Deployment is one of the most critical stages in the software development life cycle. There are many competing methodologies over how and when software should be deployed. One of the most popular of these methodologies is agile, where new software is deployed at the end of 2-week sprints. Often, deployment requires some kind of manual intervention, whether that is simply merging branches in a repo or more involved. However, more teams are turning to automated deployment solutions to save time, cut back on mistakes, and put more energy towards developing their product rather than deploying it. Read on to find out the benefits automated deployment solutions offer and why automated deployment may be a good fit for your project.
Benefits of Automated Deployment
To understand the benefits of automated deployment, it helps to define what exactly is being automated. Automated deployment can refer to the automation of testing, building, and deployment stages of software development that can be controlled programmatically and triggered without the need for manual intervention. There are distinct reasons each particular stage benefits from automation, but broadly speaking, automation brings the following benefits to each stage of the software development process.
It’s no surprise that most computational tasks can be completed faster by machine than manually. Testing, in particular, is an area where this becomes very apparent. Almost every software development team will use some kind of automation in their test suite, such as using test frameworks to run unit tests on command. However, other types of testing that are less easily programmatically defined or are prone to breaking, such as end-to-end testing, may be conducted wholly or partially manually. End-to-end testing can be a huge time sink for many teams and it is here that automating the testing stage of the deployment process can represent huge savings in terms of speed. However, it is not without its own caveats that will be discussed in more detail later on.
A fully automated deployment process should be able to be run at any time. This means build, test and deploy processes that complete in minutes rather than hours or days. For many teams that partially or wholly rely on manual testing or are used to dealing with flaky test suites that require constant maintenance, the changes automated deployment brings to deployment speed are revolutionary.
Automating your deployment process requires programmatically defining each step of the deployment process. Not only does this provide a standardized backbone for the deployment process, but it also makes making changes to that process a lot easier and much more efficient. Teams that rely on manual processes for deployment may suffer from unavoidable human factors, such as making mistakes, forgetting steps, poor communication between departments, and more. These are inherently unpredictable, and these kinds of mistakes can happen to anyone – from small software companies with fewer than a dozen employees to industry leaders like AWS. By implementing an automated, programmatic deployment process, you eliminate a huge swathe of potential issues related to manual deployment.
Automation brings similar benefits to testing as it does to the other stages of deployment. By automating your testing, you are programmatically defining your entire test suite. This standardizes the testing process and eliminates common human errors, but it can also lead to better overall testing. The reason for this comes down to the timespan available to teams who make use of automated testing over manual testing.
As a comparison, teams who still follow agile methodology and manual testing only have to run tests at the end of a 2-week sprint, after development for that sprint has ceased. There is ample time allotted to running tests, which can result in test suites that take hours to run or even have to be left to run overnight. Because time is less of a factor in agile, tests don’t need to run quickly and there is more of an emphasis on quantity over quality. Testing as much as possible sounds like a good thing, but it leads to bloated test suites full of unnecessary tests that each add a small portion of time to the overall test runtime. In an automated deployment process, these tests need to run in minutes, not hours or days.
This means teams need to trim the fat when implementing automated testing. Doing so without impacting the quality or security of your testing and QA process requires understanding which tests provide value to your team (i.e, is the test covering business-critical functionality or something incidental, how likely is the test case to actually occur in production, how many customers will be impacted by any one particular issue, etc.) Removing tests that are redundant, unnecessary, or simply don’t provide enough value relative to the time it takes to run them are all necessary in order to reduce test suite runtime to levels acceptable for automated deployment. In turn, this leads to leaner, more efficient test suites.
Common Pitfalls of Automated Deployment
Teams looking to automate their deployment process should be aware of some of the more common pitfalls to watch out for when switching from manual to automated deployment. Automated deployment involves a lot more than using the command line to run a suite of tests on a developer’s local machine, so it’s a lot more complex in the sense that teams often choose to rely on third-party tools and services to provide some or all of the functionality of automated deployment.
In order to implement automated deployment, test suite runtimes need to be culled as mentioned above. This is usually one of the biggest hurdles for many teams, who are used to testing and QA processes that take hours or more. In addition to this, flaky tests will break deployments. If you have any particular set of tests (UI/UX and front-end testing is a common culprit for this) with test cases that frequently change and cause failures, they will break the deployment process. When certain test cases fail during manual deployment, testers may choose to ignore them if they are from tests ‘known’ to be flaky, but automated testing is much less permissive and this requires adjustment.
The scope of automated deployment touches on several different areas of software development, involving both developers, testers and operations staff. This is essentially DevOps, which unites these teams, practices and procedures. This relies on developing key communication pipelines between teams that may have traditionally acted independently from one another. This is a procedural change that involves modifying company and departmental practices in order to put automated deployment procedures into practice.
How to Implement Automated Deployment
Fortunately, plenty of automated deployment software and automated deployment tools already exist, which make the switch from manual to automated deployment a lot smoother. These range from free to paid services, that either offer a unified automated test, build and deploy process, or any one as an individual service. Examples of these services include Jenkins, TravisCI, AWS CodeDeploy, and Github Actions.
Many of these tools work by either webhooks or API calls that are triggered when commits are made to your repository or when branches are merged. These events can be hooked into and trigger scripts, such as spinning up npm for build commands and running test suites. Since these steps are fully automated, these steps can be triggered at any time of day or night. Teams should have good reporting and alert systems in place that are hooked into the automated deployment process so that teams are alerted in the event that something fails. When teams are used to deployments as a particular event that occurs once every two weeks in agile, it requires adjustment when automated deployments can occur several times a day.
Deployment Automation Will Change the Way You Make Software
Deployment automation makes the software development process leaner and quicker. Teams may deploy several times a day, rather than once every two weeks. Teams are likely to face challenges along the way in making the adjustment, with testing, in particular, being a common stumbling block. Flaky test suites or very large test suites that take hours to run are issues that many teams run into and find they need help with.
At ProdPerfect, we provide services that help remove those barriers and get testing out of the way. This is done by analyzing your app’s real-time user data to develop lean test suites that prioritize testing in areas based on how users actually use your app. Test suites need to finish in minutes, not hours. Get in touch with an expert on our team that can help you optimize your testing process.