Making deployment automation work for your business

Deployment automation is becoming less of a luxury and more of a requirement for software development teams that are looking to remain competitive in the current marketplace.

Primarily, an automated deployment solution allows you to write your processes once, get them exactly the way you want, automatically run them, and reuse the procedures every time you deploy a new application or update across the development process in a more efficient, reliable, and predictable way.

At the end of the day, solutions that automate your software release processes improve the productivity of both the Dev and Ops teams and enable them and the business to develop faster, accomplish more, and ultimately build better software that is released more frequently and functions more reliably for the end-user.

The benefits of automated deployments

Automated deploys are repeatable and much less error-prone. Once you have your app update ready to go, it can be easily deployed in the same process, without the possibility of someone accidentally typing the wrong thing when configuring a step.

Automated deployments mean you can give anyone you desire the access to deploy software. Any stakeholder in the project will have the ability to push the launch button (with the right security or permissions mechanisms in place). You won’t have to rely on just a handful of employees with intimate knowledge of the fundamental code of the update in order to execute a deployment.

Engineers’ time is freed up to spend on actual, meaningful development, rather than scripting, doing manual deployments, or fixing failed processes, which should have been handled by an automated process. Performing a manual deployment is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process, so if you are relying on manual updates for your software, that means you have folks like your developers and testers spending their time deploying updates when they could be spending their time building the 'next big thing' that will make your software better.

Lastly, automated deployments have what’s called a low overhead. While they take a bit of work to initially set up, the long-term overhead is much less than manually deploying updates. This means you can release more software updates, more frequently.

Considerations for implementing deployment automation

Take a look at the dependencies of your code and application. Dependencies are when the functionality of your application depends on something else. For example, your web server application uses a database hosted elsewhere. If the data in that database is changed or columns are deleted, the application’s functionality will be impacted. You need to understand what depends on what, and where your changes might have an impact down the line. Start your project by creating a dependency map showing where the connections are between your different applications, databases, code, and related infrastructure. Then, when you look to model your release, you’ll understand how each change might impact other processes.

It can also be helpful to make sure your applications and services are backward-compatible, which makes handling dependencies easier because you avoid versioning issues. If versioning comes into play, you just created a dependency issue you could have otherwise avoided.

Another area of consideration is governance and compliance. Basically, what rules do you need to adhere to with your application? The rules of the game vary wildly depending on your company, your product, and your space. At a small startup with a team making a web app, there probably aren’t too many rules to worry about in terms of which team member has access to what, or what audit tracking needs to be put in place. On the other end of the spectrum is software used by financial institutions or the military, where there are massive walls between environments and access to code and data that can’t be crossed.

Start by understanding the actual compliance and security requirements. Even the most seasoned developers and IT professionals often overlook this step and jump right to the tools setup without giving due diligence to answering the question: “what do I really need here?”

Once you figure out the real requirements that are necessary for your specific application, you can map them out, then apply the tools. That way, you don’t end up building any more governance and compliance systems (aka doing more work) than is absolutely necessary. Once you’ve made the decision to automate deployment, it’s a good idea to think about your rollback strategy: what you will do if something doesn’t go exactly the way you anticipate.

How you address failed deployments or the need for fixing bugs in the software quickly is an area where frequent deployments are hugely beneficial. For one, the more often you are releasing updates, the higher the likelihood that the changes to the application between each release are small and more manageable. If something goes wonky, you can quickly identify where the error is coming from and correct it. If you are releasing massive, infrequent deployments, you’ll have to wade through tons of code to figure out where the error is coming from. This potentially means more downtime and a much worse user experience.

Deployment automation has many benefits. With careful planning and execution, implementing automated deployment will make your development process faster and more user-friendly for all stakeholders, from developers and QA to release engineers, database administrators, and IT operations, and, ultimately, the end-users.

Anders Wallgren, Chief Technology Officer at Electric Cloud