Application deployment lies at the core of a SaaS business’ activities. As such, deployments can affect business operations, at large. This is why having a solid deployment process in place is crucial. Be that as it may, deployments are not without complexities; hence, they require careful planning and execution.
In this article, we will explain what application deployment is; and, how managers — and their teams — can utilize this process to release software applications.
What is application deployment?
Application deployment includes all of the processes, tools, and activities that are required to make an application (or update) available for use. Typically, before deploying an application, the development team configures the target environment and installs all the relevant dependencies. The assigned team members also test the application and implement the necessary security measures. This way, they ensure that the application can operate smoothly.
Application deployment and automation
Today, most DevOps teams carry out software deployments using a combination of manual and automated processes and tools. Nevertheless, as companies adopt more agile deployment methodologies, automation seems to be the only solution. Indeed, automation can simplify the deployment process, making it much easier to manage. In CI/CD pipelines, for instance, application releases are in a constant deployable state. Consequently, they’re redeployed to production — as many times as necessary — in short cycles.
Why is application deployment Important?
Application deployment is crucial for SaaS businesses for several reasons; some of which include:
- Enhances visibility — Using application deployment, C-level managers and administrators can gain invaluable insights into user activities and resource usage.
- Saves time — With a well-planned deployment strategy, Dev teams can deploy and install applications fast.
- Ensures code quality — The Dev team can test the code in a staging environment before pushing it to production. This way, they ensure that the product that reaches end users is of high quality.
- Allows for rollbacks — In case something goes wrong (after pushing the code to production), teams can quickly roll the code back to a previous error-free version; and, thus, avoid disruptions or downtime.
- Boosts security — C-level managers can establish permission roles that control access to sensitive data and resources.
- Facilitates collaboration — Application deployment allows for ‘flattening’ the learning curve since employees can work on the same codebase; and be on the same page with each other.
- Improves speed-to-market — Of course, applying automation is a prerequisite. By automating the application deployment process, teams can make changes and updates faster.
What does the application deployment process include?
Every business has its process for application deployment, however, there is a basic flow that can be summed up into five phases: Planning or preparation, building, testing, deploying, and monitoring.
The first phase in the software deployment process is to create a sound, thorough plan. By planning well in advance, the chances of having a smooth deployment process are naturally increased.
When creating an application deployment plan managers should include steps like:
- Outlining the rules that employees must abide by
- Mapping out a clear deployment process, step by step
- Defining the tools that employees will use — and the processes they’ll follow
- Setting up a testing environment
- Identifying application performance metrics to track, etc.
Once the plan is in place, the next step is building or developing the code. As this is a critical phase in the application deployment process, enabling automation is highly recommended for a successful deployment. It’s the only way to prevent human errors; or at least, minimize them.
When the developing phase is complete, it’s time to test the code in the testing environment setup. After testing, the team reviews the results to rule out the possibility of bugs or errors before pushing changes or updates to the live environment. If the results indicate that there’s an issue with the code, there needs to be a plan for how to fix it. Only when everything works as expected, can the team deploy the code live.
This is the actual application deployment phase when the developers can finally take the code live. Usually, before hitting the ‘deploy’ button, the Dev team runs a set of scripts to update the relevant databases. Now, although many organizations stop their deployment process here, it’s important to include another — equally important — step, which is none other than monitoring.
No matter the planning put forward, users may still encounter issues that were not evident during the previous phases. For this reason, every SaaS business should have an ongoing monitoring mechanism to check the health and performance of the application, to roll back a deployment if something is off; ideally, before any disruption or downtime happens.
5 Application deployment methodologies to consider
The methodology that a team follows to build, test, and deploy an application will undoubtedly impact its quality, and performance. Therefore, managers should carefully pick the right methodology for every project. They should also consider all aspects of the process and how they can affect the user experience, in the long run. To that end, a deployment strategy describes how a team should perform each phase in the application deployment process.
Now, there are many methodologies for deploying applications, the following are among the most widely-used ones:
1. Basic deployment
In the basic deployment, teams update all components in the target environment to create a sound foundation for a new version. While this methodology is simple and cost-effective, it carries the highest risk because it’s harder to roll back an update.
2. Rolling deployment
In rolling deployment, teams update a subset of instances (instead of the full application update of the basic deployment), replacing them with new ones. The advantage of this methodology is that the new version can be scaled up before the old version can be scaled down. Yet, it isn’t without drawbacks, since the rollback is done gradually, thus, slower than anticipated.
3. Blue/green deployment
With the blue/green deployment, teams can deploy two versions of the application in separate environments. These versions include the current one (blue), and the new one (green). As only one version must be live, the blue version continues to run live while the green version undergoes testing.
When the new deployment is ready, the blue version gets decommissioned or retained for future rollback; and the green version goes live. While this deployment methodology is less risky than the previous ones, the use of two environments makes it more expensive.
4. Canary deployment
Canary deployment is when the application is deployed in small batches, to a small subset of users. Afterward, the rollout gets released incrementally to more and more users, until it reaches 100%.
By following this method, teams can test the waters of the new deployment on a few users first. This makes it the least risky of all deployments because teams can assess, and control the update in a real-world environment. Consequently, it minimizes downtime and allows for fast rollbacks. Despite its many perks, though, it can slow down the rollout in some cases.
The A/B testing approach
Although it’s not a deployment methodology per se, on this point, we should also mention A/B testing, as well. A/B testing is an approach that builds upon the canary deployment method to determine which version of the same feature has the best conversion rate.
5. Shadow Deployment
A shadow deployment consists of releasing two application versions, forking the current version’s incoming requests, and at the same time, sending them to the new version, as well. This methodology helps teams test how the new version responds to the production load without affecting traffic. If the new version passes the test, the team deems it safe to roll out the application.
Shadow deployment is a complex one to set up, as well as costly; but, it ensures the performance and stability of the new version. In addition, it’s a low-risk methodology and it can also be easily combined with other methodologies, like the canary deployment.
Application deployment tailored to the end users’ needs
Deploying applications requires careful planning and consideration. Thankfully, nowadays, teams have several application deployment strategies available to choose from; depending on the scope (and specs) of their project.
When all is said and done, it’s important to consider factors such as performance, reliability, security, and, of course, user experience. On the business level, when deploying an application, ensuring its scalability is essential for accommodating a growing user base. Ultimately, the deployment process and strategy that a SaaS business follows should be tailored to the end users’ needs.