Jan 10, 2023

Using Blockchain and DevOps for Secure & Continuous Delivery

Discover how blockchain and DevOps complement each other for more secure, compliant, and transparent software development, delivery, and IT operations.

Individually, blockchain and DevOps offer different benefits. However, combining them can provide significant cost-efficiency and security advantages.

Most companies implement DevOps practices to enhance their development pipeline and operations with ongoing collaboration, continuous testing, and automation. But true innovators go further and incorporate immutable blockchain ledgers and smart contracts to take system availability, visibility, and control to new levels.

This article will show you how you can enhance your DevOps with blockchain solutions. And, because this is a complex technology, we want to share insights on how you can deal with the most common challenges of blockchain deployment.

Correlation between blockchain and DevOps

Let’s start with some basics. What makes the idea of combining DevOps methodology with blockchain-based technology appealing?

DevOps is a methodology that enables development and operations teams to collaborate, communicate, and continuously improve. It’s built around automation — the primary goal is to allow many departments or organizations to streamline the release, testing, and deployment of error-free code.

Blockchain is a distributed immutable database of transactions. Activities in the ledger are managed by smart contracts — embedded algorithms that execute actions based on predefined conditions with automated rules.

Companies mostly use blockchain applications for peer-to-peer (P2P) financial transactions because smart contracts conduct them without external authority and enforcement mechanisms. But there’s a way to take advantage of blockchain’s immutability, transparency, and automation to enhance other mission-critical processes.

The combination of DevOps and blockchain technologies

DevOps teams usually focus on small but frequent iterative code deployments. To expedite processes, teams typically rely on automated CI/CD tools, automated application testing, release management practices, and container orchestration platforms (Kubernetes).

Aside from some peculiarities, the DevOps methodology works for blockchain development more or less the same as for other projects. Engineers apply code fixes and develop new capabilities in local environments, test the changes, and submit them to the source control system.

Applying blockchain principles to DevOps is where it gets interesting. Distributed ledgers can make many DevOps processes more secure, transparent, and stable. Integrating smart contract algorithms in your CI/CD pipeline can also automate resource-intensive processes.

How companies use blockchain technology with DevOps 

So, how can blockchain and self-executing smart contracts enhance your DevOps practices? Here are a few examples you can adopt.

Automated transaction monitoring

Applying blockchain in DevOps makes it easy to log all activities over the life of your project or system. The ledger can automatically record all network traffic — code changes, updates, tests, issues, and regressions — as transactions. 

Next, a combination of smart contracts and an infrastructure as code (IaaC) approach automates code deployments. With IaaC, for example, you ensure the consistency of your configuration, components, and topology when your teams apply changes to the system.

The contract layer can trigger actions when code is released into the pipeline. For instance, it can execute a series of functional, regression, or security tests. Executed scripts are captured as transactions, along with the tester’s acceptance of their outcomes. If the delivery doesn’t meet requirements, the smart contract notifies developers, letting them remediate it before an issue moves down the pipeline.

Transparent operations and management

Blockchains use digital signatures that bind users to their identity to provide visibility into the continuous integration and development processes. Any access to the production environment initiates a blockchain trace, providing total visibility into transactions. This is especially helpful in larger enterprises and multiteam projects.

With blockchain, DevOps managers and auditors can quickly assess a project’s status. Let’s say a project manager receives change requests. The ledger simplifies access to the pre-change information, making decisions about the request easier. Auditors, on the other hand, can analyze completed, in-delivery, and planned tasks, as well as review compliance.

Development with integrated security

Blockchain technologies can help you adopt a DevSecOps (“shift left”) approach — that is, introduce security tests at earlier stages of software development. Smart contracts can be extended to any activity or module, including proof of ownership or authentication attempts. 

Want to effortlessly process and verify every transaction in the blockchain? You can set up a contact layer to trigger vulnerability scanning at release build time and record its results in the blockchain as separate transactions.

With blockchain, DevOps activities are stored chronologically and linked to the neighboring data blocks, meaning it’s nearly impossible to alter the record. Plus, the consensus mechanisms ensure all activities on your blockchain follow the same rules, so you can maintain uniformity of data, quickly find and rectify anomalies, and prevent security threats.

Higher stability and fault tolerance

The distributed and decentralized nature of blockchain promotes higher availability. Your network’s participants run nodes (servers and computing devices) that can store independent copies of the whole ledger. This makes your systems much more fault tolerant than traditional systems, as you can quickly recover your data.

Merging DevOps with blockchain can enhance your system’s reliability. Even if several servers go offline, the other nodes can keep the system functioning until blockchain DevOps engineers fix the issues.

Improved service compliance 

You can integrate blockchain technology with DevOps to facilitate service quality assurance from the start of the software development. That contrasts with a typical DevOps contract, where developers and providers have to wait for the operational phase to analyze service quality.

Before development begins, service and infrastructure providers should agree on specific conditions for contracts. Then, the blockchain will record all deviations from the norm during development, testing, and operations. The system reports contract violations to stakeholders, who can inspect the blockchain for more detailed information.

Some companies use third-party peer-to-peer (P2P) risk management middleware to protect goods, services, or assets against performance drops. A good example is the DSLA protocol that uses cryptocurrency as collateral for automated service-level agreement (SLA) management. Based on service performance, it can reward vendors who meet the buyer’s performance requirements or recoup customer losses when the vendor’s performance drops. 

To implement these technologies into your workflow, you must understand the complexities of blockchain technology and DevOps methodology.

Challenges of implementing blockchain in DevOps

Combining blockchain, DevOps, and smart contracts presents specific challenges and considerations. Here’s how you can deal with some of the most common ones.

Populating blockchain environment with test data

Blockchain technology groups transactions into unalterable blocks in chronological order. This complicates the traditional DevOps pipeline because populating a network with test data and scripts requires coordination and sequencing.

A popular solution is to use “forks” — snapshots of existing blockchains. Forking refers to the instant when a blockchain splits into branches due to changes in the algorithm or other software. A hard fork happens when a radical change makes previously valid transactions unacceptable, whereas a soft fork means a change that keeps the protocol backward-compatible.

Teams also use blockchain DevOps tools to streamline test and production environments. One such tool is Ganache CLI — a command-line Ethereum-based utility for testing and deploying contracts and applications on the blockchain.

Organizational culture management

Implementing blockchain and DevOps, like any transformation, relies on your ability to manage your company’s culture. According to Gartner’s 2019 research, by the end of 2022, about 75% of DevOps initiatives will have failed due to poorly implemented organizational learning and change.

Transparency is a core ingredient of successful change management. According to Gartner's 2019 Changing Change Management report, leading organizations start transforming from the bottom up. You should communicate organizational changes to every affected party: engineers, operations teams, and managers. As a result, your employees will understand the goals of the change and likely won’t be as resistant to radical transformations.

Applying DevOps metrics

Even though blockchain makes DevOps metrics more visible, many teams still need to figure out what to measure. Half of the respondents to Atlassian’s 2020 DevOps Trends Survey didn’t have a clear way to measure how their pipeline performs. 

Some metrics we use to gauge performance include standard DORA metrics (deployment frequency, lead time for changes, change failure rate, and mean time to recovery), as well as defect escape rate and site engineering reliability. You can refer to our article about DevOps metrics to learn what metrics can help you evaluate and effectively improve your cost-efficiency, code quality, and security.

Multifaceted testing

Implementing DevOps for blockchain smart contracts demands much more rigorous risk management than traditional software development does. What’s more, your projects will require extra contract and node testing in addition to standard functional, integration, performance, and security checks. 

All this is complicated by the fact that you can’t modify smart contracts after release. Every vulnerability you leave will inevitably become an exploit for hackers.

Apply DevOps and DevSecOps security automation tools from the initial phases of development. All blockchain members should test applications on the local, private network, and consortium levels to ensure they comply with security standards. In addition, it’s necessary to write as many tests as possible to check the code for preconditions. Don’t neglect third-party audits, as they can expand your testing scenarios and identify hidden issues.

For easier testing, design smart contracts similar to microservices. This includes dividing a solution into core entities with discrete contracts for each and deploying them independently. For example, you can put payment functions in a separate module with dedicated contract algorithms that behave independently of the rest of the smart contract layer.

Performance penalties

Enforcing DevOps practices with blockchain adds performance penalties. A 2020 paper on DevOps Contracts shows that operational execution time can increase threefold, depending on the number of contracts, constraints, and contract terms. 

To increase your throughput, you can limit logging to essential activities and contract enforcement transactions. Some companies stick to private and consortium-distributed blockchains that reduce processing time with simplified consensus protocols and a smaller number of trusted nodes.

Heavy resource requirements

A blockchain infrastructure demands significant computing resources, third-party software, network expenses, and the cost of energy and licenses. As your network acquires more nodes, the associated costs grow along with them. 

However, you can make use of the open-source nature of blockchain technology to reduce some costs. Engineers have full code to create their own smart contracts, consensus mechanisms, and the application's front end. 

You don’t even need to build a network from the group up. Instead, you can focus on developing a frontend and contract layer for your applications. Then, integrate your solution into an existing blockchain network without investing in expensive hardware and consensus mechanisms.

Insufficient DevOps and blockchain talent

According to Accelerate’s 2021 State of DevOps report, less than 26% of teams actually excel at DevOps. And the 2021 Electric Capital report shows that 80% of blockchain developers joined the industry in the last few years. So you can imagine how rare it is to find teams experienced in blockchain technology with DevOps (Kubernetes and CI/CD tools, among others).

Professional developers use open-source tools like Truffle Suite that provide a development framework, testing framework, and a configurable pipeline for blockchain projects. You can also ease your transition with platforms like Microsoft Azure or Zeeve, which provide scalable infrastructure, a test environment, and CI/CD pipeline releases for multiple teams.

Alternatively, you can hire a company to help you merge the best practices of continuous improvement with a blockchain ledger and smart contracts.

Blockchain and DevOps to complement your business

Implementing blockchain technologies and DevOps methodology is a way to reach new levels of visibility. The smart contract algorithms can ensure compliance across your network so that every activity remains secure and controlled. Additionally, the distributed nature of blockchains lets you improve service availability and disaster recovery measures.

 

Albeit, these benefits will remain theoretical without skills in both DevOps and blockchain. Luckily, ALPACKED can fill gaps in your knowledge and compensate if you lack any of the necessary tools. Our team of DevOps evangelists and blockchain experts can fine-tune your processes so they're always aligned with your business goals.

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