The following happens in many software projects –
At start, it seems you only need one environment for your web application, well, at most two:
One development environment (AKA your PC) and one server.
But as time pass, you find you need additional environments:
The clients might want their own testing environment, sometimes you need to have a pre-production environment or a staging environment, so business managers can approve the ongoing content as well as look & feel.
Do you really need these environments? What are these environment good for?
Here is a short description of some of the more popular environments and their purpose.
Let’s start with an environment definition:
Environment – In hosted software (eg web site/application, database not shrinkwrap software) development, environment refers to a server tier designated to a specific stage in a release process. 1
Next, let’s go over a typical product release cycle:
This is where the software is developed. In some situations this could be the developer’s desktop, in other situations this would be a server shared by several developers working together on the same project. This environment should resemble the production environment as much as possible to prevent issues were the software acts differently on production.
After the application was developed to an agreed stage it is released to the testing environment. This is where the testers ensures the quality of the application, open bugs and review bug fixes. This environment must resemble the production environment accurately, because this is the last safe place to find and fix environment-related bugs.
User Acceptance Test Environment (UAT)
In a client-vendor projects, the software then moves from internal testing (done by the vendorâ€™s testers) to client testing. This is where the clientâ€™s testers verify the quality of the application and send issues for the vendor to fix. This is also where the client assesses the application and can request changes to better fit his requirements. Some clients do not require UAT.
Staging Environment (AKA pre production)
The staging site is used to assemble, test and review new versions of a website before it goes into production. The staging phase of the software lifecycle is often tested on hardware that mirrors hardware used in the production environment. The staging site is often different from the development site, and provides a final QA zone that is separate from the development or production environments. 2
This is where the application goes out to the world and become production. Content can be updated from the staging environment in to Production Environment, when available, as well as new application functionality and bug fixes release from UAT or staging environment.
So, how many to I need?
Note that small to medium software projects might not need all environments, on the other hand, from time to time you might want to add additional environments (for example to accommodate separate concurrent versions of the same application, or stress/load environment)
To make things even more complex, you might not need to have all these environments up and running on the same time – you might want to buy the Staging Environment hardware only after the first release to the Testing Environment, in order to save money.
The main purpose of these environments is to improve the development, testing, and release processes in client-server applications.
There is no magic number of environments that make everything work OK. hopefully, with this article, you can determine what best suites your project.
It is the job of the architect, project manager, operations manager or change manager (pick one) to determine which environments are needed, to make sure these environments are in place and on time, in order to make the developers, testers, and clientâ€™s life easier and happier.