organizations increasingly look to increase cloud-native development, containers can be a good route to enhanced cloud utilization and optimization. Why? Containers provide a common solution for both on-premises and cloud-based development, enabling a wider choice of tools because teams are not locked into a technology dictated by the capabilities of the hosting platform. Furthermore, containerized CI/CD solutions can be easily migrated to the cloud; on-premises or a hybrid model can exist.

Since a number of out-of-the box CI/CD providers, such as Bitbucket Pipelines, for example, provide support for containers, teams can easily switch between pipeline providers with minimal effort if the processes are containerized. Tools such as AWS ECS Fargate, with Jenkins serving as the CI/CD pipeline orchestrator, can help organizations effectively advance their cloud-based containerized CI/CD. There are several advantages to this approach, including on-demand scalability; no provisioning or maintenance or traditional EC2 machines and AMIs; no patching, OS updates or controlling SSH/console access and no upfront payments. Organizations only pay for the resources used.

There are many reasons organizations should consider shifting their pipelines to containerized CI/CD. Not only does this approach increase the efficiency of the delivery environment, it also enables teams to be more competitive by increasing agility and responding to market innovations faster.

Deven Samant

Deven Samant is Head of the Enterprise Data and Cloud Practice at Infostretch, a Silicon Valley digital engineering professional services consultancy.

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