Skip to main content

Safety Is No Accident

Continuous Delivery and Deployment is changing the way organizations deliver software. Over the years, software delivery has morphed into a time consuming process.  With countless validations and approvals to ensure the code is safe to present to users. And with good reason, releasing bad software can severely impact a business’s brand, popularity, and even revenue. In this day and age, with customer sentiment immediately feeding back into public visibility, companies are taking even stricter measures to ensure the best software delivery and user experience.

When deploying software to production, we use words like “resilience” to talk about how the code runs in the wild. For the optimists, we use words such as “Availability Zones,” and for those more pessimistic about deployments, we say, “Failure Domains.” When I was architecting and deploying applications for Apple, eBay, and others, I always built for failure. I was always more interested in how things behave when we break things, and less so on the steady state. I’d relish in unleashing tools like Simian Army to wreak havoc on what we had built to ensure code and experience weren’t impaired. 

Nowadays, there is a much better approach to ensuring safety. Continuous Delivery (CD) has enabled organizations to shift left. Empowering developers with access to deploy directly to production, but with the guardrails needed to make sure safety isn’t compromised for speed. Luckily, the world-class engineers at Netflix and Google have built a platform, Spinnaker. Spinnaker addresses deployment resiliency concerns and empowers developers with toolsets to validate and verify as a built-in part of delivering code.

Now, let’s break down the modern model and review the tools available in the CI/CD workflow. 

Spinnaker – Spinnaker is a high scale multicloud continuous delivery (CD) tool.  While leveraging the years of software delivery best practices that Netflix and Google built into Spinnaker, users get to serialize and automate all the decisions that they have baked into their current software delivery process. Approvals, environments, testing, failures, feature flagging, ticketing, etc., are all completely automated and shared across the whole organization. The end result? Built-in safety that allows DevOps teams to deploy software with great velocity.

Continuous Verification – Leveraging real-time KPIs and log messages to dictate the health of code and environment. Spinnaker’s canary deployments ingest real-time metrics from data platforms including Datadog, NewRelic, Prometheus, Splunk, and Istio into a service called Kayenta. Kayenta runs these time series metrics into the Mann Whitney algorithm developed by Netflix and Google, and compares  release metrics to current production metrics. Spinnaker will then adjust or roll back deployments automatically based on success criteria. This allows math and data, rather than manual best-guesses, to dictate in real time if the user is getting the best experience from the service.

Chaos Engineering – Why wait for things to break in production to fix them? There are better ways. Chaos Engineering is the practice of breaking things in pre prod environments to understand how the code behaves when it’s exercised. What happens when a dependent service goes offline? How do the other services in the application behave? How does Kubernetes deal with it? What about shutting off a process in a service? These are the measures Gremlin and Chaos Monkey give your developers. Now testing is much more than what your CI Server does, it takes into consideration the environments in which they are deployed. 

Service Mesh – Service Meshes are a Kubernetes traffic management solution. Kubernetes applications can traverse many clusters, regions, and even clouds. Service Meshes are a way to manage traffic flows, traceability, and most importantly with ephemeral workloads, observability. There are many flavors of service meshes to choose from. Istio/Envoy has the most visibility, but you can also implement service meshes from nginx, consul, solo.io or even get enterprise support from companies like F5/NGINX+ or Citrix, which offer elevated ingress features. Service Meshes in the context of software delivery provide a very granular canary release. Instead of blindly sending traffic to a canary version for testing, you can instead programmatically use layer 7 traffic characteristics such as URI, host, query, path, and cookie to steer traffic. This allows you to switch only certain users, business partners, or regions to new versions of software.

DevSecOps – In my years seeing changes in technology and how we deliver software to end users, one thing is for sure: security wants to understand the risks in what you’re doing. And with good reason. Security exploits can leak sensitive information or, even expose an organization to malicious hackers. Luckily this new deployment world allows security to process their scans and validations in an automated fashion. Solutions range from Twistlock, Artifactory Xray, Aqua, Signal Science, etc. There are many DevSecOps solutions, so it is a good thing to know that Spinnaker supports them all!

Spinnaker stages automate developer tools:

End Result – As you put together your new cloud native tool chain, there are many ways you can improve the way you release software. I urge you to deploy the tools you need for the service you are providing, not only based on what a vendor is saying. Over time, implementing guardrails will increase your innovation and time to market. For many this will be a competitive advantage against those who move slowly, and investing in these areas will, over time, improve the hygiene of your software code, which will provide stability in your future releases. By de-risking the release processes and improving safety, the end users are given the best possible experience with your software.