When developers get into the CI/CD world, they are motivated by a trifecta of expected results: less work, fewer bugs, and a more agile development cycle. However, releasing and deploying new versions of software to different infrastructures is a process that too often generates too much work and stress, and consumes quite a lot of time.
In this article, we'll focus on the aspect of CI/CD that'll take a huge chunk of stress off your chest, a lot of work off your hands, and a lot of bug reports off your support staff's to-do list. Read on to learn more about deployment automation: the why's, the how's, the dos, and the don'ts.
What is an "automated deployment"?
Before we get down and dirty, let's make sure that everyone's on the same page and explain what “automated deployment” actually means.
To automate a deployment means to strip it of any manual actions the software needs to get to the target infrastructure and into the hands of the users.
Deployment to production can be automated using CI/CD automation: pipelines that run on specific conditions and perform a set of actions on your code. Whether it's the standard suite - build → test → deploy - or just the final phase which is deployment to production - it can be as simple as creating a GitHub release with the latest version of your code and having it trigger a set of automated actions that lead to deploying your software wherever you want it deployed.
Why is automated deployment important?
Now that we've explained what it means to automate the deployment, let's enumerate some of the good things that development automation can do for you.
There are many benefits to updating your workflows and setting up “auto-deploys”. Let's have a look at a couple of them.
High release frequency, immediate feedback
Although we often feel that working on code for a long time can bring many benefits and help us produce the mythical magnum opus, the market proves us wrong time and time again. It's much better to keep your users hooked by releasing new features often while keeping the software secure and bug-free.
Learn about the Trunk workflow and the benefits of frequent releases:
Even if your releases are relatively small, getting them out regularly will get you your users' attention and, more often than not, their feedback. You'll know whether the direction you're heading is something that they like and, more importantly, are willing to pay for.
If something sticks, you can go with it, and when something gets unfavorable feedback, you can back out before you commit thousands of lines of code and work hours to a feature that was great only on paper.
This high release frequency is easily attainable with a well-designed automated deployment pipeline. No manual FTP transfers to different servers, no downtime for the users, no manual triggering of tests - all of these “no's” make way for a “yes” to creating software that your users actually want, and succeeding in the ever-crowded market.
Increased productivity, focus on developing software
This one's easy to understand. When one of the crucial events in your software development process is automated, you can take advantage of all the time you saved and focus on what matters the most: coding and coming up with new ideas.
You can never be too productive, right? One of the best ways to guarantee maximum productivity is getting rid of any roadblocks or distractions that you might be facing at any point in time.
For many projects and software development teams, code deployments are such a distraction - a roadblock made up of piled-up processes and problems that the team has to spend a lot of energy to overcome and be able to get back to working on the code.
An automated deployment pipeline set up in a competent automated deployment tool can work wonders cleaning up workflow and process clutter to allow free and unadulterated productivity to flow through your time. One less stressful event, one less context switch you have to accommodate. I bet you can see the productivity levels with your mind's eye as you read this. Oh, I bet.
Anyone in the team can deploy software
Experts and expertise - something we all want and need, right? Well, not exactly. Would you like to live in a world that needs experts for every little thing? Isn't it better to leave some things simple and accessible?
Automated code deployments help you stay away from the situation where every single activity in your workflow requires the expertise of a dedicated engineer. Manual deploys that are usually multi-step, complicated, and error-prone processes very often rely on the knowledge, experience, and availability of a single person. Doesn't this sound like a weak point that's just bound to cause trouble at the least convenient moment?
When you automate the deployment of your code, you invite everyone in your team to deploy. No need to know any complicated procedures, no need to remember server IP addresses and login credentials. Just a single decision, a single click of a button can trigger an entire process, without the need for Tom or Kate to be in the office and do it. In the world of automated deploys, Jake or Maggie will do just as good, even if they're not your designated deployment experts.
How to implement automated deployment
As you can see, the benefits of relying on automated deployment are anything but minute and as such, taking the time and automating application deployment is a move every development team should at least consider.
With that said, a question needs answering - how should you go about it? Are there any universal tips that can be easily applied to any and every setup?
Consider implementing the entire CI/CD flow
If you're new to software development automation, you might not realize that deployments aren't the only step that tends to be automated in the development workflow.
The best and most effective CI/CD implementations make sure that every step on the code's journey to the end-user is automated. This means testing, building, and any housekeeping that has to be done along the way.
Instead of spending time handling these tasks manually, consider creating CI/CD pipelines that will do that for you and take the mundane and error-prone tasks off your hands. Each such pipeline, of course, ends with automated deployment to production.
Learn more about CI/CD workflows and how to get the most out of them - read our Top 5 CI/CD Best Practices for DevOps Teams list.
Start simple - one environment at a time
Starting simple is a good idea when you're working with CI/CD pipelines. In the grand scheme of things, automating different parts of your process will save you a lot of time and considerably up your game.
Before this happens, though, you'll have to spend some time to get your implementation up and running, which includes designing the process, adjusting all of its components to perform in the automated flow, and setting everything up in the CI/CD tool of your choice.
As first steps are never easy and you're bound to make mistakes and decisions that you're going to want to change at a later time, consider using automated deployments at a smaller scale first.
Are there different environments to which you deploy your app because it has separate mobile and desktop versions? Are you running multiple testing and staging environments? Try setting up automated code deployment for just one of them first and see how everything works. Observe the setup and how your team uses it, tweak and adjust, redesign if needed. Then, when you're ready, apply this setup to your production environment(s).
Sign off on everything - use Continuous Delivery
If you like to take things slow and you're not ready to leave everything in your software deployment process to the machines, we've got good news - you don't have to!
The CI/CD abbreviation hides an automation approach that's perfect for everyone who wants to marry being in control with high levels of automation. While CI stands for Continuous Integration, which is the act of regularly integrating all code that's being developed into a single and central codebase, the CD part of the abbreviation carries two meanings.
Continuous Delivery, the meaning that's the focus of this paragraph, puts the automated and the manual together in a package that's perfect for everyone who still has doubts about leaving everything to an automated deployment tool.
In the Continuous Delivery model, the workflow is fully automated, but with a twist. After running all of the required tasks, such as builds and tests, the CI/CD pipeline moves to the deployment step; howeve, instead of deploying automatically, it stops and gives the user time to inspect the logs and results of all of the completed steps.
Watch this video and see how to create a Continuous Delivery pipeline in a matter of minutes:
Only when these are deemed satisfactory, you can give the automated deployment tool the green light to do its thing and deploy the code to the environment(s) of your choice. Now that's what you call the ultimate release management! Everything happens “automagically” but doesn't get out to the people unless you sign off on it.
What can go wrong? Common pitfalls of automated deployment
As with everything in life, even the best ideas can go sour and sabotage you if they're misused or misinterpreted. The same, of course, goes for deployment automation. Let's look at a couple of things you DON'T want to do when delegating your most important tasks to the eager-to-help robots of the automation realm.
Set and forget? Heck no!
First of all, don't just “set and forget”. Make sure to monitor your automated deployment process to detect any infrastructure changes that might break it, any slowdowns or delays that could be fixed with a smarter config, or any delays in the triggering of the deployment, that could be removed by re-thinking the process on the human side of things.
Measure your strength against your intentions
Starting simple is a great guideline for deployment automation, but measuring your strength against your intentions is an even better one. Not everyone is ready to automate their deployments right off the bat, even if they want to do it in small steps.
Sometimes there are not enough human resources available to design and set up the process, sometimes the manual deployment process is so straightforward that automating it doesn't really make that much sense.
Whatever's the case, always make your own decisions, and make sure you make them smart. After all, it's better to deploy code manually and get it into the hands of your users rather than deal with the aftermath of a faulty “auto deployment”. You won't be able to blame the wreck on the robots.
How to automate deployments with Buddy?
With Buddy, creating automated deployment workflows is refreshingly easy. If you stayed away from automated deployment tools such as Jenkins because you were put off all the config files and the archaic UI, Buddy will be a refreshingly simple experience for you.
First and foremost, Buddy connects to your code repository no matter what provider you use - GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, or a self-hosted Git server. Thanks to that, your pipelines are always in sync with the code in your repository so that you don't have to worry about manual syncs and uploads.
The configuration of pipelines is done through an intuitive and clear UI, which allows you to add and reorder automation steps (we call them “actions”) in a couple of clicks, limiting the text-based configuration to a bare minimum.
Integrations are the cherry on the top of this automation cake. Buddy has over 120 dedicated actions that will let you do whatever you want with code but, most importantly, these actions facilitate deployments to the most popular environments. So whether you just need to SFTP files to your server and run some commands through SSH or you trust your code with one of the leading providers such as AWS, Google Cloud, or DigitalOcean, Buddy's got you covered.
If you want to know more about deployment automation with Buddy, take a look at our excellent guides that cover many different scenarios: from tests to “auto-deploys” and full-fat CI/CD setups for different stacks and environments. Then, head over to our documentation to learn more about how Buddy works and get a better idea of how you can integrate it into your setup.
Don't have an account yet? Don't waste time and automate deployments with Buddy for free:
That's all, folks!
Hopefully, this practical guide to deployment automation helps you understand why “auto deployments” are beneficial and why you should be smart about implementing them. Remember to think about all of the pros and cons before introducing new elements to your workflow, even such great ones as automation.
For all your automation needs - whether it's deployments or complete CI/CD workflows - we hope you try out Buddy. Sign up today for free and see how easy it is to automate the deployment of your application. See you around!