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Key Components of the DevOps Pipeline

Today’s software development culture is focused on developing, testing, and deploying applications fast. Advanced automation tools play a critical part in this. DevOps embraces these methodological and technical elements and applies them to real-world software projects.

This blog post covers DevOps concepts, key components of the DevOps pipeline and offers practical guidelines for integrating the DevOps methodology into the software development life cycle (SDLC).

What Is a DevOps Pipeline?

A DevOps pipeline helps teams build, test, and deploy software quickly and efficiently through a combination of tools and practices. This also facilitates software maintenance and updates. In addition, a DevOps pipeline simplifies the continuous integration of code changes into an upstream repository, provides automation tests and builds, and enables efficient resolution of code conflicts and detection of bugs and vulnerabilities. DevOps practices thus reduce time to market (TTM) and enable agile software development processes.

Continuous Integration (CI)

Continuous integration (CI) involves developer code being regularly merged into a shared code repository and the application of automatic unit tests, builds, and code verification tools to this code. The main goals of CI are enabling an efficient code verification process and avoiding code conflicts at the release date.

To achieve this, the code pushed to the shared repository is automatically compiled into an artifact and tested. In such a process, referred to as a build, if any failures are encountered, the developers are notified about failed tests and assertions that are causing the issue so the code can be fixed. The CI pipeline is usually combined with standard code curation practices, such as pull requests.

CI prevents “integration hell” and “merge day” issues when different branches of the code base need to be reconciled.

Continuous Delivery (CD)

Continuous delivery (CD) involves packaging code into deliverable units that can be deployed into production. CD is not to be confused with “continuous deployment”— automatic deployment of code changes to production.

The CD environment features a production-like sandbox where incremental code updates are tested and released. After the code review and testing process, developers can push changes to production. The release of small code updates into the production code environment facilitates troubleshooting of your code and helps to prevent software bottlenecks and merge conflicts. Prior testing in the sandbox means applications deployed to production via CD are generally more stable and have less bugs.

Continuous Deployment (CD)

Continuous deployment (CD) is the automated release of code updates to the user without the need for manual checks or triggers. Like CD, automated builds and tests are applied to the code, however, changes to production are pushed immediately. CD therefore results in the fastest product release. It does, however, have limitations. For example, CD may push to production bugs and vulnerabilities that were missed by automated checks. It should, therefore, be carefully applied and only to minor code changes. Moreover, it should be combined with efficient rolling update policies (e.g., blue/green deployments and canary releases).

Building a DevOps Pipeline

An efficient DevOps pipeline should include the following basic components:

  • CI/CD framework
  • Source control management 
  • Build automation tools
  • Code testing framework

It can also include pipeline tools for container security and IaC security. There are many open-source DevOps tools that can help build an efficient DevOps pipeline.

CI/CD Framework

CI/CD frameworks like Jenkins or Travis CI help implement the CI/CD component of the DevOps pipeline. Such frameworks typically include a server capable of performing automatic builds, tests, and deployments of software based on incoming code commits. Your CI/CD tool should therefore be connected to the source code repository.

Source Control Management

Source control (or version control) management tools enable tracking and management of code changes. They provide a running history of code development including individual developer commits and pull requests. They also help commit code changes to remote repositories and resolve conflicts between different contributions. Among source-control management tools, Git features the most developed ecosystem and is the most popular.

Build Automation Tools

Build automation tools help package an application code into a deployable object. These tools differ in functionality depending on what type of programming language is used: compiled or interpretable.

Tools for compiled languages like C++ or Java do not only compile code but generate a native build environment for compiling source code, creating libraries, generating wrappers, and building executables in various combinations. Interpreted-language build tools like Grunt, Webpack, Rollup, and Babel for JavaScript can be used to concatenate JavaScript files and also obfuscate and minimize them.

Code Testing Framework

Code testing frameworks help developers catch any application errors in the process of development. These tools typically include unit test functionality that can be integrated into application code and applied at the runtime. As an added benefit, code testing frameworks can be plugged into existing CI/CD tools to automate the process. There are a number of testing frameworks available for the various programming languages (e.g., Pytest for Python and JUnit for Java).

It is also possible to integrate code quality and vulnerability scans into the build process by adding an automated Snyk Code test to your CI/CD.

Integrate security and code quality testing into your CI/CD pipeline

Enable developers to Test and Fix code as early as possible, directly from your workbench

Azure DevOps Pipeline Sample

Most cloud providers offer various tools for building a production-grade DevOps pipeline in the cloud. To illustrate what a real-world cloud DevOps pipeline looks like, let’s examine the Microsoft Azure DevOps pipeline, which consists of various components, including:

These tools are capable of providing all the DevOps building blocks described above.

Here’s what the process of using the Microsoft Azure DevOps pipeline might look like:

  1. An application code is updated.
  2. Code changes are committed to the code repository in Azure Repos.
  3. CI event triggers application build and unit tests with Azure Test Plans.
  4. Azure Pipelines creates an automated deployment of the application artifacts.
  5. Artifacts are deployed to Azure App Service.
  6. After the application is deployed, DevOps specialists can monitor health, performance, and other application metrics.

Integrating Security into the DevOps Pipeline

Application security through traditional security approaches, still used by many organizations, is not compatible with DevOps. These approaches generally have limitations:

  • Security is usually accommodated into software post production rather than as a built-in feature.
  • The slow feedback cycle of traditional security practices is not compatible with the high-pace DevOps pipeline.
  • Traditional security methodology doesn’t take into account volatile environments in which modern applications exist (e.g., cloud services, containers, and container management systems like Kubernetes).

Security teams following the traditional approach stay outside the DevOps groups, typically reporting to a different team leader and operating in silos. The result is insecure applications being shipped, as the experts remain outside the information flow and lack the information they need.

Furthermore, in such cases, when security teams step in to audit, they slow down delivery, negating the original business goal. To make matters worse, security teams are often heavily understaffed, a situation perpetuated by the severe talent shortage the cybersecurity industry is suffering from.

If and when security teams surface security vulnerabilities and other risks, they themselves are not able to fix the issues. Seeking out a fix rolls on to the development team, and until those issues are prioritized and handled, the risk remains. This creates yet another bottleneck for security fixes.

These limitations of traditional security approaches make it hard to integrate security into a modern DevOps environment built around automation and CI/CD instrumentation. Security is still extraneous to the software development process and is used as a corrective practice after the software product is created. Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.

Dev-First Security & DevSecOps

It’s clear there’s a need for a new approach to security in this digitally transformed world of cloud and DevOps. The new approach, sometimes referred to as DevSecOps, must be anchored in these new technologies and methodologies, building security into them from within. It needs to champion self-sufficient teams and accelerate the business instead of slowing it down. In other words, it needs to be developer-first.

What Is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps is the integration of security practices into a DevOps software delivery model. This approach is a natural continuation of DevOps, that adds a security dimension to the concept of “shared responsibility.” DevSecOps treats security as a built-in software feature requiring the same verification and compliance process as other components of the DevOps pipeline.

Following are some of the key benefits of DevSecOps:

  • Early injection of security activities and tools into the software development life cycle.
  • Improved software delivery speed due to early identification of bugs and vulnerabilities, which are fixed before deployment so developers can focus on shipping useful features.
  • Security automation tools enable developers who aren’t security experts to create stable and secure software.
benefits of implementing devsecops model

There are few successful examples of implementing a DevSecOps approach and integrating security into DevOps pipelines. At Caveo, DevOps team members can manage vulnerabilities with much more autonomy and efficiency. Each team’s Security Champion is empowered to monitor vulnerabilities and determine for themselves how and the timeframe for addressing them. Coveo’s DevOps teams are provided with oversight, but overall are given the responsibility and power to prioritize their security actions. Snyk’s support of this “trust-but-verify” approach greatly facilitated adoption across the organization.

The deployment pipeline was built by a small team first, and then made available to all developers later on,” revealed Beaumont. “We didn’t really need to convince any development teams to embrace the new pipeline because of all the advantages from a security and usability standpoint. The transition happened naturally.

Jean-Philippe Lachance, security analyst, Coveo

Conclusion

In this article, we learned the key components of the DevOps pipeline and how to integrate it into the software development process. Starting your DevOps journey is not just about selecting the right tools, but enabling sound DevOps organizational practices and culture built around shared responsibility, automation, and cooperation between developers, administrators, and OPs specialists. 

But remember, the DevOps pipeline is not just about fast development and release cycles; it’s also about ensuring the security of your applications. This necessitates the integration of security into your DevOps pipeline and aligning various teams around the purpose of building secure-by-design applications. This is why the emerging DevSecOps practices covered in this article are gaining more traction in the modern DevOps movement.

Integrate security into the deployment pipeline

Accelerate development efforts while scaling application security across the entire organization

FAQ

Why do we need DevOps?

DevOps enables fast and efficient software development in complex projects involving multiple teams and developers. By automating each stage of the process from development and testing to deployment, DevOps prevents merge conflicts, reduces bugs, enables fast deployment of software, and makes software easier to maintain.

How do you create a DevOps pipeline?

A functional DevOps pipeline requires a number of seamlessly connected components: a CI/CD server to perform all DevOps operations, a source-control system connected to it, build automation tools capable of performing application builds, and test coverage tools for automated testing of your applications. Automated security tools can also be added to enable DevSecOps.

How is DevSecOps related to DevOps?

DevSecOps integrates security best practices into the software development process at the early stages. Rather than approaching security as the post-production set of checks or bug fixes, DevSecOps makes it an intrinsic part of DevOps via static and dynamic security analysis, IaC security tools, container security analysis, and more.

April 20, 2021
| By Liran Tal