Database Delivery Automation: The Missing CI/CD Link

Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) is proving to be an effective way to reduce time-to-market and ensure optimal code quality. However, database delivery automation is still being overlooked while setting up CI/CD pipelines. Let's take a closer look at why this crucial aspect can’t be neglected anymore.

While it’s quite evident that a lot has been achieved when it comes to application code automation, the same cannot be said about database code.

Database Continuous Integration (CI) is important while creating CI/CD pipelines because developers can utilize the quick integration of database logic and schema changes to enjoy real-time feedback and make the adjustments on-the-go while avoiding technical issues and bottlenecks.

Once this is achieved, Database Administrators (DBAs) and the database teams can shift their focus to database delivery automation, where database code is released in a short and incremental manner, all with a click of a button, while eliminating manual intervention and errors that come with it.

Application Release Automation (ARA) is a common feature in today’s modernized CI/CD pipelines. It helps with the orchestration, packaging, and deployment of application code as soon as it’s pushed out by the developers. These stages were once plagued with human errors and production issues.

Application Code Release Automation

 

As shown in the diagram above, not only are the code evaluation processes automated, but all old pain points are fixed. Code validation is one such step, where ARA software can now quickly run the new code against a predefined set of rules, without any human intervention - a big time and effort saver.

The Current State of Database Release and Delivery

It’s still common practice to rely upon the DBAs to manually review the database code and deploy the changes once they have been inspected. The result is a bottleneck that creates delays as developers waste entire sprints waiting on database changes and also frustrates the decision makers due to the slow time-to-market.

This manual process creates a whole host of issues and bottlenecks that hamper the very essence of DevOps - iterative development with feedback loops. Database release automation can improve your operational efficiency due to the faster and error-free pushing of database code to deployment.

Manual Database Code Deployment

 

The database code changes, when performed manually, simply can’t keep up with the automated application code commits.  Manual database processes hamper the ability to scale up fast, as your DBAs get buried under more and more database code review tickets from the developers. 

Database vs Application: Not Quite The Same Thing

Unfortunately most aspects of database code and development are still largely performed manually, especially when compared with application code. Why is this happening? Probably because application code and database flows are fundamentally different, despite equally needing to be automated and streamlined. 

What part does the database play in the CI/CD pipeline? A big one. Database changes (SQL scripts) need to be committed to source control, after which they are checked and packaged into ZIP files with CI tools (i.e., - Jenkins). The resulting artifact can be pushed to an artifact repository prior to release.

 

Database 

Application

DB code involves the running of SQL scripts to change an existing DB structure and data to a new state 

The new revisions just need to be copied from the source control repository to override the older version 

 

What organizations often fail to understand is that databases need to be in an uncorrupted state at all times. This can only be achieved with seamless version management and monitoring, which prevent bottlenecks such as configuration drifts or downtimes. Just having automated build tools is not enough anymore.

Databases are different from applications. But they also need to be automated to keep up with the dynamic nature of the CI/CD pipeline. This is commonly known as Shift Left. Shift Left happens when all database changes are described with scripts, which are then run and managed by automation tools.    

Shift Left minimizes the need for rollbacks and long remediation efforts, while eliminating bottlenecks and downtimes. To get started, you’ll need to:

  • Database Build - Re-construct any required version of your database via the scripts in your version control on an on-demand basis
  • Database Integration - Establish a working database version and verify that is continuing to do so after all new integrations 
  • Database Testing - Perform constant unit, integration, and performance testing for continuous feedback to avoid release bottlenecks and issues
  • Database Release - Create a repeatable and auditable process to deploy changes to a production-like environment before actually committing 

In other words, by Shifting Left, you are involving the DBA much sooner to create a seamless CI/CD pipeline where both app and DB flows are automated simultaneously for optimal results. With the DBA in the thick of things at all times, productivity is improved and so are issue-mitigation times.

Advantages of Database Delivery Automation

Staying with the manual procedures also hampers the ability to scale up fast, as your DBAs will inevitably get more database code review tickets from the developers than they can humanly handle. 

Related: Zero Downtime Database Deployment

By automating your database delivery, your organization and all related stakeholders will start enjoying the following advantages: 

  • Tightened Feedback Loops - DevOps is all about iterative processes that help create more feedback loops for increased collaboration and optimal code quality. Developers have an easier time fixing issues in real time without using massive roll backs that can cause problems. This also makes it easier for involved DBAs and IT professionals.
  • Streamlined Database Teams - Scaling up? You will probably be forcing your DBA and the DB team to work overtime. In the long run, not having a database delivery automation solution in place will force your organization into hiring more DBAs and invest in more resources, which is something that negatively impacts the organization’s bottom line.
  • Reduced Cross-Department Friction - Inflated database teams also create more confusion as there is never one stakeholder for all database issues. Also, all new database workers need to be onboarded and trained, something that creates additional stress on the organizational structure and budget.
  • Fewer Post Release Issues - Furthermore, human errors are unavoidable. No matter how experienced and skilled your database staff may be, mistakes are inevitable. For example, if your DBA performs a poor database schema change review, this issue will eventually snowball into a deployment bottleneck that can take hours or days to resolve. 
  • Smooth Remote Work - Coding and software development has gone global in recent years. Not only are in-house workers working from multiple locations, but more and more freelance professionals are now an active part of CI/CD pipelines. Database delivery automation is helping organizations orchestrate their operations more efficiently.

Top 5 Database Release Automation Essentials

The bottom line is -  database release automation needs to be a key component of any CI/CD pipeline today. You will be saving your developers a lot of time, which will also have a direct effect on your bottom line. They will also become more productive and will have the opportunity to focus on quality.

These are the main operational requirements and functions your database release and delivery automation solution should ideally be providing.

Tight Version Control

Incremental development is highly beneficial in DevOps due to the ability to demonstrate progress and implement new features faster. Database automation helps in optimizing this methodology by allowing version control. This enhances visibility into release history and also makes roll backs safer.

Another added benefit of having automated database version control capabilities is that you don’t need to manually create audit trails. All versions are documented automatically and can be viewed on demand to optimize performance and pass all security or compliance audits with no issues.

Zero Downtime Database Deployment

Blue Green Deployment, where users are transferred from an old version (Blue)  to the latest one, is no longer a problem to implement. By automating your database, you can easily have two versions running at the same time and switch the router to the new version (Green) when everything has been tested.

This type of deployment is becoming more and more common due to the zero downtime value it introduces. However, there are some issues like configuration drifts and compliance issues that may creep up. Database release management with version control and centralized monitoring can nullify these risks.

Optimal Security and Compliance Standards

Automating your database with a comprehensive governance system can also prove to be beneficial from the security and compliance standpoint. With remote work now the norm, you need to demonstrate more control with proper role and permission management, while minimizing database access.

Related: The Ultimate Database SOX Compliance Checklist

Modern automation solutions allow you to configure, edit, and revoke permissions as per the latest organizational policy. No more manual management of names, positions, and activity history, all cumbersome and tedious procedures that often lead to multiple security loopholes. 

Enhanced Monitoring Capabilities

A good database continuous delivery solution also can allow you to track and monitor all database related activity via one centralized dashboard. Firstly, this improves visibility and allows you to react to potential issues as they happen. But you also gain access to actionable insights to improve your performance.

Business activity monitoring is another key benefit of the improved transparency you get with database release automation. You can finally set (and adjust) your development KPIs and align them with your latest business needs. These KPIs can also be shared with the dev teams for added productivity.

More Frequent Testing

Database testing is a complex process, but Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, and Durability (ACID) is a big part of it. This involves field mapping consistency testing, while ensuring that front end actions are invoked at the back end. This is commonly referred to as CRUD - Create, Retrieve, Update, and Delete. 

By having a database automation solution in place, you can easily implement multiple dry-runs, which make sure that your database code is stable and will remain so in multiple use cases. This is especially important while scaling up, where every code drift, crash, or downtime can have dire consequences.  

Automate to Eliminate DB Release Issues

Database release automation is no longer a choice. No CI/CD pipeline can be complete, regardless of the quality of the ARA solution you have implemented. Manual database release processes are plagued with manual errors, besides the fact that they can come with release cycles running for hours, days and even weeks.

Furthermore, ensuring seamless scalability and optimal quality requires continuous data delivery. This is the only way you can steer clear of issues such as accidental overrides, configuration drifts, and unexpected release bottlenecks, while maintaining optimal security and compliance levels. 

Database delivery automation is now helping more and more organizations eliminate database release breaks and downtime. By doing so you will have happy and productive developer teams, your DBAs will have more time for planning and optimizations, and your CEO will enjoy a better bottom line.

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