Continuous Delivery vs. Continuous Deployment

One of the most frequently stated key takeaways from DevOps Foundation Certification Candidates is the big AAH-HAA moment when they realize the difference between Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment. Terms matter and the context in which we use them can make or break the success of any DevOps pipeline for digital transformation.

Which one of these you select for your organization will have a significant impact on the way you orchestrate ­­­­your DevOps Pipeline and your Continuous Delivery Architecture. It will most definitely help to define the appropriate tool pipeline, determine how you will utilize and program those tools for automation and will have an impact on the context of your communication plans to your stakeholders. How will you approach integrated testing?

There is not one element of development and delivery that Continuous Delivery or Continuous Deployment will NOT impact. Therefore; It is critical to understand what they are, how they are the same, how they are different and most importantly, why do you care for your distinct delivery of value. The formula for success in Continuous Delivery is to ensure that all activities are performed on a production like environment. An integral part of that formula for success is Continuous Integration.

Continuous Integration
Continuous Integration does include the code commit/integration but also includes the integrated build. You may have heard the phrase “Infrastructure as Code.” A very critical component of CI is integrated testing. Today we must shift left with testing as we discover that both dynamic and static testing can not only be automated but can be built in or “integrated” much earlier in the DevOps pipeline. Integrating and automating the tests and monitoring of activities early in the pipeline ensures that the product is consistently kept in a releasable state.

Continuous Delivery
A core element of Continuous Delivery is CI because Continuous Delivery does perform activities on a production like environment and also includes integrated testing. When a test fails the pipeline can be halted and error correction takes place. These shortened and amplified feedback loops ensure the releasable state of product all the way through. With Continuous Delivery, the product is “Delivered” to a staging area. It is Delivered, it is not Deployed. There is a manual trigger or one last go/no go decision before it is actually Deployed. This is most common in a highly regulated environment. So, how is this different from Continuous Deployment?

Continuous Deployment
Continuous Deployment incorporates everything stated above for the Continuous Integration of the pipeline. It ensures product is in a releasable state, activities are performed on a production like environment and we shift left with integrated testing. What is different is that these integrated activities are automated all the way through. There is no manual trigger. All triggers are automated right on through to the “Deployment” of the product or service. “Deployment” in this context infers that the product or service is live and is being consumed. It is likely with Continuous Deployment the product is deployed to a small segment of the intended audience to ensure resilience, but VALUE is realized right away. Later the product can be deployed to the masses.

Most organizations will begin with Continuous Delivery. As they mature they recognize that many of the integrated pipeline cycles can be automated further and move to Continuous Deployment. It is an ongoing progression of integration, automation and improvement for the deployment of services.

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