Build and Deployment Automation Case Study for World Wide Time Keeping: Higher Quality and Faster Delivery in an Increasingly Agile World

Last Update: 9/27/2016

By Vaibhav Rajeev Thombre

October 2015

Introduction

In an Agile world, delivering quick and frequent releases for large, complex systems with multiple components becomes cumbersome and time-consuming if done manually, because each component has a high degree of complexity and requires a lot of resource intervention and configuration to ensure that it works as expected.

That's why many teams opt for Build and Deployment Automation to ensure faster releases and reduce manual intervention. However, automating multiple components of a system has its own challenges. Even though releases can be automated in silos, if we need a one-click deployment for the entire system, we need to have an automation framework that can automate an entire custom workflow.

Throughout this paper, we give insight on our project – World Wide Time Keeping — and how we implemented build and deployment automation using Gated Check-ins, Code Analysis, and Fortify Integrations. We discuss build and deployment automation by using PowerShell scripts and how we can create custom workflows and deploy all at once using Release Management. We also talk about how these can help you cut down your engineering cycle time and play an important role in hitting Production Ready at Code Complete (PRCC) goals. This lets you have a Continuous Integration Continuous Delivery (CICD) Project and helps you go faster, without introducing issues.

This content is useful for SWE teams who are working in an Agile model for large, complex systems and want to cut down their release cycles and deliver faster. We assume that readers have a fundamental knowledge of Engineering Cycles and their phases (Develop/Test/Build/Deploy) and a fundamental knowledge of Agile practices and delivery cycles.

Build Automation

Many teams have multiple requirements for build, but the following practices can be applied to most teams. You may adopt the whole approach or just implement the components that work out best for you.

Daily Builds: Have a build definition for scheduled builds. Aim for a daily schedule with builds released to the internal SWE environment by the end of each day.

One-click builds for non-internal environments: For Integration/UAT environments, you automate the builds. Instead of scheduling them on a per day basis, you can trigger them by queuing them in VSTF. (The reason for not scheduling them is that a build is not required on Integration/UAT environments on a daily basis. Rather, they tend to happen on an as-needed basis. This will depend on your team's needs and you can adopt the rhythm that works best for your team.)

Gated Check-ins: Set up gated check-ins to ensure that only code that complies and passed unit testing gets checked in. It ensures that code quality remains high and that there are no broken builds. Integrate Fortify and Code Analysis to get further insight into code quality.

Code Analysis Integrations: To get insight into whether the code is of good quality or if any changes need to be made, integrate Code Analysis into the build definitions and set the threshold to low. The changes can be identified and fixed early, which is required in the Agile world.

Fortify Integrations: Use Fortify for security-based checks of the build definitions associated with your check-ins and daily builds. This ensures that any security vulnerabilities are identified as soon as possible and can be fixed quickly.

Deployment Automation

Using Deployment Scripts

Deployments for internal SWE environment: Set up the internal SWE environments deployments with the daily automated builds by integrating the build definitions with the deployment scripts. All the checked-in changes will then be deployed at the end of each day, without any manual intervention.

This way, the latest build is present in the SWE environment in case you would like to demo the product to stakeholders.

Deployments for Integration/UAT environments: For Integration/UAT environments, you can integrate the scripts with the build definitions without scheduling them and trigger them on an as-needed basis. Because you have set up one-click builds for them, when the build completes successfully, the scripts get executed at the end and the product is deployed. Therefore, you do not have to manually deploy the system. Instead it's deployed automatically by simply queuing a build.

The Release Pipeline

In theory, a release pipeline is a process that dictates how you deliver software to your end users. In practice, a release pipeline is an implementation of that pattern. The pipeline begins with code in version control and ends with code deployed to the production environment. In between, a lot can happen. Code is compiled, environments are configured, many types of tests run, and finally, the code is considered "done". By done, we mean that the code is in production. Anything you successfully put through the release pipeline should be something you would give to your customers. Here is a diagram based on the one you will see on Jez Humble's Continuous Delivery website. It is an example of what can occur as code moves through a release pipeline.

Pipeline for continuous delivery

Using Release Management

If your team is working on Azure-based components – web apps, services, web jobs, and so on — you can use Release Management for automating deployments.

Release Management consists of various pre-created components which you can configure and use either independently or in conjunction with other components through workflows.

You might face pain points when you manually deploy an entire system. For a large complex system with multiple components, like service, web jobs, and dapac scripts, here are example pain points:

  • A large amount of time goes into configuration of each component

  • Deployment needs to be done separately for each, adding to the overall deployment time.

  • Multiple resources have to be engaged to ensure that the deployments happen as expected.

How Release Management (RM) solves them:

  • RM allows you to create custom workflows which sequence the deployment to ensure that the components get deployed as soon as their dependencies have been deployed.

  • Configurations can be stored in RM to ensure that configuration per deployment is not required.

  • It automates the entire workflow which ensures manual intervention is not required and resources can be utilized for functional tasks.

Key takeaways

  • Set up Automated Builds scheduled for the rhythm that works best for your product and Implement Gated Check-ins.

  • Integrate Code Analysis and Fortify into the build setup to improve the code quality and security of the application

  • Set up daily automated deployments to the internal SWE environments and set up one click deployments to environments like UAT and Prod.

  • Use Release Management to set up custom workflows for your releases and triggering them with a single click.

To use Release Management, you need to set up the following components:

  • RM Server: Is the central repository for configuration and release information.

  • Build Agent: This is a machine (physical or VM) that you set up at your end on which you will run all your builds and deployments.

  • Environments: This signifies the environment which will be used in conjunction with your machine that you have set up.

  • Release Paths: You need to create Release Paths for the multiple releases that you want to automate for multiple environments - internal SWE envs, INT, UAT, and so on.

  • Build Components: The build component is used configure the build and change any environment specific configurations. It picks up the build from the remote machine in which VSTF auto-generates the builds as per the build definition and runs the configuration changes that are defined within it.

  • Release Templates: Release template defines the workflow that you have set up as per your specific needs of deployment. It also defines the sequence in which the RM components are to get executed. You need to integrate your build definition from Team Foundation Server (TFS) with the release template to enable continuous delivery. You can either pick up the latest build or select the build.

    Release template

Conclusion

In this paper, we discussed the various engineering practices we can use for enabling faster product delivery with higher quality. We discussed:

  • Build Automation: Builds can be set up for triggering on a schedule or on an ad-hoc basis just by a single click. It can vary based on the rhythm that works best for your team. Gated check-ins should be set up on top of the build definitions to accept only the check-ins which meet the criteria bar.

  • Code Analysis and Fortify Integration: The build definitions should be integrated with Code Analysis and Fortify to trigger on a schedule and also with the Gated Check-ins. Code Analysis will improve the code quality and Fortify will point out the security-based gaps in the application, if any.

  • Deployment Automation: You can integrate PowerShell scripts with your build definitions to achieve deployment automation. You can also use Release Management to set up custom workflows and integrate it with your TFS to pick up the latest builds or even select builds.

We also discussed the benefits that we found by taking up these practices:

  • Minimal wastage of time due to automations of build, deploy phases

  • Higher code quality due to Gated check-ins (with integrated Test Automation), Code Analysis, and Fortify Integration

  • Faster delivery

  • Will enable you to hit Production Ready at Code Complete (PRCC)

  • Will enable you to hit Continuous Integration & Continuous Delivery targets (CI/CD)

References

[1] Visual Studio team, Automate deployments with Release Management, MSDN Article

[2] Visual Studio team, Build and Deploy Continuously, MSDN Article

[3] Visual Studio team, Building a Release Pipeline with Team Foundation Server 2012, MSDN Article

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