Sat 23 April 2016

Visualising the Software Integration process for whole systems

Over the last few years Codethink has been helping a series of customers understand and manage the scale and complexity of their software integration pipelines. We've seen and tried various approaches to visualise what's happening, but many projects end up falling back to some combination of:

  • architecture diagrams
  • data models
  • workflow descriptions
  • organisation charts

A key problem is that most of these approaches tend to describe how we think (or hope) things are, rather than how they actually work. It's hard for new people to grok what's happening, and even harder for executives to pinpoint the root causes of business-level problems. Even worse, as the real world projects evolve, the pictures don't keep up.

At the Cloud Foundry Summit in 2015, Codethink CEO Paul Sherwood was inspired by Alex Suraci's talk about Concourse, a new tool for CI which can help to demystify the process of building, integrating, validating and releasing complex software.

Given that Codethink works on some truly gigantic whole-stack projects for enterprise, devices and automotive customers, Paul immediately wondered if Concourse really is 'the CI that scales with your project'. Could it handle visualisation and integration of complete systems; from initial toolchain through BSP, kernel, OS, middleware and applications?

The answer is (more or less) YES!

Here's a minimal Linux stack integration pipeline, showing the flow of a build from toolchain on the left, through to the output system on the right. Click the image to see the live CI pipeline at

Concourse diagram of Baserock minimal system

And the Baserock GENIVI Demo Platform for x86_64:

Concourse diagram of Baserock GENIVI system

And now a full integration of OpenStack software:

Concourse diagram of Baserock OpenStack system

Important things to note about these pipelines:

  • they represent actual software, being integrated for real
  • when a new integration fails, its blindingly obvious where the failure happens, which is a huge win for interaction with a large ecosystem contributing to a common platform
  • the pipeline structure can refresh automatically as the underlying software architecture changes

Chris Brown, who leads the Concourse team at Pivotal says "It's fantastic to see these impressive pipelines opened to the public. I was always hoping that Concourse would be used for this scale of project."

There's still lots of work to do, as Codethink improves and optimises this approach for commercial use-cases and multi-architecture projects, but early adopter customers are as excited as we are.

If you want to know more about how this new level of visualisation can help your team, please get in touch!

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