5 DevOps pipeline best practices

Discover the top 5 best practices for efficient DevOps pipelines

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Most organizations today measure the success of their software deployments in speed and accuracy. In a 2020 Continuous Delivery Insights report, Harness, a software delivery platform provider, found that the average company deploys code to production every four days and each deployment takes an average of eight hours. 

When your organization is looking to launch application updates internally and externally, these deployment figures are simply too high. Why? Slow deployments affect everything from developer productivity to application security. 

Additionally, the report found that around 11% of these deployments fail, which leads to delays, as well as time and money spent correcting the errors that caused the failed deployment. To avoid this, companies are investing in improvements to their DevOps pipelines. An optimized DevOps pipeline can help your team collaborate, build, and deploy quickly and consistently. 

Whether you’re just getting started with building a DevOps pipeline or are looking for ways to streamline your existing pipeline, it’s helpful to look at what a DevOps pipeline is, as well as DevOps pipeline best practices and how to implement them.

What is a DevOps pipeline? 

A DevOps pipeline is defined by the tools, practices, and automated processes used by your development and operations teams to build, test, and deploy software quickly and efficiently. DevOps teams rely on their pipelines to facilitate software maintenance and updates. DevOps pipelines also help teams perform crucial quality assurance measures, like testing software before it’s shipped and detecting (and resolving) code conflicts, bugs, and vulnerabilities.

When thinking about how a DevOps pipeline functions, it’s helpful to remember that the process occupies both the development and the operations space. 

Phases of a DevOps pipeline

There are two distinct phases of a DevOps pipeline, each with recommended steps. 

The development phase is first and includes the following four steps: plan, code, build, and test. Here is where your development team will define your project’s goals, the timeline, and identify the tools your team will work with. 

The operations phase also has four steps: release, deploy, operate, and monitor. Here, the IT operations team will collaborate with the development team to ensure the project is ready for release. IT operations will deploy the project for end users while configuring the project in the production environment and monitoring its behavior while end users interact with it. Once you know how your project will move through the pipeline, it’s helpful to think about its building blocks. Whilst these two areas are verticals of responsibilities, the DevOps culture promotes ownership and collaboration across the development and operations teams to own and these two phases end-to-end.

Components of a DevOps pipeline

In our piece, Key Components of the DevOps Pipeline, we covered the basic components of a DevOps pipeline. 

1. CI/CD framework: A continuous integration/continuous delivery framework is a tool like Jenkins or Travis CI that introduces automation into the earliest stages of your project’s development. Your framework should include a server capable of performing automatic builds, tests, and deployments based on incoming code commits. 

2. Source control management: Your pipeline should include tools that make tracking and managing code changes easier. These tools will provide your team with a history of each project’s code development and help resolve conflicts when merging contributions

3. Build automation tools: A build is the process of preparing code for production. This process includes steps like compilation and file compression. Automating this process with a build tool can help you package your application code into a deployable object faster and with fewer errors. 

4. Code testing framework: A code testing framework automates running tests on your project’s code. DevOps teams use these to catch application errors. There are six test automation frameworks, and which one your team uses depends upon variables like the size of your application, your team’s technical skills, the number of scenarios you’ll be testing, and more. 

With a better understanding of the phases and components of a DevOps pipeline, let’s look at five DevOps pipeline best practices to consider when building a new pipeline or optimizing your team’s existing pipeline. 

5 DevOps pipeline best practices 

1. Build observability into your pipeline

While a DevOps pipeline is meant to streamline the development process, there are also multiple steps, components, and teams in play. Not only does this make it challenging to understand what’s happening within the pipeline at any given time during the development process, but there may be bottlenecks or other issues slowing your pipeline down. Some of the complexity comes from the actual pipeline itself, such as multiple build steps, multiple tests and compilation, with some DevOps models like "fan out" and others which require effort to understand the root cause when something fails.

Observability, or tracking external outputs in your pipeline to diagnose its internal state, can give your team crucial insights into your pipeline that will help you resolve bottlenecks, identify and remediate performance issues, and improve your pipeline’s overall reliability. 

Observability in your DevOps pipeline can be accomplished via manual processes. Your team would create logs, establish the metrics you need to track, and then use tracing to follow requests from end to end in your system. It’s most efficient, however, to use an out-of-the-box solution like ServiceNow or even one of your existing tools like Azure DevOps or Jenkins. Both Azure DevOps and Jenkins have basic reporting capabilities. 

2. Add rollback into your CI/CD approach

We consider a CI/CD framework a basic component of a DevOps pipeline. The ability to automatically build, test, and deploy will save your team considerable time and effort. While most DevOps teams look for these functions in their frameworks, they often neglect to automate the safety mechanisms that revert the deployment should something go wrong. 

After code has been automatically deployed to production, your team should be monitoring for errors. If any are found, having an automatic mechanism that reverts, or rolls back, your application to a previous state can help the application recover faster. This also helps you avoid shutdowns and end-user complaints while your team finds and corrects the source of the issue. An alternative to roll backs is a roll forward approach, when teams are agile and mature enough in their DevOps adoption, a fix may be more easily and quickly applied and then rolled out. Rollbacks are often more tricky.

3. Apply continuous deployment (CD) ONLY to your minor code changes

CD is the automated release of code updates to the end user without requiring manual checks or triggers. Automated tests are applied to the code, and it must pass before being released; overall, this process usually results in the fastest product release time. 

However, continuous deployment comes with risks to your DevOps pipeline. Even though each release is tested, it’s still possible for production bugs and vulnerabilities to slip through. Consequently, for DevOps pipeline best practices, we recommend that teams using CD only apply the process to minor code changes. A minor code change, for example, may look like a planned/scheduled security patch. Additionally, these automated releases should still be monitored after deployment to ensure they function properly. 

4. Implement real device cloud testing in continuous testing (CT)

Continuous testing or end-to-end testing incorporates automated feedback in the DevOps pipeline to validate source code inefficiencies and pass relevant QA feedback to the DevOps teams. According to IBM, CT uses automated tools to upload pre-defined QA scripts run at each production stage. 

Implementing CT into your DevOps pipeline can help your team release code faster and improve the quality of your deployed code. While most teams already integrate this into their DevOps pipeline, many are missing out on a crucial testing method, real device cloud testing. 

In real-device cloud testing, DevOps teams partner with a real device cloud provider to access browsers, platforms, and devices. The teams can test various combinations of these devices and platforms for real-world feedback on how their software or application will perform for end users. As a DevOps pipeline best practice, this one is very effective at ensuring that your application/software will perform seamlessly across most devices and browsers, which can save your team considerable time, money, and frustration. 

5. Use more than one type of continuous monitoring (CM) in your DevOps pipeline

Different from observability, which tracks external outputs and enables a proactive response to issues in your pipeline, monitoring assesses your application’s health by collecting and aggregating internal data in real time and creating alerts to help you respond to issues quickly. 

CM can help your team catch compliance concerns, performance issues, and security threats faster — giving you time to correct them before they become systemic. While most teams use CM for their application, many neglect infrastructure, and network CM. 

Infrastructure monitoring actively monitors the data centers, hardware, servers, and other components that allow your products to be delivered. 

Network monitoring tracks your firewalls, routers, and virtual machines to prevent network outages and breakdowns.

Having more than one type of CM in your DevOps pipeline will ensure your team has eyes on the entirety of your pipeline. Moreover, integrating multiple types of CM into your DevOps pipeline can be easily accomplished with all-in-one monitoring solutions. 

Next steps: shift into a DevSecOps mindset

The DevOps pipeline is all about fast development and release cycles. Implementing the DevOps pipeline best practices above can help your team increase your deployment speed and reliability, but what about security? 

Integrating security into your DevOps pipeline and aligning various teams around building secure-by-design applications is a must. This is why DevSecOps practices are gaining traction in the modern DevOps movement.

What is DevSecOps? 

DevSecOps takes the DevOps model, which focuses on fast-feedback software delivery and organizational culture, and merges it with IT security practices. It’s important to note that DevSecOps is different from DevOps security, a paradigm predecessor that recommended adding IT security to the DevOps pipeline stages after each team completed each stage. 

Instead, DevSecOps shifts security left and makes it a consideration at the earliest stages of the development process and onward. This gives developers ownership over security remediation before issues make it into service-level agreement (SLA) environments. 

Other benefits of DevSecOps

DevSecOps also encourages greater collaboration between teams, bringing together development, security, and operations teams to establish security goals, problem solve, and proactively mitigate future risk. If your DevOps pipeline aims to produce high-quality products quickly and reliably, adopting a DevSecOps mindset is the best way to get there. 

Adopt a DevOps security pipeline with Snyk 

When beginning the shift to a DevSecOps mindset, organizations may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of solutions on the market. Snyk, however, offers streamlined tools that are developer-centric and easily integrated into your existing DevOps pipelines. 

Our DevSecOps solutions include tools like Snyk Code, which secures your code in real-time with static application security testing (SAST). SAST analyzes your application’s source code, byte code, and binaries for coding and design conditions that indicate security vulnerabilities. Snyk Code also offers remediation advice that helps you quickly fix security issues to prevent delays. 

Another tool, Snyk Open Source, provides advanced software composition analysis (SCA) that helps your team find, prioritize, and fix security vulnerabilities and license issues in open-source dependencies. 

Other Snyk DevSecOps solutions include Snyk Infrastructure as Code, which automates IaC security and compliance in workflows prior to deployment and detects missing resources post-deployment; and Snyk Container, developer-first container security that helps teams find and fix vulnerabilities throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC)

Ready to supercharge your DevOps pipeline with Snyk’s industry-leading security solutions? Let’s get started! 

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