Developing a Commit-Based CI/CD System Using Rancher

Gray Calendar Icon Published: April 27, 2017
Gray Calendar Icon Updated: January 26, 2021

At 360pi, we deliver commerce analytics that enable retailers to make sense of retail and shopper big data, which will then be used to improve their commerce strategy. Our infrastructure is all in Amazon Web Services, and up until now, was simply Ec2 instances built with our own AMIs. We used to maintain the traditional dev/test/master branch hierarchy in GitHub for our monolithic Python application, and we deployed those branches with Jenkins and Ansible scripts. Recently, performance, reliability, and ease of use drove us to rethink our platform architecture, and devise a more streamlined approach to the development and deployment of our application. A microservices architecture would give each of our developers a small enough piece of the system to deploy, which reduces the footprint of failure when something goes wrong. Things always break; it’s how quickly you can react and move on that’s key.

Goals for Re-architecting

We had a few key goals for this effort, but our main goal was to have everyone who checks into the master repository own the deployment of his or her changes to production. To do this well, you first need to give developers complete control of the deployment of the code commit. Secondly, you need to instill the mindset that a developer owns his or her changes from merge to master until they are running in production. First up, we built an easy-to-manage-and-maintain Docker environment with a good management UI, which Rancher provided for us. We decided to use Rancher’s orchestrator, since its UI at the time was the most mature, and we don’t yet have the scale that would require Kubernetes. Our infrastructure is all in AWS, so we deployed three instances with the Rancher stack on it, and some instances for our Rancher hosts.

Transitioning to Microservices

We had already started development of our microservices, which are effectively the main areas of concern for our application. Each microservice is self-contained, with its own database, RESTful API, and deployment scripts. We use CircleCI at 360pi, which made it quite straightforward to run tests. We then packaged these as Docker images - if the build was good, we uploaded them to our Docker repository. So now, we have small, composable pieces of our system, all using Docker. We have a way to test the code, and to build Docker images that represent each microservice. The key point here is this: every successful merge into master results in a new Docker image, which is tagged with the commit SHA for that change.

Deployment Time

Our newly-updated eBook walks you through incorporating containers into your CI/CD pipeline The most important piece left was actually deploying the changes. For this, we turned to an awesome open source project called Shipit, created and maintained by the folks over at Shopify. Shipit is a Rails project that allows you to deploy in pretty much anyway you want, but does so on a commit-by-commit basis. Every commit is a shippable piece of code; for us, every commit was a shippable Docker image (you can read more on Shipit in this excellent write up). Since all Shipit does is call shell scripts to do the deploy, it’s quite simple to bring Rancher into the picture. We create a docker_compose.yml file, and in some cases, a rancher_compose.yml file in each microservices project. We then installed the Rancher CLI on our Shipit environment so we could manipulate Rancher from our Shipit instances in AWS. Each microservice has a deploy folder with a few shell scripts, which simply contain Rancher CLI calls that instruct the Rancher API to deploy new images to the stack in Rancher. From the Shipit UI, the developer simply clicks the deploy button next to the commit they want to deploy; that person watches their deployment happen, and is responsible for ensuring that it completes properly. The magic here is that Shipit sets an environment variable with the current commit SHA being deployed, so we just read that environment variable in the Docker Compose file (shown below) to know which image to deploy. ShipIt UI Shipit sample

rancher --environment MyEnvironment up my-service --stack 360-micro-service --force-upgrade --batch-size 1 -d

Rancher docker_compose.yml sample

    io.rancher.container.pull_image: always
  tty: true
  image: my_repo/360_service:${REVISION}  # this is the Shipit commit SHA environment var
  stdin_open: true

Rolling Back

Sometimes, things go wrong (welcome to building and shipping software). Luckily, since we’re using Docker images, getting back to sanity is easy. Shipit supports rollbacks, which is again just a call to the deploy shell script that uses the Rancher CLI. The script tells Rancher to deploy a different Docker image version, this time using the prior commit SHA. To handle database changes and our reliance on them, we require our code to be compatible at least one version back, which means schema changes must be deployed without code changes so that rollback is possible. So there you have it: a complete CI/CD scenario, made possible by the power of Rancher and its wonderful API. Jason Clark is a Systems Architect at 360pi who is passionate about efficient, lean systems architecture. Follow Jason on Twitter @jclarknet.

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