How to Avoid Common Software Deployment Challenges
Software deployment is the manual or automated process of making software available to its intended users. It’s often the final—and most important—stage in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). Software deployment is a three-stage process:
- The code is gathered and prepared, along with the required libraries and configuration files.
- Software testers and developers thoroughly test the software across multiple test servers.
- The software is deployed to production or live servers for end users.
All software deployments pose challenges, and issues can arise in any of the three stages. Preparing for common deployment pitfalls and having a plan for when issues arise could make the difference between a severe incident and a minor hiccup.
What to Do About Common Software Deployment Challenges
Let’s look at some common issues that can occur in software deployment and how to mitigate or avoid them altogether.
Changes to Infrastructure
The IT industry is always changing. If development teams aren’t constantly updating their product, they can become obsolete. The same applies to the infrastructure used to develop and deploy software.
Development teams need a scalable and maintainable architecture with minimal overhead to keep up with changing infrastructure. This often means adopting cloud-based architecture, like virtualization and containerization, to save time and minimize costs.
It’s vital to proactively research new and emerging architectures that may enhance the deployment experience. An automated deployment architecture like continuous deployment (CD) limits the need for human intervention, helping you to deliver software updates more quickly.
You should keep close track of any changes to the security infrastructure and perform updates as necessary.
When preparing for deployment, it’s essential to run tests to ensure that necessary servers and backup servers are ready for a significant increase in user traffic. A major and long-awaited update will often cause a significant spike in user traffic for a few minutes after release, requiring servers to scale adaptively to accommodate user traffic. Ensuring your infrastructure is equipped to handle incoming traffic will prevent your software from crashing.
Finally, it’s crucial to set up proper deployment monitoring, either by building tools or by leveraging third-party solutions with monitoring and observability features. New Relic, for example, comes with a range of information-rich dashboards.
Keeping up to date with infrastructure helps you to avoid deployment headaches and keep your software current.
Lack of Backups
Many things can go wrong in a deployment, from an unnoticed error in the code or a hiccup in the infrastructure to a hardware failure in a data center or a sudden traffic pattern change. An effective backup strategy can help you avoid the worst consequences of deployment issues.
You need a backup plan reviewed by key stakeholders before deployment. Train teams to implement this plan as soon as something breaks.
Ensure that backups are periodically monitored and secured from corruption. If you’re about to deploy a new feature, it’s a good idea to put a feature flag in front of the changes—it can be disabled, but if the deployment breaks, it minimizes downtime.
A backup plan often involves the decision to either fix forward or roll back code changes. The most appropriate course of action depends on the code to be deployed. You need to make critical bug fixes or security updates as quickly as possible and fix them. However, for a minor patch, you can opt to roll back to a stable deployment and fix it later.
Maintaining data integrity is one of the most essential—and challenging—tasks in software deployment.
Often, multiple features from various teams are integrated to form the full update or feature that’s deployed, with data migrating from one system to another. Data migration can be complex and prone to errors, so it’s essential to take steps to ensure data integrity in this process.
To mitigate or avoid data integrity errors, you should first educate the deployment team on data classification. You should also restrict access to confidential data with passwords and user rules.
Adding data validation as a pre-deployment step can avoid data duplication and mismatch. You should conduct periodic data audits to prevent data loss or errors when migrating data from legacy systems. Be sure to update data storage infrastructure and security principles to avoid data leaks and other security flaws.
Data integrity errors can be costly, so ensure that your team handles data carefully during deployment. Deployment teams should stay updated with antivirus software and current security threats and constantly monitor and adjust data access controls to maintain overall data integrity.
There are hidden costs in deploying software, and failing to account for them can have significant implications. Without an effective planning stage, it’s possible to overlook expenses and then get hit by a hefty bill.
To avoid being surprised, you must carefully account for all the expenses of deploying software—the time taken to deploy, changes in infrastructure, potential downtime, and all other factors. Put together a deployment budget, and involve all teams working on the three phases of the deployment process. Prepare a budget checklist and ensure it’s updated as per the deployment needs. Finally, don’t overlook the cost of training the new employees.
No Feedback Loop
To determine whether a deployment is accomplishing its goal, you need feedback from the end user. An alarming 27% of tech professionals say that at least 80% of their team’s time is spent resolving incidents. Creating an effective feedback loop allows teams to engage with users and harness their data and suggestions to improve the software.
Ignoring user feedback can negatively impact the credibility of your software and diminish your user base. The type of feedback you get is also important. Inconsistent or weak feedback does not help you to determine what changes are necessary, and can lead to wasted effort and time.
To maintain a healthy feedback loop, you should assemble a customer feedback team that gathers consistent and credible user feedback. You should aim to prioritize feedback that’s relevant to the project goals.
Set up adaptive incident management to log and prioritize user incidents, taking that stress off your development team. Finally, use A/B testing before launching a new feature to find out how users respond to the changes in functionality.
Lack of Support
Part of the first stage of software deployment is planning the support you need. This is where you finalize the deployment schedule, along with people and infrastructure resources.
If you prepare internal and external resources to support the launch, employees and customers will know where to turn when an issue arises. Underestimating the resources needed for deployment often results in improper resource allocation at various stages of deployment, causing the whole process to fall apart or be delayed.
To ensure that proper support is available during all stages of the deployment, you should create an on-call schedule that includes developers, testers, and support personnel. Help must be available at all stages of deployment, including adequate backup support in emergencies. Everyone in your organization should be well-trained in the deployment process.
Create and maintain a single deployment process document shared across all teams to streamline the process. Host pre-deployment and post-deployment meetings with all the teams involved.Taking these steps will not only relieve the pressure of deployment on your teams but also help you maintain the quality of the software.
As more development teams adopt iterative software development practices (such as in their development lifecycle, software deployments become more frequent. This means that development teams must be even more vigilant and proactive when handling deployments.
You need to be able to anticipate and respond to infrastructure changes. Establish an effective backup strategy to ensure that data integrity is maintained during migrations. Carefully work out all costs, so there are no surprises. Ensure that good user feedback is collected and acted upon and that adequate internal and external resources are in place.
Deployment failure is sometimes unavoidable, but knowing what can go wrong and preparing for it can keep the deployment process as smooth and stress-free as possible.