Many companies have a basic understanding of production, development and quality assurance environments—but they don’t always understand their true benefits or the benefits of other enterprise-level environments like load testing and automated testing. In this article, we will dive into the various environments that your application could and should be using, and how you can use the different environments to your advantage.
The production environment—or where the deployed application will live—should be high performing and accessible from multiple regions worldwide. Here are some tips to help you build a high-performing and resilient application:
- Each instance of your application production environment should be able to handle twice the amount of traffic that you might expect. This will give you more time to adapt as your application grows.
- Each of your instances should be behind a load balancer for two reasons: The first is so that you can direct traffic around the world to your various instances to increase speed. Secondly, when your application needs updates, you can direct traffic to the instances you want your users to see without having to take down the whole application.
The quality assurance environment is crucial because it gives the QA team a chance to test the application before it moves up the chain. This environment doesn’t have to be as high performing as the production-level environment, but it should be able to handle the QA team using it. Also, this environment doesn’t have to be worldwide, unless your application has some global implications that need testing, for example, time zone-based releases or region-locked content. Here are some tips for building a quality QA environment:
- You only need enough instances of a QA environment to satisfy your testing scenarios. For example, if you have region-locked content in one of the environments you are deploying to, then you should have at least two QA environments: One to test accessing the region-locked content, and the other to ensure you can’t access that content from another region. If you don’t require time zone-based tests or region-locked content, then you likely only need a singular QA environment.
- If you aren’t constantly testing, then this environment doesn’t need to always be online. This could save money, especially if you are using cloud-based infrastructure.
If you have a development team, then a development environment is a must—but how you use it depends on your development team’s needs and the different scenarios they are experiencing. For example, normally you would use the development environment to test the most recent work that you are working on; however, if you need to revert your changes from the current deployed release and need to test those changes, you might need a second environment to test the fixes without the new functionality in place. This environment should be as efficient as the QA environment and should operate under the same parameters as the QA environment including server specifications, server operating system and server patches. Here are some tips to help maintain a development environment:
- The development environment is the cornerstone of your development team. It needs to be easily accessible from a DevOps workflow and even read-only from a data perspective, which gives the team the most access to the data that they need.
- Use this environment to bring all of the development team’s changes together and to see how the adjustments work together. To avoid errors or breaking the development environment, developers should use their local environment to test their own changes before pushing them to the development environment.
User Acceptance Testing Environment
User acceptance testing (UAT) environments—also called staging environments—allow the application’s main users to test new features before they are pushed into the production environment. The UAT environment allows users to give the development team valuable feedback about real use cases and how the features will be used. Here are some tips on how to maximize your UAT environment:
- UAT environments are like a closed beta test because they allow a small group of people to use the application and give feedback about the features. The number of users that you allow into this environment is entirely up to you, but 5% of your production user base should give you ample feedback without overwhelming your development team.
- The UAT environment should be as close to the production environment as possible in terms of specifications, so that your users don’t mistake slow functionality with slow server performance.
Other Specialized Environments
Depending on your use cases, there are two other specialized environments—both of which can be turned off as needed to save costs—that can benefit your development processes:
- Load Testing – Usually, your development, QA and UAT teams do not constitute even half of the number of people that will be using your application. This is where load testing is most beneficial: By spinning up an environment where you can simulate hundreds or even thousands of users at a time, you can better simulate how your application would work when released to production.
- Automated Testing – Many companies utilize QA teams to test new features and some regression of existing features—but doing this may incur unnecessary costs. With a dedicated automated testing team, you can build an automated test suite and run it every time a release is scheduled, thus eliminating the need for long nights of regression testing.
Although you may not need all of these environments to release your software, using as many of these environments as necessary will ensure your upcoming release—and all releases thereafter—are primed for success.
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