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Jenkins & Spinnaker: Tale As Old As Screen Time

By April 27, 2020November 1st, 2023Blog, Project

CDF Newsletter – May 2020 Article
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By Rosalind Benoit

Don’t worry. As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely eighty-eight miles per hour the instant the lightning strikes the tower…everything will be fine.

– Dr. Emmett Brown, “Back To The Future”

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced the feeling of your heart racing — hopefully with excitement, but more likely, with anxiety — as a result of your involvement in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). At most organizations, artifacts must traverse a complex network of teams, tools, and constraints to come into being and arrive in production. As software becomes more and more vital to social connection and economic achievement, we feel the pressure to deliver transformational user experiences.

No company has influenced human expectations for reliably delightful software experiences more than Netflix. After 10 years of supporting large-scale logistics workloads with its mail-order business, Netflix launched an addictive streaming service in 2007. It soon experienced SDLC transformation at an uncommonly rapid pace, and at massive scale. After pioneering a new entertainment standard, Netflix survived and innovated through all the learnings that come with growth.

We’ll soon have one more reason to be glad it did; Back to the Future arrives on Netflix May 1!

Jenkins at Netflix

You may know Netflix as the birthplace of open source Spinnaker, but it is also a perennial Jenkins user. As early cloud adopters, Netflix teams quickly learned to automate build and test processes, and heavily leveraged Jenkins, evolving from “a single massive Jenkins master in our datacenter, to running 25 Jenkins masters in AWS” as of 2016. 

Jenkins changed the software development and delivery game by freeing teams from rigid, inflexible build processes and moving them into continuous integration. With test and build automation, “it works on my laptop” became a moot point. A critical leap for software-centric businesses like Netflix, this ignited a spark of the possible. 

As Jenkins became an open source standard, engineers leveraged it to prove the power of software innovation, and the difference that velocity makes to improving user experiences and business outcomes. This approachable automation still works, and most of us still use it, over 15 years after its first release. 

Over time, Netflix teams found it increasingly difficult to meet velocity, performance, and reliability demands when deploying their code to AWS with Jenkins alone. Too much technical debt had accumulated in their Jenkins and its scripts, and developers, feeling the anxiety, craved more deployment automation features. So, Netflix began to build the tooling that evolved into today’s Spinnaker. 

Spinnaker & Delegation

Much like what Jenkins did for testing and integration, Spinnaker has done for release automation. It allows us to stitch together the steps required to safely deliver updates and features to production; it delegates pipeline stages to systems across the toolchain, from build and test, to monitoring, compliance, and more. Spinnaker increasingly uses its plugin framework to integrate tools. However, its foundational Jenkins integration exists natively, using triggers to pick up artifacts from it, and stages to delegate tasks to it. With property files to pass data for use in variables further down the pipeline, and concepts like Jenkins’ “unstable build” built in, Spinnaker can leverage the power of existing Jenkins assets. 

Then, out of the box, Spinnaker adds the “secret sauce” pioneered by companies like Netflix to deliver the software experiences users now expect. With Spinnaker, you can skip change approval meetings by adding manual judgments to pipelines where human decisions are required. You can perform hotfixes with confidence and limit the blast radius of experiments by using automated canary analysis or your choice of deployment strategy. Enjoy these features when deploying code or functions to any cloud and/or Kubernetes, without maintaining custom scripts to architect pipelines. 

As a developer, I found that I had the best experience using Jenkins for less complicated jobs and pipelines; even with much of the process defined as code, I didn’t always have enough context to fully understand the progression of the artifact or debug. Since joining the Spinnaker community, I’ve learned to rely on Jenkins stages for discrete steps like applying a Chef cookbook or signalling a Puppet run. I can manage these steps from Spinnaker, where, along with deployment strategies and native infrastructure dashboards, I can also experiment with data visualization using tools like SumoLogic, and even run terraform code. 

It’s simple to get started with the integration. I use Spinnaker’s Halyard tool to add my Jenkins master, and boom:

If Jenkins is a Swiss Army knife, Spinnaker is a magnetic knife strip. Their interoperability story is the story of continuous delivery’s evolution, and allows us to use the right tool for the right job:

  • Jenkins: not only do I have all the logic and capability needed to perform your testing, integration, and deployment steps, I’m also an incredibly flexible tool with a plugin for every special need of every development team under the sun. I’m game for any job!
  • Spinnaker: not only can I give your Jenkins jobs a context-rich home, I also delegate to all your other SDLC tools, and visualize the status and output of each. My fancy automation around deployment verifications, windows, and strategies makes developers happy and productive!

My first real experience with DevOps was a Jenkins talk delivered by Tracy Ragan at a conference in Albuquerque, where I worked as an (anxious) sysadmin for learning management systems at UNM. It’s amazing to have come full circle and joined the CDF landscape as a peer from a fellow member company. I look forward to aiding the interoperability story as it unfolds in our open source ecosystem. We’re confident the tale will transform software delivery, yet again. 

Join Spinnaker Slack to connect with other DevOps professionals using Jenkins and Spinnaker to deliver software with safety and velocity!