Automating the Software Deployment Process
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, software deployment techniques were once entirely manual. This seemingly unsophisticated process usually involved compiling the code on the computer programmer’s workstation, and then replicating all of it throughout different development and testing environments, along with the suitable configuration updates, until it was released to a designated production environment.
The manual software deployment practice has its advantages and disadvantages. Nonetheless, the great magnitude of its disadvantages overshadows its advantages. Therefore, this procedure is no longer considered appropriate for addressing requirements of a continuously evolving modern software development lifecycle utilized by large enterprises today.
Some may ask whether or not it would be decidedly advantageous, if not exceedingly profitable, to abandon the old “trustworthy” manual process in lieu of deployment automation. To answer that, let’s briefly examine some of the most important benefits that the automated software deployment process can bring:
- Automated deployment is no longer governed by Murphy’s Law
Murphy's Law is an old adage that states if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. The manual deployment process is highly prone to error, mostly due to the fact that continuous human intervention is required to complete it. Even with soundly documented processes, critical steps may often be unintentionally overlooked; faults that happen in the course of an application launch might not get caught promptly, or improper software code versions may end up being deployed. Automated deployments are not afflicted by those variabilities. Once initially and properly configured, the entire process will perform in the same manner every time a release is initiated.
- Time is money
Historically speaking, deploying changes among different environments has often been classified as a labor-intensive task. Duplicating files to all applicable servers, performing configuration file changes, and other similar tasks can certainly consume significant amounts of valuable time and human resources. In addition, performing quality control checks to guarantee that the entire deployment process has been completed without an error is also time consuming. These tasks and many others can be efficiently replaced by event-triggered scripts that run on an orchestration and automation engine server. This not only eliminates the highly time consuming and error prone manual processes but also meets a modern enterprise’s need to build software hyper-efficiently, cost effectively, using repeatable processes, and, if necessary, to turn on a dime.
- Deployment can be triggered by virtually anyone
In most traditional siloed environments in which different departments or groups within an organization are not willing to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the same business, manual or partially automated deployments usually require the services of a small subset of highly skilled employees who are the only ones able to execute their deployment tasks. By using an automated deployment process, the awareness of how to release software is contained within the system rather than an employee's mind. Consider the following scenario: When an employee becomes ill, or otherwise unavailable on a short notice, performing a manual release can quite easily become a significant ordeal. With an automated deployment process, anyone with authorized access to the “Deploy” button can initiate and successfully complete a release.
- Deployment to dissimilar target environments is no longer a nuisance
Automated deployments are not only repeatable, but they also have the unique ability to be highly configurable as well. Although the principle of the release process is the same, the underlying target environments and machine hosts can easily be swapped. What that means is that, in scenarios where a software package needs to be distributed into a new target environment or a new client installation is required, the additional effort associated with the process of deploying to that new additional target is insignificant. This is because scripts can be easily configured to use parameters to account for different environments.
- Deployment becomes commonplace
From a business perspective and because of the low overhead costs, an automated deployment process allows enterprises to implement changes, both planned and unforeseen, into a production environment effectively, efficiently, and more frequently. As deployments become a common occurrence, software engineers and business owners are continuously able to collect that “precious” feedback from their users on the software they are producing. As a result, they can act upon it to quickly improve the quality of the product and overall user satisfaction.
- Software engineers are finally free to work on their next set of breakthrough functionalities
Manual execution and validation of the deployment process is a time-consuming endeavor, frequently measured in hours, or even days or weekends. Due to an intimate familiarity with the application codebase, this responsibility is often delegated to the software engineers and testers in a development team, who, on the other hand, would have best been utilized creating and testing new cutting-edge application functionalities.
As a comparison, the time it takes to fully execute an automated deployment process is quite often measured in seconds. Additionally, validation tasks associated with this process are invisibly orchestrated at the same time, which allows a development team to interfere only in the very rare instances of a failed deployment. Consequently, the development team gets the opportunity to invest more time and energy on development activities, which is what they are primarily trained to do.
At this point, regardless of whether you are a business owner or a software engineer, it is easy to notice all the benefits of deployment automation, while, at the same time, realizing that the manual deployment process should be considered antiquated at best. You may also agree that what matters most is the time required to take your desired features from “concept to customer.” On the other hand, some may claim that the initial investment of time required to build a proper automated deployment process may not be that profitable in the long run; however, you’ll have to spend some time developing a workable process in order to save time in the long run. Ultimately, the final decision on whether or not to embrace an automated deployment process will always be at your own discretion.