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What is Release Engineering?

Release Engineering is the journey that involves compilation, assembly, and delivery of the code. It is a relatively young and rapidly expanding software engineering discipline that may be summarised as "creating and distributing software." Source code management, compilers, build configuration languages, automated build tools, package managers, and installers are areas in which release engineers have a strong (if not expert) awareness. Their expertise spans various domains, including development, configuration management, test integration, system administration, and customer support.

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What is Infrastructure Automation?

It is defined as using technology to perform infra-related tasks and reduce manual processes. We do this by using different tools and writing different scripts for them. IT teams sometimes struggle to keep up with this expansion due to a lack of time and resources, resulting in delayed updates, patching, and resource delivery. Automating typical administration procedures like provisioning, configuring, deploying, and decommissioning makes operations at scale easier, allowing us to restore control and visibility over our infrastructure.

By implementing release engineering or by implementing infrastructure automation, the developers face many challenges. In this document, solutions to some of the common challenges will be discussed.

What are the challenges of Release Engineering?

Let's discuss some of the common challenges faced by release engineers and their solutions.

Choosing tools

While building a release engineering plan, tools play a very important role. Due to the availability of lots of tools, it becomes very painful for a release engineer to choose the right tools.

The Solution Offered

This depends on the requirement. We can look for the following features while choosing a tool:

  1. Automation Capabilities
  2. Key Integrations
  3. Communication tools
  4. Web-based Portal
  5. Lifecycle visibility
  6. Security & Compliance
  7. Customizable Dashboard
  8. Application tracking & deployment
  9. Scalable
  10. Multi-cloud deployment

It also depends on company size, amount of project, and ease of use.

Managing source code

Every project contains different environments. These environments are as follows:

  1. Develop
  2. UAT
  3. Production

While working on a project, if the code of the Develop environment merges with the UAT or production environment without proper testing, it lands the whole project in a critical situation.

The Solution Offered

It is one of the most important aspects of a release engineer to manage all three environments efficiently. To reduce this problem, we can specify branch permissions in which only the senior developer can merge the branches. The developer pushes the code on the feature branch (the child branch of Develop) and creates a pull request. Now, only the senior developer gets the authority to approve and merge that pull request. First, it gets merged into Develop, and then a pull request is created for uat. In this way, the process goes on.

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Slow Build

Building Docker images might take up to dozens of minutes while running a pipeline. Reducing the build time is also a very big challenge for release engineers.

The Solution Offered

To reduce this problem, we can optimize our docker file in the following ways :

  1. Use of ephemeral containers
  2. Do not install unnecessary packages
  3. Implementation of .dockerignore files
  4. Sorting of multi-line arguments
  5. Minimize the number of layers
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Handover Process

When the new person is introduced to the team, it sometimes becomes very challenging to enable him properly in the project if things are not implemented with the best practices.

The Solution Offered

To reduce this problem, we have to implement best practices that include properly documenting everything we have done in the project. We must have the proper architectural diagram of the whole infrastructure. We must have a track of each action we have performed for each environment. By implementing these practices, we will not lack in giving handover to anyone.

What are the Challenges of Infrastructure Automation?

Let's discuss the challenges faced by the engineers while dealing with infrastructure automation and their solutions.

Tools

Due to the availability of lots of infrastructure automation tools available in the market, sometimes it becomes very challenging for a developer to choose the right tools to automate the infrastructure.

The Solution Offered

We can choose as per our requirement, but we can compare the tools as per the three bases which are given below:

  1. Support
  2. Pricing
  3. Integration

Managing different environments

Like release engineers, infrastructure automation engineers deal with the same problem of managing the infrastructure of different environments. As in the Develop environment, many features are developed by developers. The processes we test in the Develop environment are then shifted to the user acceptance testing environment and, if successful, finally shifted to the production environment. Dealing with these environments is very challenging.

The Solution Offered

To reduce this problem, we can build scripts with best practices. Suppose we are working on Terraform. We can make the modules that are reusable by following the best practices, which are as follows:

  1. No hard-coded values in the script.
  2. Use separate config files for each environment.
  3. Use environmental variables properly with specific naming conventions.
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Handover Process

When we are enabling a new resource in the team, it becomes very difficult to explain to him the full infrastructure if the best practices are not implemented.

The Solution Offered

To reduce this problem, we have to implement best practices that include the proper documentation of everything we have done in the project. We must have the proper architectural diagram of the whole infrastructure. We must have a track of each action we have performed for each environment. By implementing these practices, we will not lack in giving handover to anyone.

Cost Optimization

Cost plays a very important role in every project. While dealing with infrastructure, it becomes very challenging for a developer to optimize cost. 

The Solution Offered

We can use cloud services to know the recommended costing daily. From there, we get to know which resource is costing much, and if possible, we can find a solution for that. We can also use the following practices:

  1. Removing old snapshots
  2. Removing all the resources, whether it is EBS Volume, EIP, RDS, etc. which are not in use.
  3. We can shift our old data that we want to keep and which is not in regular use. We can shift them to that storage, which costs us less.
  4. We can scale down the testing environment when teams are not working on it.
  5. We are optimizing the resources based on their utilization regularly.

Resource Utilization

Resource utilization is essential for cost optimization. Dealing with the utilization of every resource running in the project sometimes becomes challenging. We have to check each resource to know whether it's working well or over-provisioned, or under-provisioned.

The Solution Offered

We can use different monitoring tools like Prometheus, Grafana, EC2 Compute for AWS, etc. By using these tools, we can optimize our resource utilization. We can decrease the size of the under-provisioned resources, which results in cost optimization.

These are some common challenges faced in release engineering and infrastructure automation and solutions offered for them.

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What are the best tools for Infrastructure Automation?

Here are some tools which we can use based on our requirements.

Tools for Source Code Management

  1. Github
  2. Bitbucket
  3. Gitlab

Tool for code analysis

  1. Sonarqube

Tools for building and deploying:

  1. Jenkins
  2. Bitbucket
  3. Gitlab
  4. AWS-Amplify
  5. ArgoCD

Tools for storing images

  1. AWS-ECR
  2. Harbor

Conclusion

Implementing release engineering and infrastructure automation is not an easy task. Above we covered all the common problems which release engineering and infrastructure automation team faces. We tried our best to provide us with better solutions for every problem mentioned above. Be confident, focused while working in this domain and implement things calmly.

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