CI/CD Best Practices: Overcoming CI/CD Challenges and Common Pitfalls

Table of Contents

In our journey through the transformative world of software development, we’ve embraced the shift towards Agile and DevOps methodologies, underscoring the pivotal role of Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) practices. 

Our previous exploration, “CI/CD Best Practices: Transforming Software Development,” highlighted the significance of integrating security into these practices—coining the term DevSecOps—and outlined the foundational best practices essential for enhancing software quality, accelerating delivery, and embedding security into our pipelines. 

Yet, as many development teams, CISOs, and DevSecOps engineers have discovered, the path to implementing these best practices is fraught with challenges and common pitfalls. 

Challenges in Implementing CI/CD Best Practices and Common Pitfalls

Implementing CI/CD best practices is the cornerstone of modern software development strategies, enhancing efficiency, raising software quality, and hastening the delivery process. However, the journey to develop or optimize a CI/CD pipeline is not without its share of difficulties. As they make their way on this endeavor, organizations can expect to face a range of hurdles capable of derailing CI/CD initiatives. Acquainting themselves with these challenges and how to deflect them enables businesses to fully leverage the benefits of CI/CD best practices.

Lack of Clear Strategy and Cultural Resistance:
  • Challenge: Attempting to implement CI/CD without a clear strategy or encountering resistance to change can leave teams stuck in place.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Ensure that CI/CD goals are clearly defined, and that they align with overall business objectives. Quell cultural resistance by promoting an atmosphere of collaboration, and by making it crystal clear how CI/CD practices will benefit team members and the business at large.
Inadequate Training and Complex Infrastructure:
  • Challenge: CI/CD requires a skilled workforce — something that not all organizations have. Additionally, tangled-up legacy systems often slow integration efforts to a crawl.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Invest in broad training programs for the entire development team (and not just developers). Pair these efforts with external expertise to help fill knowledge gaps. For complex infrastructures, move toward modernization via a phased approach. Employ techniques such as containerization and microservices to help simplify the architecture over time.
Security Concerns and Tool Integration Issues:
  • Challenge: Maintaining security in a fast-moving CI/CD environment is tough. From a toolset perspective, companies rarely pick a single vendor to handle their every software development need. As such, integrating the many pieces of the CI/CD pipeline can be a real hassle.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Adopt a DevSecOps approach to link security activities with the rest of a CI/CD pipeline right from the outset — and not just as an afterthought. For tools, make certain to choose options with extensive integration capabilities, and move forward in a way that allows for adaptations in a changing toolset.
Overlooking Testing and Neglecting Pipeline Maintenance:
  • Challenge: The rapid-fire pace with which a CI/CD cycle moves can lead to a lack of adequate testing for the code in production. Additionally, as with many technologies, the CI/CD pipeline often falls apart without regular maintenance.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Rigorously enforce comprehensive automated testing in the CI/CD pipeline, and opcode those tests to guarantee a minimum level of code, CI/CD automation, and IT configuration quality is always met. In addition, it’s not enough to simply create a CI/CD pipeline and forget about it. Instead, development groups must constantly review and optimize their pipelines by removing bottlenecks and improving performance and security.
Underestimating Scalability Needs and Failing to Measure Success:
  • Challenge: A CI/CD pipeline that can’t scale to support the demands of a growing business can quickly become an albatross. However, without solid metrics that measure success, it’s difficult to understand where (and how) a CI/CD pipeline needs to be improved.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Design pipelines, knowing that improved scalability (including the ability to move pipelines out of their initial cloud environments and into customizable spaces, closer to the applications they support) will be necessary. In addition, identify success metrics and review them often to understand how the processes in a CI/CD pipeline need to be adjusted.
Managing Configuration and Environment Drift
  • Challenge: As CI/CD practices scale, maintaining consistency across development, testing, staging, and production environments becomes challenging.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Utilize a secure Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to manage and provision your environments in a consistent and repeatable manner. This helps in minimizing drift and ensuring that your infrastructure remains aligned with your application code.
Continuous Feedback Mechanisms
  • Challenge: Without a robust feedback loop, it’s difficult to identify and address issues promptly, impacting the overall effectiveness of CI/CD practices.
  • Pitfall to Avoid: Implement monitoring and logging tools that provide real-time insights into application performance and user experience. Encourage a culture where feedback from all stakeholders, including customers, is valued and acted upon quickly.

Overcoming CI/CD Hurdles: Lessons from the Trenches of DevOps Innovation

As we’ve seen, navigating the complex terrain of continuous processing within continuous delivery presents a significant challenge. To illustrate how companies have addressed these challenges, we summarize some examples of how NCC Group, Qentelli, Ericsson, and Netflix have been able to develop their CI/CD pipelines with the security of the entire software lifecycle in mind.

NCC Group’s Security Compromises in CI/CD Pipelines: NCC Group mentioned a couple of different CI/CD pipeline compromises due to misconfigurations and security oversights. Some of the highlights in this session included an incident in which GitLab’s shared runners exposed secrets through environment variables, and Docker daemons were exposed in shared GitLab runners, allowing attackers to deploy privileged containers. Mitigation strategies for those incidents included ensuring that environment variables do not hold privileged credentials and limiting the exposure of runners to specific workloads.

Qentelli’s Testing Landscape Transformation: The final session offered talks from the community, such as D4Science, Gainsight, and Avoris Travel. On behalf of those companies, Jenkins explained that D4Science was trying to enable multi-project releases per day, and needed a CI/CD pipeline that could release 8-12 projects from over 200 Git repositories per day; they did so with Jenkins. Jenkins said Gainsight needed a new way to think about customer service, and thus redeveloped their entire product, humanizing the customer service experience with a DevSecOps platform powered by Jenkins, and providing scalability on a startup budget. Rounding out its customer spotlight, Avoris Travel was building a dynamic booking engine and needed faster build times than their current CI/CD pipeline could provide. They then implemented Jenkins to slash build times by 56% .

Ericsson’s Multi-Vendor CI/CD Challenge: Finally from Jenkins, Ericsson talked about the challenges of CI/CD in a multi-vendor environment, noting that integration of multiple vendors’ CI/CD setups is more difficult than integration of multiple products. They further elaborated that the key was to avoid vendor lock-in and choose tools that have demonstrated interoperability; doing so guarantees not only seamless and error-free updates but also high availability.

Netflix’s DevOps Mastery: Finally, none of the organizations mentioned made such strides in DevOps mastery by even prioritizing DevOps, but instead by focusing on enabling collaboration and innovation across their teams. Only after a major outage, for example, did Netflix need to take a fresh look at its application architecture; in 2008 Netflix moved from owning their own datacenter to AWS, re-architected their application to be cloud-native, and set about creating practices like Chaos Monkey and the Simian Army. All of those practices have allowed Netflix to innovate quickly and maintain nearly perfect uptime, and allowed it to deliver new features so fast in 2009 that most teams didn’t even realize they were there until Netflix told them.

Embracing CI/CD Evolution: Final Reflections and Your Path Forward

Implementing CI/CD best practices comes with its set of challenges and pitfalls, but with the right strategies and mindset, these can be effectively navigated. By focusing on clear strategies, continuous learning, effective collaboration, and maintaining a balance between speed and quality, organizations can reap the benefits of CI/CD practices. Remember, the journey to optimizing your CI/CD pipeline is continuous and requires regular evaluation and adaptation to meet the evolving needs of your business and technology landscape.

We invite you to share your experiences, challenges, and successes in implementing CI/CD practices in the comments below. Your insights could provide valuable perspectives to others on a similar journey.

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