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Continuous Deployment vs. Delivery vs. Integration Explained

Curious about continuous deployment vs delivery? We explain what each is, what happens in each step, and their importance in the DevOps lifecycle.

What is the Difference Between Continuous Deployment vs. Delivery?

Continuous delivery refers to the process of automatically deploying releases into a testing environment (also known as a staging environment), with a final manual approval before pushing the releases into production. In continuous deployment, all releases that pass through the testing process are automatically deployed with no final manual step. 

When it comes to CI/CD, the most frequently asked question is whether the CD stands for continuous delivery or deployment. The short answer is both. Depending on your organization’s existing workflow, you can either opt for continuous delivery or deployment. 

Which one is Right for Your Organization?

Companies that want some control over the final release process should opt for continuous delivery as it allows the QA team to revise everything manually before deployment. On the other hand, continuous deployment requires a fully automated CI/CD pipeline. It works best for companies that want to release features more frequently – daily or hourly. Ultimately, a successful product requires continuous testing and continuous monitoring alongside CI/CD.

Continuous Delivery vs Continuous Deployment

What is Continuous Integration (CI)?

In DevOps, we repeatedly hear the term CI/CD where CI stands for Continuous integration and CD stands for continuous delivery/deployment. Continuous deployment and continuous delivery are two terms that are often used interchangeably but are actually quite different. Before diving deeper into how they differ, let’s understand the concept of continuous integration. 

At the core of DevOps is continuous integration, which makes the entire CI/CD process possible. It works as a safety net that allows development teams to find and prevent issues before they reach the end-user. They can ship the code with more confidence, but the deployment process may still belong and error-prone. 

The CI process starts with the developers sending a pull request (PR) to merge the code into the central repository. This triggers an automated build and testing sequence to begin. During the build stage, the program is first compiled (depending on the programming language). There’s also increasing popularity of packaging the code in a Docker container. Afterward, automated tests are run on the code to verify its UI behavior, specific units, application performance, etc. Automating the integration and testing allows for much faster and more frequent updates. This allows engineers to make safer incremental changes, rather than needing to make lots of changes to justify the overhead of integration.

Continuous Delivery: What is it and its Benefits?

Continuous delivery is a software development practice in which code changes are automatically prepared for deployment into production. It’s an extension of the continuous integration phase where all code changes are automatically deployed to a testing or production environment after the build stage. 

The continuous delivery phase generally involves at least one manual step where the new release is approved for the production environment. By integrating continuous delivery into their DevOps lifecycle, the process not only becomes faster but also more efficient. 

Benefits of Continuous Delivery

  • Automation of the software delivery process.
  • Improved developer productivity via automation. 
  • Bugs are found and addressed earlier and faster. 
  • New updates are released frequently to the users. 

Continuous Delivery Challenges 

  • Require a strong foundation in continuous integration (CI).
  • The automated testing suite must be good enough to cover the codebase. 
  • The deployment process (once approved) must be automated.
  • Feature flags must be embraced so that incomplete features do not affect the end-users.

Continuous Deployment: What is it and its Benefits?

Continuous deployment takes continuous delivery one step further by automating the release to production step and eliminating any need for human intervention altogether. It significantly improves the time to production, but your testing process needs to be almost perfect. 

What makes continuous and automated deployment efficient is that it eliminates manual testing altogether and allows teams to fully automate their DevOps pipeline. The developer’s job ends with pushing the pull request and reviewing the PR of their teammates and merging it into the master branch. The CI/CD service automatically takes over, runs all tests, and deploys the code into production once it’s ready. 

To make continuous deployment work for your company, it’s integral to implement continuous monitoring, automated incident management, and an excellent on-call team.

Continuous Deployment Benefits 

  • Agile and seamless deployment process.
  • No need for human intervention.
  • Easier to fix problems due to smaller releases
  • Customers frequently get updates and see optimizations and new features. 

Continuous Deployment Challenges 

  • Very strong automated testing foundation is required as the release is as good as the testing suite. 
  • Documentation must always be up-to-date. 
  • Feature flags become an inherent part of the process so that specific changes can be walked back without affecting the rest of the service.

Is Continuous Deployment Right for Your Organization? 

Continuous deployment vs. delivery involves two interconnecting but unique practices. Both provide a clear opportunity for your business to streamline the flow of software updates and releases.

Determining if continuous deployment is right for your organization depends entirely on your testing and monitoring system. CD automation requires manual supervision to ensure the finished product operates as your organization intended. This can either come before delivery, which can allow automated deployment, or as a final check before delivery, allowing automation up to that step.

Some reasons companies choose continuous deployment include:

  • Quick deployment - With no middleman managing the release of updates/fixes, developer work initiates within moments of completion.
  • Quick overall development - Along with speedy deployment comes speedy development. With testing success being the only reason an update doesn’t reach customers immediately, the entire development process is streamlined.
  • Reduced risk - Due to the immediacy of continuous deployment, changes are released in small batches as they happen. There’s less risk of error because fewer changes occur at once.
  • Immediate results - As continuous deployment occurs, customers see changes process quickly, and ongoing. While the same amount of work is being completed by your team, it appears to be more because the changes don’t come monthly or quarterly.
  • Faster feedback - With small batches of changes going live more frequently, customer feedback is also faster and more frequent. If there is a problem with your methods, you can fix them early.

Moving Towards Continuous Deployment 

Getting to a point where continuous deployment makes sense for your organization isn’t immediate. There are steps to take in continuous deployment vs. delivery to ensure the process goes smoothly. Some of these steps include:

  • Automation and Infrastructure as Code - Define the infrastructure for the deployment process using code. The code allows for consistent and scalable automation that is reproducible.
  • Continuous Testing and Quality Assurance - Fixing errors early is integral to the effectiveness of your continuous deployment setup. Quality assurance reduces bugs and creates a reliable product you feel confident automating the deployment of.
  • Incremental Rollouts and Feature Flags - Feature flags are used to turn certain features on or off without the need for redeployment. This creates a safer A/B testing space. Deploying features incrementally to a subset of users simplifies this process.
  • Visibility, Monitoring, and Feedback - Consistent monitoring of the product before, during, and after rollout is important. Use immediate feedback loops to detect issues early and resolve them quickly.
  • Security, Compliance, and Documentation - Check that code and deployment methods meet security and regulation standards before rolling out. Document everything to keep a record of compliance in the event of issues. This keeps sensitive information safe and provides consistency across teams.
  • Cultural Shift and Continuous Improvement - When looking at continuous deployment vs. delivery, it’s important staff is on board for continuous improvement. When your organization embraces change, ongoing learning and adaptation will follow.

When comparing continuous deployment vs. delivery, some of these steps are universal, especially in the case of monitoring and continuous improvement. Implementing official protocols early keeps everyone on board each step of the way.

How Can Blameless Help?

CI/CD in DevOps is becoming integral to any engineering organization. Blameless can help your DevOps team by making DevOps tooling more robust. You can interpret a variety of DevOps tools and get data that can be transformed into SLIs and SLOs to measure user happiness metrics. To learn more about Blameless and CD tools, sign up for the newsletter below or request a demo!

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