Refactoring Touch Surgery’s infrastructure using Bitbucket Pipelines

written on Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I’m a strong believer that having great processes makes great engineering possible. Fear really is the mind killer when it comes to improving on an existing product or creating something new. If an engineer is scared to make a change, then chances are they’re not going to do it. Especially without seeking permission from someone else.

Touch Surgery’s existing infrastructure had some characteristics that made it scary for our engineering team:

With that in mind, we recently rebuilt our primary engineering work flow to be automatic, easy to use, and safe.

We built this infrastructure using BitBucket Pipelines, a new offering from Atlassian. At the moment it’s a minimal product with exactly the features we need to build what we want.

The new workflow incorporates continuous integration and continuous deployment. Our fleet of special snowflakes were entirely replaced by immutable servers. These are destroyed and replaced with every deploy. Deploying the latest version of our platform now involves no downtime. Which is great because we’re doing it many times a day.

Continuous integration

Each commit made to our code base triggers the the automated quality assurance process. The steps, in order of increasing time taken, and complexity are:

If a commit can pass these hurdles. Then we’re confident it can be deployed and used by our customers.

Building configured Amazon Machine Images (AMIs)

Once the quality process has been completed successfully and the commit is on an actively deployed branch we use packer to build a universal AMI that contains the current code and the necessary environment to run our application. The same image can be used to launch any one of our server types. Which are currently: Application, celery, content or scheduler.

Automated deployment

The entire AWS environment is created through Ansible roles. We have roles that create:

Each environment (testing, staging, production) has a playbook that combines these roles and deploys the latest built image into them.

The great thing about this approach is that our entire infrastructure lives in code, in a disaster, or if the security of our environment was compromised, we could delete it entirely and be back up and running within an hour.

The deployment process for our three environments uses these same playbooks. They deploy each new platform release with zero downtime.

Custom tools

We also created three custom pipeline jobs

These three commands give our engineers the simple tools to manage the environment in emergencies, test their code in the deploy process or to show the product team work, to get signoff, prior to it being released.

Rollback is only there as an emergency measure. It lets an engineer quickly deploy the pre-built image for a particular commit. Unlike the normal deploy process there is an additional sanity check performed. Which is: “Has this commit been successfully deployed to production before?” If that’s not the case we just fail. Even though "you can’t have a rollback button" this can still be useful.

Deploying a commit to the staging environment is a way for engineers to test the entire deployment process, including database migrations, before their code is merged into master and the automated process kicks in.

Creating a custom test environment is the primary way for an engineer to show their work to other members of Touch Surgery. The output of running this command is a scaled down, isolated environment with a url unique to this commit. This gives ultimate flexibility. Nobody is blocked because the staging environment is broken or busy. If you want to show your work to someone else you can. We destroy these environments every night so that they don’t accumulate. But since each one is only a load balancer and a micro instances they only cost a $0.30 a day. In fact our entire development infrastructure costs us ~ $100 / month on AWS.

Together these three custom tools give individual developers most of the control over our environment that they need on a day to day basis without requiring special access to anything sensitive.


We’ve had this new infrastructure running live now for two months. We’ve done hundreds of deploys and created almost a thousand on demand test environments without any downtime or outages that affected our users and customers. Most importantly the confidence that our engineers now have when making changes is night and day.

This entry was tagged development and infrastructure