Dailymotion’s Continuous Delivery story with Jenkins, Jenkins X, and Tekton

By March 30, 2020Blog

From Dailymotion, a French video-sharing technology platform with over 300 million unique monthly users

At Dailymotion, we are hosting and delivering premium video content to users all around the world. We are building a large variety of software to power this service, from our player or website to our GraphQL API or ad-tech platform. Continuous Delivery is a central practice in our organization, allowing us to push new features quickly and in an iterative way.

We are early adopters of Kubernetes: we built our own hybrid platform, hosted both on-premise and on the cloud. And we heavily rely on Jenkins to power our “release platform”, which is responsible for building, testing, packaging and deploying all our software. Because we have hundreds of repositories, we are using Jenkins Shared Libraries to keep our pipeline files as small as possible. It is an important feature for us, ensuring both a low maintenance cost and a homogeneous experience for all developers – even though they are working on projects using different technology stacks. We even built Gazr, a convention for writing Makefiles with standard targets, which is the foundation for our Jenkins Pipelines.

In 2018, we migrated our ad-tech product to Kubernetes and took the opportunity to set up a Jenkins instance in our new cluster – or better yet move to a “cloud-native” alternative. Jenkins X was released just a few months before, and it seemed like a perfect match for us:

  • It is built on top and for Kubernetes.
  • At that time – in 2018 – it was using Jenkins to run the pipelines, which was good news given our experience with Jenkins.
  • It comes with features such as preview environments which are a real benefit for us.
  • And it uses the Gitops practice, which we found very interesting because we love version control, peer review, and automation.

While adopting Jenkins X we discovered that it is first a set of good practices derived from the best performing teams, and then a set of tools to implement these practices. If you try to adopt the tools without understanding the practices, you risk fighting against the tool because it won’t fit your practices. So you should start with the practices. Jenkins X is built on top of the practices described in the Accelerate book, such as micro-services and loosely-coupled architecture, trunk-based development, feature flags, backward compatibility, continuous integration, frequent and automated releases, continuous delivery, Gitops, … Understanding these practices and their benefits is the first step. After that, you will see the limitations of your current workflow and tools. This is when you can introduce Jenkins X, its workflow and set of tools.

We’ve been using Jenkins X since the beginning of 2019 to handle all the build and delivery of our ad-tech platform, with great benefits. The main one being the improved velocity: we used to release and deploy every two weeks, at the end of each sprint. Following the adoption of Jenkins X and its set of practices, we’re now releasing between 10 and 15 times per day and deploying to production between 5 and 10 times per day. According to the State of DevOps Report for 2019, our ad-tech team jumped from the medium performers’ group to somewhere between the high and elite performers’ groups.

But these benefits did not come for free. Adopting Jenkins X early meant that we had to customize it to bypass its initial limitations, such as the ability to deploy to multiple clusters. We’ve detailed our work in a recent blog post, and we received the “Most Innovative Jenkins X Implementation” Jenkins Community Award in 2019 for it. It’s important to note that most of the issues we found have been fixed or are being fixed. The Jenkins X team has been listening to the community feedback and is really focused on improving their product. The new Jenkins X Labs is a good example.

As our usage of Jenkins X grows, we’re hitting more and more the limits of the single Jenkins instance deployed as part of Jenkins X. In a platform where every component has been developed with a cloud-native mindset, Jenkins is the only one that has been forced into an environment for which it was not built. It is still a single point of failure, with a much higher maintenance cost than the other components – mainly due to the various plugins.

In 2019, the Jenkins X team started to replace Jenkins with a combination of Prow and Tekton. Prow (or Lighthouse) is the component which handles the incoming webhook events from GitHub, and what Jenkins X calls the “ChatOps”: all the interactions between GitHub and the CI/CD platform. Tekton is a pipeline execution engine. It is a cloud-native project built on top of Kubernetes, fully leveraging the API and capabilities of this platform. No single point of failure, no plugins compatibility nightmare – yet.

Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve started an internal project to upgrade our Jenkins X setup – by introducing Prow and Tekton. We saw immediate benefits:

  • Faster scheduling of pipelines “runners” pods – because all components are now Kubernetes-native components.
  • Simpler pipelines – thanks to both the Jenkins X Pipelines YAML syntax and the ability to easily decouple a complex pipeline in multiple small ones that are run concurrently.
  • Lower maintenance cost.

While replacing the pipeline engine of Jenkins X might seem like an implementation detail, in fact, it has a big impact on the developers. Everybody is used to see the Jenkins UI as the CI/CD UI – the main entry point, the way to manually restart pipelines executions, to access logs and test results. Sure, there is a new UI and a real API with an awesome CLI, but the new UI is not finished yet, and some people still prefer to use web browsers and terminals. Leaving the Jenkins Plugins ecosystem is also a difficult decision because some projects heavily rely on a few plugins. And finally, with the introduction of Prow (Lighthouse) the Github workflow is a bit different, with Pull Requests merges being done automatically, instead of people manually merging when all the reviews and automated checks are green.

So if 2019 was the year of Jenkins X at Dailymotion, 2020 will definitely be the year of Tekton: our main release platform – used by almost all our projects except the ad-tech ones – is still powered by Jenkins, and we feel more and more its limitations in a Kubernetes world. This is why we plan to replace all our Jenkins instances with Tekton, which was truly built for Kubernetes and will enable us to scale our Continuous Delivery practices.