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Engineering
24 Aug 2020
| By AlphaBravo Engineering | Categories: CI/CD

CI/CD Into Embedded Systems: Overcoming Integration Challenges

The modern software marketplace is more competitive and cutthroat than it’s ever been before. Companies once satisfied themselves with small teams and infrequent updates to their embedded software applications. Nowadays, it’s common to see larger apps roll out multiple updates every week. This requires the coordinated work of multiple programmers, merging their code into the final product, testing it, and launching it in record time.

Traditional development pipelines made this an extremely difficult task, but CI/CD procedures streamline and improve this process. The top names in microservices, streaming, and more use CI/CD tools to meet the high demands of the modern marketplace.

What is CI/CD?

CI/CD is an acronym that stands for continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment. These three elements represent phases within an automated development pipeline. Where old-fashioned development required painstaking, manual efforts to keep up with high-speed delivery, CI/CD saves time and manpower. Development and operations typically spend a great deal of work on testing, merging disparate software branches, and more.

The ultimate goal of CI/CD is to eliminate this tedious, time-consuming labor via the power of automation. Through automated continuous integration, code becomes a finished build without any extra manual inputs. Continuous delivery and deployment go one step further and automate the process of public release, resulting in an ultra-efficient, streamlined development pipeline.

Continuous Integration

Continuous integration is the first step in the CI/CD process. When multiple branches of an app undergo development simultaneously, it can cause a variety of issues. Once the branches return to the trunk, so to speak, some of the changes may be incompatible. Differences in toolsets between the variety of teams at work can also be the root of contradictions, and resolving these contradictions can take time and hard work.

Continuous integration programs use automation tech to combine the disparate efforts of multiple teams automatically. After merging code changes, automated tests check for contradictions and errors in the code. If the combined code fails the test, it notifies development and empowers your teams to immediately fix the issues. Once your code passes the testing at the end of the continuous integration process, it moves on to the continuous delivery step.

Continuous Delivery

Continuous delivery is a relatively simple process once you have a finished, efficient continuous integration process. After code merges and passes the automated testing phase, CI/CD automatically deposits it to a state where it’s ready for deployment. If you have faith in your integration process, this saves the trouble of rubber-stamping the build as complete. With continuous delivery, your operation can immediately release a build to the market as soon as it’s ready. Ambitious CI/CD pipelines go one step further and employ continuous development, automating the final step of release to the public.

Continuous Deployment

The ultimate goal of a CI/CD development system is to rely on continuous deployment. Once you’ve established continuous delivery, you’re able to take the work of your developers and manually deploy it at will. Instead of relying on manual deployment, you should strive to introduce continuous deployment. This final stage consists of automated deployment to the market, at which point your updates go live automatically. On the plus side, a mature CI/CD program automatically transforms the labor of separate teams into live embedded software updates. However, such an ambitious program

Common CI/CD Adoption Challenges

When a new operation starts, employing the latest in CI/CD technologies and techniques is a no brainer. What’s much more complex is an established business working to replace outmoded development styles with modern, automated systems. Initiating a CI/CD development pipeline all at once in the big bang implementation style would be prohibitively challenging or impossible. As a result, operations have to introduce CI/CD processes gradually and work with old and new systems simultaneously. The gains in efficiency and productivity are well worth it, but there are many pitfalls you might stumble into during the process.

The Complexity of CI/CD

Managers, owners, and programmers have extremely different realms of expertise, and many business owners are put off of CI/CD due to continuous deployment. That is, the idea that any work they produce will automatically ship to customers without a quality check.

However, this is a simple misunderstanding. Even if your operation is philosophically opposed to continuous deployment, you aren’t required to practice it. Your development pipeline can use continuous integration and delivery to great effect without ever relying on automatic deployment. In general, the techniques of CI/CD are flexible and may be tailored to your unique operational requirements.

Inadequate Automated Testing

Automated merging, continuous delivery, and continuous development are all valuable components to the CI/CD process that save labor hours and boost efficiency. However, all of these steps and phases of the process rely on the same lynchpin: robust, automated testing. If your testing phase is watertight, then you can rest assured that you’re not shipping faulty software. If companies like Netflix cause their websites to crash by deploying a bad build, they could lose millions of dollars. However, that’s far from the most pressing concern of CI/CD development.

Airline software development companies incorporate automation into their pipeline, and navigation and information software may rely on the information the app provides. CI/CD is a double-edged sword in that it’s excellent for serving fields where real-time information is essential to the end-user, but a faulty process may deploy broken software with disastrous consequences in those same fields. Implementing automation processes that you haven’t verified the reliability of can easily damage your brand reputation, inconvenience customers, and worse.

Poor Communication

While automated testing will detect errors and send them back to your teams, it won’t resolve the issues of incompatible code. Your teams need to find an efficient way to resolve these errors before sending their revised code back into the pipeline. If they can’t, then your CI/CD pipeline will spend a lot of time running in circles. This is where effective, organization-wide communication comes into play. Convenient, organization-wide communication and reliable, standardized approaches to tackling compatibility problems go a long way toward alleviating these issues.

This is doubly true when development teams are using different platforms. Uniformity will make your CI/CD adoption process much smoother, but it’s not always achievable. This is because the individual needs and requirements of programmers working on different embedded software elements are often different. In this case, effective communication and group strategizing is the only way to ensure your operation runs smoothly.

Code Gets Lost in the Pipeline

Code doesn’t literally get lost, but a burgeoning CI/CD operation may often send revisions to programmers who’ve already moved on to a new project. This introduces inefficiency to both projects, as the programmer will need to reorient themselves to think of their earlier work. Once they recuperate from this initial disruption and repair the code, they’ll have to adapt a disrupted workflow on their second project.

In the worst-case scenario, their hard work may end up getting scrapped because the advancing pipeline outpaces them and makes their work useless. While refining your testing apparatus will eventually overcome these problems, any shift to CI/CD may include early teething issues like this.

Misguided Application of Automation

Once you start seeing the saved time and bolstered efficiency that automation has to offer, you may start thinking of automation as a magic bullet. Indiscriminately automating good processes and inefficient ones is counterproductive, however, and will result in a waste of resources over time. Even worse is when you deliberately automate troublesome, inconvenient processes while continuing to perform efficient ones manually. When you automate a bad process, you’ll eventually have to come back and rework it, delaying your CI/CD adoption and wasting time.

If you want to make the best use of your available resources and efficiently adopt automation, then you should take the exact opposite approach. Prior to automating any given process, you should be absolutely secure that it works well and there are no necessary improvements. Approaching automation in this manner ensures that the time and effort you invest in automation will pay for itself.

Learn More About Successful CI/CD with AlphaBravo

The AlphaBravo team are experts when it comes to CI/CD processes and powerful container orchestration software such as Kubernetes. We offer training, CI/CD pipeline development, and much more. Finally, we’re proudly owned and operated by veterans of the US Armed Forces. If you’re interested in learning more about the challenges of CI/CD adoption and how to overcome them,¬†get in touch with us. You can call or email us at 202-420-9736 or¬†[email protected]¬†respectively.