Continuous Delivery: What Is This Devilry from the Web Side?

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Everyone knows it takes forever to get something through the process and into production. Who are these CD folks trying to fool?


Let's start by asking ourselves one very important question: What is Continuous Delivery?


Thousands of years from now, when mankind has destroyed the Earth and reaped extinction as the reward, and birds, whose ancestors were the dinosaurs, have at last gained mastery over our world, they will determine that humans derived most of their information from two sources: Wikipedia and Entertainment Tonight.



Unfortunately, ET seems to have very little to say about Continuous Delivery, so we'll fall back on Wikipedia: "Continuous Delivery (CD) is a software engineering approach in which teams keep producing valuable software in short cycles and ensure that the software can be reliably released at any time."




Jez Humble, a Continuous Delivery authority, describes it as "a set of principles and practices designed to reduce the cost, time, and risk of delivering incremental changes to the users."




Currently, Continuous Delivery, in all its incarnations, is one of the hottest topics in the programming world and one of the areas most being pursued by IT departments around the world. Web-based IT departments, that is. IBM i shops not so much.




CD is not a theory. Amazon uses it to deliver a code change every 11.2 seconds (2013 figures). Etsy and Netflix are two other companies that have gone into CD big time and dramatically increased their deployments per unit of time. In the process, they have found that it not only reduces the cost and time for software development, but also dramatically cuts the number of bugs that make it to production and reduces the time to restore to a working version of the code when a bug does appear.




How Things Used to Work


A typical lifecycle for a software project or modification used to go like this:




Step 1: Someone decides that something is wrong and what, in general, should be done about it.




Step 2: Someone puts a copy of the program that needs to be modified in some sort of development environment where no one can get hurt, makes the change, and tests it within that environment. This test might be a full test or just partial. In the end, it's enough to make the programmer feel like this just might work.




Step 3: The code change is promoted to a test environment, and either another programmer or a user representative tests it to see if it works OK and, especially, to make sure that it doesn't break anything else. In many shops, one test environment isn't enough, and sometimes two or even three are used serially. You can never be too careful, you know. What's important is that the testing and evaluation is all manual.




Step 4: Somewhere along the line here, the software change is reviewed and approved by someone at the management level. This might be part of the test process, or it may just be a cursory check that testing, documentation, and other such stuff has been done. What's worse, it may not just be one management type. Many companies have developed what can only be called "painful" change control systems, in which several layers or silos of management need to approve even the smallest change. Or there may be a separate QA department that's responsible for this check. In police lingo, they are the Internal Affairs department and the most likely to have a bomb wired to the ignition of their cars. Bottom line: somebody (and generally several somebodies) have to check off that the change was done and that it works correctly. This information will be required at the trial.




Step 5: Finally, the change is moved to production. If you're in an RPG environment, this is usually just a library transfer, and it may or may not be automated. In a web environment, it generally occurs as part of a "build," where the build may contain not just one but a number of modifications. Either method probably inserts some wait time into the process (unless it's an emergency), and often shops will limit non-emergency fixes to a certain day of the week or month.




In general, it's a step-by-step, very labor-intensive process that's designed to make sure that what goes into the system is solid. As practiced in most shops today, the main emphasis is disaster prevention. No, I'm wrong about that. Theoretically, it's about disaster prevention, about making sure that something isn't put in that brings the system down. But, practically, it's about assigning blame. Everybody knows that not everything is going to go right all the time, and when it doesn't, we want to know who is responsible and make sure that never happens again.




If the above cycle sounds familiar, it should. This is the basic cycle that most midrange shops follow, and it was the basis for where web development took its start. Currently, there's a lot of difference between the two development cycles, primarily because of automated testing on the web side.




All I really want to point out here is that the above is what we have done historically and that Continuous Delivery is designed to help streamline that process, reducing the labor-intensiveness and shortening the time frame.




A Thumbnail Sketch of Continuous Delivery


Now we're going to talk more about the web side things because that's the bailiwick in which CD and its cohorts exist.




Historically, promotion of web code is centered around a "build." The build is just another release of a program or script and is identified by a build number. From this standpoint, it's no different from an RPG program promotion. It's just a different word.




A given build could consist of a single program or many programs and represent either a single development event or the accumulated output for several developers over a period of time.




For example, a company that I know does builds on an "occasional" basis. They're more or less shooting for several times a month, but it's not unheard of for things to build up for a couple of weeks as they try to work out last-minute bugs. This is one negative thing about accumulated builds. Inevitably, five items will be held up because something else in the build is having problems.




Builds are often assisted by build automation tools, and this is a whole area of web development. For compiled languages like Java, the tools will automate the compiling and linking of modules. For scripted languages like PHP or Ruby, it handles the packaging of the modules. Build tools also take care of moving objects to test libraries, support source code dependency management, keep track of the various builds (think iterations) for error tracking and history purposes, incorporate automatic testing, and other stuff. No one in the web world does builds without using some sort of build automation tool, preferably one that's appropriate to the language they're using.




In some ways, these are similar to some of the change management systems currently in use on the i, but they tend to be a bit more sophisticated. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the environment where most web development is done is much less user-friendly than we're used to with RPG and the i. It's hard for me to compare even the nicer text editors to PDM and definitely hard to compare them to RDi. But even with the i, the move to ILE has made the build process more complex. For example, instead of just doing a '14' compile, now we're often doing a CRTBNDRPG and then wrapping several modules into a CRTPGM, a two-step process. And that two-step process is a requirement with every service program. Granted, you can roll your own CL to automate some of that, but it's still command-oriented. Build types of tools do have a certain utility.




Anyway, getting back to continuous delivery, the intent there is to stop doing large builds that contain multiple elements. What's the point if you have good build tools at your disposal? Rather than have a couple of enhancements that are ready to go and then have to wait for one that isn't, put each one in independently and eliminate the wait time.




This becomes even more important if you have multiple teams working on a single application. Rather than have people work for weeks or months and then try to integrate things, CD integrates small modifications, always making sure that you have code that works.




Obviously, the key thing here is streamlining your build process so that it happens automatically and flawlessly.




What Makes Continuous Delivery Possible?


OK, I have to admit that, even though I wrote this and should know better, so far, this sounds great.




Imagine being able to have so much done for me automatically (I am thinking here from a web, not RPG, point of view, which is another argument for another day, but I won't forget it). But the question right now is, what's continuous delivery based on? I mean, it doesn't just happen. I was at ZendCon last year (a great show, by the way) and was amazed by how many companies were trying to do CD and how achieving that was definitely a process that took time and experimentation. From that, I've determined that certain things are key to doing Continuous Delivery.




A New Philosophy


First and foremost, CD requires a change in philosophy. The old lifecycle is focused on keeping the stakeholders apprised of what's going to happen and on being able to affix blame in the event that something goes wrong. In many ways, it's a philosophy of failure: "This probably isn't going to work, and we need to know who to blame and who to notify when it fails."




But CD is bottom-up driven. It's designed so that deployments aren't a big deal; they become routine, boring. And they incorporate feeds on what's being done so that any stakeholders who want to are able to check what's going on by themselves.




It puts responsibility for the whole process in the hands of the developer and then gets out of the way to let them do their job. In the end, its focus is providing users with as much new functionality as possible, rather than on protecting the organization from any negative consequences of something that doesn't work as planned.




You need buy-in to this philosophy from everyonefrom stakeholders and sponsors down to programmers and users. In the end, it will be the philosophy, not the tools, that allows you to do CD. But there are some tools that you'll need as well.






Second, you have to be agile. Oops, sorry, Agile. I mean capital "A," really Agile, not just wishing you were. That rules out any i shop I have ever been involved with. If you are i and Agile, let me know. I want to work with you!




Agile means that you do everything in short iterations. Yes, there may be grand projects, things that make the VP of Future Directions drool with delight, but we don't actually try to estimate our time against them. Agile projects require short time frames (not two months but a week), and they require that work be done in that time frame (rather than saying, "We're making progress, but it's not quite done yet.").




Without Agile, don't even bother.




Build Tools


If you look at a traditional software cycle, it's all human involvement. A hundred spots where someone like me could screw things up and cause a delay.




Build tools automate much of the tedium that causes errors in even the best programs. The question isn't whether you're automated. The question is how automated you are. Automation reduces the personal labor required and also reduces the possibility of manually introduced errors requiring us to redo steps.




Automation is essential to CD.




Automated Testing


Of the four, this is probably the most important. After the other three, that is.




Ask developers what takes the most time in a software project and they'll unanimously declare "testing." It's the hardest, least-liked, most easily put off part of any development project.




Yet, even though we know our coding skills are exceptional, this is the one element that must be done to know for sure if things were done correctly or not.




The problem is that manual testing is uncertain. The simple fact is that some people are better testers than others. But automated testing should take most of that out of the equation.




The trick is, how do you do automated testing? And I guess that would be another topic for another day, but it starts with Agile and the ability to write things as simple, uncoupled modules where the outcomes are pretty much defined. You then have to focus your testing efforts on whether the change you made broke the module. And you use automated tests to determine if the module still works. In other words, the focus becomes not just a line of code but how the module as a whole works.




So What Is Continuous Delivery?


Continuous Delivery is not a trick. Nor is it something that's obvious or easy to implement. Nor is it something that the i can't participate in. But that's yet another topic for another day.




In the end, it's a set of practices designed to simplify and automate the software pipeline. And that's where we need to go. There are too many programs. Too many enhancements. We can't do it the old way. Whether web or midrange. A new way has to be found, and maybe CD is it.




Some References



David Shirey

David Shirey is president of Shirey Consulting Services, providing technical and business consulting services for the IBM i world. Among the services provided are IBM i technical support, including application design and programming services, ERP installation and support, and EDI setup and maintenance. With experience in a wide range of industries (food and beverage to electronics to hard manufacturing to drugs--the legal kind--to medical devices to fulfillment houses) and a wide range of business sizes served (from very large, like Fresh Express, to much smaller, like Labconco), SCS has the knowledge and experience to assist with your technical or business issues. You may contact Dave by email at or by phone at (616) 304-2466.

MC Press books written by David Shirey available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

21st Century RPG: /Free, ILE, and MVC 21st Century RPG: /Free, ILE, and MVC
Boost your productivity, modernize your applications, and upgrade your skills with these powerful coding methods.
List Price $69.95

Now On Sale



Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • Progressive Web Apps: Create a Universal Experience Across All Devices

    LANSAProgressive Web Apps allow you to reach anyone, anywhere, and on any device with a single unified codebase. This means that your applications—regardless of browser, device, or platform—instantly become more reliable and consistent. They are the present and future of application development, and more and more businesses are catching on.
    Download this whitepaper and learn:

    • How PWAs support fast application development and streamline DevOps
    • How to give your business a competitive edge using PWAs
    • What makes progressive web apps so versatile, both online and offline



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.