09 December, 2018Operations

How to design CI/CD pipelines, or rather how I do it.

  • Tymoteusz Paul
Tymoteusz Paul
Bristol, UK

Often enough, I have to explain my way of going about setting up a CI/CD pipeline with multiple deployment platforms. Since I am a bit tired of yapping the same every single time, I've decided to write it up and share with the world this way and send people to read it instead ;). I will explain it on "live-example" of how Rome got built, basing that current methodology exists only of readme.md and wishes of good luck (as it usually is ;)).

It always starts with an app, whatever it may be, and reading the readmes available while Vagrant and VirtualBox are installing and updating. Following that is the first hurdle to go over - convert all the instruction/scripts into Ansible playbook(s), and only stopping when doing a clear vagrant up or Vagrant reload we will have a fully working environment. As our Vagrant environment is now functional, it's time to break it! This is the moment to look for how things can be done better (too rigid/too lose versioning? Sloppy environment set up?) and replace them with the right way to do stuff, one that won't bite us in the backside. This is the point, and the best opportunity, to upcycle the existing way of doing dev environment to produce a proper, production-grade product.

I should probably digress here for a moment and explain why. I firmly believe that the way you deploy production is the same way you should implement development, shy of a few debugging-friendly setting. This way, you avoid the discrepancy between how production work vs. how development works, which almost always causes significant pains in the back of the neck, and proper tools should mean no more work for the developers. That's why we start with Vagrant as developer boxes should be as easy as Vagrant up. Still, the meat of our product exists in Ansible, which will do the work and can be applied to almost anything: AWS, bare metal, Docker, LXC, in the open net, behind VPN - you name it.

We must also give proper consideration to monitoring and logging hoovering at this point. My generic answer here is to grab Elasticsearch, Kibana, and Logstash. While for different use cases, there may be better solutions, this one is well battle-tested, performs reasonably, and is very easy to scale vertically (within some limits) and horizontally. Logstash rules are easy to write and are well supported in maintenance through Ansible, which, as I've mentioned earlier, are at the very core of things; and creating triggers/reports and alerts based on Elastic and Kibana is generally a breeze, including some quite complex aggregations.

If we are happy with the state of the Ansible it's time to move on and put all those roles and playbooks to work. Namely, we need something to manage our CI/CD pipelines. For me, the choice is obvious: TeamCity. It's modern, robust, and unlike most of the light-weight alternatives, it's transparent. What I mean by that is that it doesn't tell you how to do things, limit your ways to deploy, test, or package for that matter. Instead, it provides a developer-friendly and rich playground for your pipelines. You can do most the same with Jenkins, but it has a quite dated look and feel to it, while also missing some key functionality that must be brought in via plugins (like quality REST API which comes built-in with TeamCity). It also comes with all the common-handy plugins like Slack or Apache Maven integration.

The exact flow between CI and CD varies too much from one application to another to describe, so I will outline a few rules that guide me in it:

  1. Make build steps as small as possible. This way, when something breaks, we know exactly where, without needing to dig and root around.
  2. All security credentials, besides the development environment, must be sourced from individual Vault instances. Keys to those containers should exist only on the CI/CD box and accessible by a few people (the less, the better). This is pretty self-explanatory, as anything besides dev may contain sensitive data and, at times, be public-facing. Because of that, appropriate security must be present. TeamCity shines in this department with excellent secrets-management.
  3. Every part of the build chain shall consume and produce artifacts. If it creates nothing, it likely shouldn't be its own build. This way, if any issue shows up with any environment or version, all developers have to do it by grabbing appropriate artifacts to reproduce the problem locally.
  4. The deployment should be directly tied to specific Git branches/tags. This enables much easier tracking of what caused an issue, including automated identifying and tagging the author (nothing like automated regression testing!).

Speaking of deployments, I generally try to keep it simple but also with a close eye on the wallet. Because of that, I am more than happy with AWS or another cloud provider, while always peeking at the loads, and do we get the value of what we are paying for. Often enough, the pattern of use is not always erratic, but instead has a firm baseline which could be migrated away from the cloud and into bare-metal boxes. That is another part where this approach strongly triumphs over the common Docker, and CircleCI setup, where you are very much tied in to use cloud providers, and getting out is expensive. Here to embrace bare-metal hosting, all you need is the help of some container-based self-hosting software; my personal preference is with Proxmox and LXC. Following that, all you must write are ansible scripts to manage hardware of Proxmox, which is similar to Amazon EC2 (Ansible supports both greatly), and you are good to go. One does not exclude another, quite the opposite. They can live in great synergy and cut your costs dramatically (the heavier your baseload, the bigger the savings) while providing production-grade resiliency.

Related Posts