Adventures of a wannabe geek!

Ranting within

TFS and Continuous Deployment

I am a huge advocate of continuous integration and continuous delivery. I am always cautious about mentioning continuous deployment in my talks. This can, I stress the word can, be dangerous. For me there is a journey in the delivery of software.

  • Companies, traditionally, started slow and go with manual deployments infrequently
  • Continuous Integration was introduced to the team when the team grew and needed to help test the integration of their code
  • The need to deploy more frequently may arise and as manual deployments are time consuming and (or) painful, deployments become automated
  • Continuous delivery was then said to be the better way to develop software (this meaning that code in the master repo is always in a state where it can be released to the end user)

This journey not only required a development teams skillset to grow to support it, but it also required a culture and attitude change as we move through the lifecycle. Developers need to start taking more care in their work and making sure that technical debt is not accrued too fast and that work is tested thoroughly. For me, when a team reaches this maturity point, they have reached the pinnacle of software delivery. The time required to release a new feature (cycle time) is determined by how fast the developer can develop and test the feature rather than worrying about release cycles. A release for this individual can be created and scheduled as appropriate to the needs of the business. The process is almost completely automated.

Lets take the step to continuous deployment. This is where every successful build is released to the end user. For me, things start to get a bit scary here. Continuous deployment is associated with start-ups. Companies that are releasing a new product and need to get it to market fast to get revenue and user feedback. As the codebase is young, it would has accrued less technical debt so the cycle time would potentially be faster than companies with legacy code. I believe that continuous deployment needs to be surrounded by rigorous automated testing (unit, integration, acceptance, system, performance etc..) and also supported by an immune system that helps to notify everyone if key performance or conversion metrics etc. drop below certain thresholds. This would help the confidence in the code being released to be as high as possible. In this type of environment, developers should work with the operations staff to make sure that deployments happen and follow up if there are issues with the release. I cannot stress enough that continuous deployment should not be taken lightly. It *will* come back and bit you on the ass if you are not well prepared.

Imagine my surprise when I read on twitter during the (azure announcement name hashtag) that the new version of TFS will support continuously deploying applications to the new azure portal [THIS NEEDS CHECKED FOR ACCURACY]. Firstly, I was surprised that this feature was added to TFS over something more useful, e.g. DVCS style version control. The lack of the good version control is a major downfall in TFS for me. Secondly, I think that this new feature will inspire a new breed of false bravery. I understand that it is very good to be brave. Nothing is braver than finishing development fast and pushing straight to production. There needs to be a process around these deployments – are they dark deployments, canary releases, have A/B testing etc.? Have you got the performance test analysis incase your feature causes an issue in production that costs the company money. Have you got monitoring around the system to spot potential issues early. There are many things I have set up around my continuous deployment sites.I don’t believe that all software developers give enough thought to what they are doing and will fix it later. Continuous deployment may not be good for these types of developer. A small issue unnoticed, e.g. a missing ‘checkout’ button on the site, can cause the company a lot of money.

I am by no way trying to say my setup is better than other developer setups, I am merely pointing out that a good support network around a deployment is needed. Maybe azure has this good support network but a developer should definitely know how to use it if they are to take advantage of this feature. If you are working on a personal project that doesn’t affect too much then continuously deploy until your heart is content. If wanting to take the giant leap to this in a company with legacy code then think twice. don’t f**k with your users. They potentially pay your salary. I think TFS should focus on making the tool easier to use for developers rather than worry about continuous deployment just yet