You heard the word “cloud” everywhere, running applications on the cloud, scaling with the cloud,… but not so often from the development lifecycle perspective: code, commit, test, deploy to QA, release, etc but it brings fundamental changes to this aspect too.
If you belong to, or manage, a group of developers, you are doing at least some sort of automated builds with continuous integration. You have continuous integration servers, building your code on specific schedules, not as often as you would like, when developers commit changes. The number of projects grow and you add more servers for the new projects, mixing and matching environments for different needs (linux, windows, os x,…)
The problem and the solution
The architecture we use for our Maestro 3 product is composed of one server that handles all the development lifecycle assets. Behind the scenes we use proven open source projects: Apache Continuum for distributed builds, Apache Archiva for repository management, Sonar for reporting, Selenium for multienvironment integration and load testing. And we add Morph mCloud private cloud solution, which is also based on open source projects such as Eucalyptus or Puppet.
We have multiple Continuum build agents doing builds, and multiple Selenium agents for webapp integration testing, as well as several application servers for continuous deployment and testing.
- limited capacity
- problem: your hardware is limited, and provision and setup of new servers requires a considerable amount of time
- solution: assets are dynamic, you can spin off new virtual machines when you need them, and shuffle infrastructure around in a matter of minutes with just few clicks from the web interface. The hybrid cloud approach means you can start new servers in a public cloud, Amazon EC2, if you really need to
- capacity utilization
- problem: you need to setup less active projects in the same server as more active ones to make sure servers are not under/over-utilized
- solution: infrastructure is shared across all projects. If a project needs it more often than another then it’s there to be used
- scheduling conflicts
- problem: at specific times, i.e. releases, you need to stop automatic jobs to ensure resources are available for those builds
- solution: a smart queue management can differentiate between different build types (ie. continuous builds, release builds) and prioritize
- location dependence
- problem: you need to manage the infrastructure, knowing where each server is and what is it building
- solution: a central view of all the development assets for easier management: build agents, test agents or application servers
- continuous growing
- problem: new projects are being added while you are trying to manage and optimize your current setup
- solution: because infrastructure is shared adding new projects is just a matter of scaling wide the cloud, without assigning infrastructure to specific projects
- complexity in process
- problem: multiply that for the number of different stages in your promotion process: development environment, QA, Staging, Production
- solution: you can keep independent networks in the cloud while sharing resources like virtual machine templates for your stack for instance
- long time-to-market
- problem: transition from development to QA to production is a pain point because releases and promotion is not automated
- solution: compositions (workflows) allow to design and automate the steps from development to production, including manual approval
- complexity in organization:
- problem: in large organizations, multiply that for the number of separate entities, departments or groups that have their own separate structure
- solution: enabling self provisioning you can assign quotas to developers or groups to start servers as they need them in a matter of minutes from prebuilt templates
Why a private cloud?
- cost effectiveness: development infrastructure is running continuously. Global development teams make use of it 24×7
- bandwidth usage: the traffic between your source control system and the cloud can be expensive, because it’s continuously getting the code for building
- security restrictions: most companies don’t like their code being exported anywhere outside their firewall. Companies that need to comply with regulations (ie. PCI) have strong requirements on external networks
- performance: in a private cloud you can optimize the hardware for your specific scenario, reducing the number of VMs needed for the same job compared to public cloud providers
- heterogeneous environments: if you need to develop in different environments then there are chances that the public cloud service won’t be able to provide them
The new challenges
- parallelism, you need to know the dependencies between components to know what needs to be built before what
- stickyness, or how to take advantage of the state of the agents to start builds in the same ones if possible, ie. agents that built a project before can do a source control update instead of a checkout, or have the dependencies already in the filesystem
- asset management, when you have an increasing number of services running, stoping and starting as needed, you need to know what’s running and where, not only at hardware level but at service level: build agents, test agents and deployment servers.
The new vision
- you can improve continuous integration as developers checkin code because the barrier to add new infrastructure is minimal, given you have enough hardware in your cloud or if you use external cloud services, which means reduced time to find problems
- developers have access to infrastructure they need to do their jobs, for instance start an exact copy of the production environment to fix an issue by using a cloud template that they can get up and running in minutes and tear down at the end, not incurring in high hardware costs
- less friction and easier interaction with IT people as developers can self provision infrastructure, if necessary shuffling virtual machines that they no longer need for the ones they needed
By leveraging the cloud you can solve existing problems in your development lifecycle and at the same time you will be able to do things that you would not even consider because the technology made it complicated or impossible to do. Definitely something worth checking out for large development teams.
Maestro 3 is going to be released this week at InterOp New York (come over and say hi if you are around) but we are already demoing the development snapshots to clients and at conferences like JavaOne.