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Microsoft Cloud: Article

Step Away from One-off Release Thinking

The Continuous Delivery Approach

Not long ago, customers and prospects had to find a computer to visit your website. But today they're online 24/7 via mobile devices. Serving your customers is now a continuous interaction, and this phenomenon will only grow in the coming years as customers and prospects demand reliable and up-to-date Web services from anywhere at any time. For your organization, this translates into constant pressure to quickly and frequently add features and updates to your application services.

The environment also makes the quality of your online services more important than ever as issues become visible instantly. Applications to support your business need to be deployed not only at a much faster rate, but also with more predictability. For many organizations, a new approach to delivering software isn't simply about development and deployment practices - it's critical to business survival.

But for most organizations, software delivery is time-consuming, stressful and costly.

As soon as applications go live, issues arise - forcing IT into another costly release cycle. Businesses thus need a process that enables the addition of new online features in a matter of hours instead of days - faster, better and at a lower cost.

The Continuous Delivery Approach
One way that many businesses overcome the challenge of promptly delivering software updates is to adopt the Continuous Delivery approach - a strategy that moves ideas into production as fast and as efficiently as possible. This iterative approach also allows you to validate business assumptions at an early stage of the delivery process and adjust when required.

With Continuous Delivery, your ideas reach customers much faster compared to non-automated, "big bang" release environments. Because the focus is on automating your pipeline, delivery becomes more reliable. A well-designed automated software delivery pipeline typically features the following attributes:

  1. Manages code in version control
  2. Performs compilation and packaging of code centrally and automatically
  3. Automates testing as part of the delivery process
  4. Deploys applications automatically to multiple environments
  5. Creates and removes server environments with the push of a button
  6. Provides clear, factual and quality-focused status reports

Benefits of Continuous Delivery
Continuous Delivery lowers costs since deployments run reliably on a daily basis, and the number of deployments does not significantly impact the overall cost. Once a deployment pipeline is configured, subsequent deployments occur automatically so the maximum number of deployments is not bound to any limit.

With the Continuous Delivery approach, your organization can also envision an idea and then design and realize the benefits in stages. In addition, the process provides the possibility to adjust the scope and requirements as well as support the decision to stop investing in features that don't provide value.

Because customer behavior can be measured as the product evolves, the product also aligns better with demand compared to traditional situations. In addition, the process of assembling, compiling and testing also becomes automated. This forms an integral part of the delivery process that is quick and easy. Coding issues become immediately visible and can be fixed promptly.

Creating a Continuous Delivery Process
To adopt a Continuous Delivery process, first take an assessment to gain a clear picture of the current status of your delivery processes. Assessment is essential to determine the order, approach and expected timelines. Then streamline the process by adopting these best practices:

  • Engage the development team to discuss the approach and how to implement a fresh and automated delivery process. Encourage the team to participate in determining requirements for the new environment, especially where the current process can be optimized.
  • Implement and align tools and processes to consolidate configuration management systems; align the build and automated test tools; introduce the definitive software library; and add application release automation mechanisms. Explain and document concepts and guidelines to ensure proper use for subsequent teams that utilize the new approach.
  • Formalize the environment once the new tools and principles are in place and then introduce other development initiatives. Also make sure short and descriptive explanations of the new process are available to guide people in applying them. Slowly step away from release-like thinking toward incrementally bringing new functionality into production.

The Payoff: Ensuring Prompt and Accurate Communications
Trying to serve today's always-connected, always-updated customers and prospects with anything less than a fully automated application delivery process makes no sense. Software delivery needs to evolve from an effort-intensive, error-prone "big bang" activity to a seamless, incremental and Continuous Delivery process that is faster and more efficient.

For the Continuous Delivery software approach to succeed, everybody has to share a product-like mindset and feel responsible for the end result - from business leaders all the way to operations. Within the development team, if anyone breaks the build - meaning they leave the code broken - they must fix the build before going home. Code in the pipeline has to be shippable at all times.

Continuous Delivery is achieved when all involved are capable of delivering new functionality in an agile manner. Your business will ensure prompt and accurate communications with customers and prospects at all times.

More Stories By Andrew Phillips

Andrew Phillips heads up product management at XebiaLabs. He is an evangelist and thought leader in the DevOps, Cloud and Continuous Delivery space. He sits on the management team and drives product direction, positioning and planning.

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