CI/CD / DevOps / Sponsored / Contributed

Observable CI/CD Pipelines for DevOps Success

2 Mar 2021 7:51am, by

Serkan Özal
Serkan is co-founder and CTO of Thundra. He has 10+ years of expertise in software development, is an AWS Certified PRO and has a patent on distributed environments. He mainly works on serverless architectures, distributed systems and monitoring tools.

Increasingly complex architecture coupled with customer demand for consistent availability has accelerated the need for battle-ready, reliable software and infrastructure. Customers expect high-quality and reliable services, but they also want innovation.

Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) is a fundamental DevOps tactic for building a reliable and consistent product delivery lifecycle. A well-tuned CI/CD pipeline allows agile teams to have fast feedback loops, deploy applications at a much faster speed, and allows for several releases a day.

In this post, you’ll learn what CI/CD pipeline observability means, how to monitor your CI/CD pipelines, and the metrics you need to log. Finally, you’ll discover the value that a CI/CD data provides.

Why Observability Is Important

A typical software team comprises people from different disciplines working cross-functionally to build, deliver and deploy new services and features. With the constant changes associated with building software, it can be challenging to understand what’s happening within a CI/CD pipeline at a glance.

Complex software often requires complex pipelines with multiple services, tools, and integrated platforms. A failure or bug in one service in the pipeline could halt your ability to release new features. As an IT, SRE, Ops engineer or manager, it’s important that your teams are able to understand what’s happening right from the CI pipeline, so they can identify issues in code and resolve them quickly.

Continuous observability is crucial to understand the issues that could happen in pre-production. Observability allows you to collect metrics, track each step of the CI/CD pipeline, and stay on top of any risks or problems that arise. With observable CI/CD pipelines, software teams can ensure the reliability, performance and health of their infrastructure and applications, across the entire development and operations lifecycles.

Benefits of Observability in CI/CD Pipelines

When things break in the pipeline — and they often do — you need visibility to understand what’s wrong. Continuous observability is a one-stop solution for any software team that wants to have visibility on issues in their CI/CD pipelines.

Without CI/CD pipelines, an organization cannot operate efficiently; and by making a CI/CD pipeline observable, software teams can rapidly identify and respond to issues encountered during software development. Eventually, a fully observable pipeline leads to more confidence in your code and enables faster fixes.

Here are a few of the primary benefits of an observable CI/CD pipeline:

  • Better fault detection and isolation: By analyzing and aggregating logs and metrics, software teams can quickly identify and fix system bugs, release security patches, and optimize pipelines for quick releases and better software delivery.
  • Quickly identify the best metrics: An observable pipeline helps you to identify the metrics that best represent application performance and save your team from flying blind.
  • Boost customer satisfaction: By confidently building and deploying reliable applications that meet demand, you’ll improve customer satisfaction.
  • Shorter feedback loops: Observability in pipelines allows you to get feedback before roll-out, rather than waiting until your code goes to production.

One of the three pillars of observability is metrics. You can’t have observable CI/CD pipelines without having the right metrics. In the next section, we’ll dive into the most important metrics for CI/CD observability.

Key CI/CD Metrics to Track

True DevOps success means enhancing your team’s agility and enabling them to quickly ship high-performing, reliable software that delivers exceptional customer experience. To achieve these objectives, you need to track the right set of metrics across the entire CI/CD pipeline.

Although there are several metrics you can collect to track the performance of CI/CD pipelines, the following categories of metrics are a good place to start:

Quality Metrics

In an effort to innovate fast and make frequent releases, organizations often end up deploying applications that aren’t up to par. As organizations transition to an agile software release cycle, the need to build and deploy high-quality products increases. After all, no team wants to chase production fires after deploying an application.

These quality metrics will help your team to build confidence in their code:

  • Defect escape rate
  • Number of bugs
  • Deployment success rate
  • Test pass rate

Time-Based Metrics

Time-based metrics are useful for evaluating the productivity and workflow of CI/CD pipelines. By logging and tracking time-based metrics, you can understand how long it takes to build and deploy new features and products.

A few time-based metrics to watch include:

  • Deployment time and frequency
  • Defect resolution time
  • Time to market

Tracking these time-based metrics will also enable you to estimate how long it takes to resolve an issue and identify bottlenecks in your CI/CD pipelines.

Automation Metrics

Software teams need to quantify the performance, worth and impact of their automated test process, especially during the deployment process.

Organizations can identify better ways to speed up their test automation efforts by keeping track of automation metrics like:

  • Deployment frequency
  • Failed deployments
  • Deployment size

Automation metrics also allow you to evaluate technical debts, deployment success rate, and the total error rates for each pipeline stage.

Now that you understand quality, time-based and automation metrics, as well as the metrics in each category, the next section will get you up to speed on keys that foster DevOps success.

Key Drivers and KPIs for DevOps Success

Software development teams aim to speed up the software development process, while delivering high-quality applications that customers love. Setting metrics to measure your business objectives will let you know if your team is achieving these goals. Without clearly defined performance indicators, you won’t know how well your teams are doing or the value you’re getting out of your DevOps investment.

By tracking the following DevOps KPIs, your team can accurately measure performance and make data-driven decisions to improve CI/CD pipelines, applications or infrastructure.

Business Success

The first principle of the Agile Manifesto states that every business should aim to “satisfy their customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” You can think of valuable software as a product that helps reduce customer service costs, increases revenue, or grows your customer base.

Depending on your company’s maturity, industry or market share, you might focus on different performance indicators to measure business success. These include KPIs like:

  • Incremental or recurring revenue
  • Customer acquisition costs
  • Average revenue per user
  • Conversion rates

Tracking business success KPIs will also reinforce your confidence that you’re building the right thing.

Customer Experience

As you develop and deploy applications, you need to ensure that your products are reliable, leading to better user experience and increased customer satisfaction. By not meeting these goals, you risk losing customers to a competitor that builds better products or delivers better customer experience.

The only way to know if consumers enjoy using your product is by measuring and tracking KPIs like:

  • User growth rate
  • Customer satisfaction
  • The total time users spend on the app
  • The number of visits per week/per user within your software

Application and Infrastructure Performance

Tracking performance KPIs across your applications and infrastructure is the best way for your team to catch performance problems before they manifest.

To understand the performance of your app and infrastructure, you need to track performance indicators like:

  • Resource utilization
  • App response time
  • Third-party service performance
  • Database response time

Application and infrastructure performance, business success, and customer experience are critical drivers for DevOps success. If you don’t monitor and measure these KPIs, your team won’t know what they’re doing right and where their DevOps tactics need improvement.

All of this points to one logical question: How can you make a CI/CD pipeline observable?

Making CI/CD Observable

To make your pipelines observable, your team needs to collaborate and set up runbooks, alert systems and monitoring tools for better monitoring and incident detection in CI/CD pipelines. The right detection strategy will allow your team to quickly detect issues, incidents, or vulnerabilities in their code.

Furthermore, determining who’s responsible for what enables your team to have clear ownership of tasks and resolve issues on time. Rather than dedicating a team to fixing issues observed from the CI, many organizations follow the principle that the person who commits the change is responsible for providing the fix.

As soon as the incident is resolved, you need to conduct a thorough, blameless post-mortem incident review to examine what didn’t work and what did. Afterward, you can implement new systems, update your runbooks, and create resources for quicker remediation in the future.

The last step is to provide your team with the right observability tools (like Thundra APM) to identify potential problems and handle unknown unknowns in your CI/CD pipeline.

In Conclusion

In this post, we’ve seen the importance of CI/CD pipeline observability and why every team needs to build an observability-driven culture. With the rapid change in the technology landscape, observable CI/CD pipelines are crucial for DevOps success.

Whether you’re an IT or engineering manager, a CTO or a CIO, CI/CD pipeline observability can help you. By logging the metrics and tracking the KPIs mentioned in this post, you can quickly gauge the success of your team’s effort. These practices will foster a culture of empathy and collaboration, helping to ensure successful DevOps implementation within your organization.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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