Amazon CodeGuru: quality before all else

Posted on Tuesday December 03, 2019
Category: Cloud
Tags: aws ; cloud ; gekko ; re:invent ; repost

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Words of notice: This is an article I wrote for Gekko. Many thanks for their consent to sharing this story here.


Gekko @ re:Invent 2019 – Tuesday, December 3rd of 2019

An artistic blur of quality

The notion of code quality is paradoxically one of the elements that divide development teams, but which nevertheless exposes fundamental notions that have been anchored for decades in the field. At the turn of a conversation between followers of Software Craftsmanship, we can hear about technical debt, dead code elimination or, for the most subtle, cyclomatic complexity.

Developing a service requires writing code. Every new feature beyond the basic trivial brick requires wiring to the existing code. Therefore, a development will contain phases of reading code. In the best case scenario, this reading is fluid; understanding the purpose of each structure, function, file or other element of the code and incrementing it with the development of a new feature is easy. But what happens in the other cases?

It is common to want to implement features as quickly as possible while ensuring a contained development cost and a preserved scope. It is hard to keep the balance in this triangle without taking shortcuts. By using less recommendable techniques and methods, one can reach an equivalent result much faster, at the risk of causing what is called the “technical debt”.

Seen from another angle, technical debt is a form of consumer credit: it can be contracted, generates interest and must be repaid at term, since the code will have to be reinterpreted afterwards, understood, incremented and corrected.

Fortunately, there are solutions that limit the creation of debt. One of them is to have a third party member of the development team proofread the feature code. However, this solution brings with it a significant cost, especially since code proofreading is not always the most pleasant task.

What to do then?

The mysterious road to performance

Along with the concerns that one might have about the quality of a product, similar questions about its performance may arise. Indeed, behind this vague concept lie many indicators that cannot always be tracked or optimized and that will have to be dealt with, especially when there is not enough time to think about more elegant solutions. Indicators include CPU load, RAM and storage usage, network latency and so on.

In reality, performance is rarely the primary concern during development. A product is expected to perform before it can be verified that it performs properly and scales. Moreover, it is difficult to emulate the behavior of a production environment on a local workstation and expensive to validate the performance of each change. We may thus find ourselves having to explore the different notions of load or performance testing in a dedicated environment, or even in production! In other words, it is difficult to assess the impact of a feature, or even a line of code on the indicators that attest to the proper functioning of a service.

What to do then?

Amazon CodeGuru

As a new addition to the AWS Code* services -AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodeCommit, AWS CodeDeploy, AWS CodePipeline and AWS CodeStar- dedicated to development teams, Amazon CodeGuru simultaneously attacks the fronts presented above, namely code review and detection of performance issues. A question immediately arises: how can an automated system be entrusted with a task that is usually performed by humans?

Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, trained using thousands of projects and millions of code reviews internally at Amazon as well as on open source repositories, Amazon CodeGuru is able to provide relevant recommendations to complement the skills of experts and improve the stability and performance of a system before it goes live, at the Pull Request level. In addition, this tool is also capable of analyzing the use of the AWS SDK to detect possible inefficiencies.

Amazon CodeGuru does not stop there: there is a profiler agent you can include in your application. After your application goes into production, it becomes possible to observe its behavior in order to detect additional issues and be offered prioritized recommendations. The aim is to eliminate the most pressing performance inefficiencies and therefore to reduce the prerequisites in terms of infrastructure and, by extension, the costs involved in running your service!

The benefits of this solution have ripple effects; Amazon CodeGuru makes development teams aware of the performance of their systems, reduces the load and difficulty of the code review process, improves the experience of a product for end users, all while paying for itself by reducing the operational costs.

If this preliminary introduction to this new service has captured your interest, the next step is to try and adopt Amazon CodeGuru.

Developed with ❤

Vincenzo Scalzi