System Deployment Tips and
System deployment is a complex endeavor which is a
critical aspect of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), an
is all but ignored by writers in favor of sexier topics such as distributed
object development, components, or the latest version of an SDK. If you can't get software into the hands of your users then what is its
value? Absolutely nothing. The following
tips and techniques should help to make your system deployment efforts successful:
- Identify and understand your deployment audience. There are
at least three distinct groups that you need to consider: your end users,
operations staff responsible for running the software once it is in
production, and the
support staff who is responsible for aiding your users
with the software once it is in production. You need to identify the level
of control that each group has over your actual deployment. Can one group
stop your deployment if you don't meet their specific
example, it is quite common to discover that operations departments have
defined criteria for the release of new software, criteria that your
deployment approach must meet. I once worked for an organization where the
users were unionized and any software that was deployed to them had to be
first accepted by their union representatives, otherwise you couldn't ship.
Early in your project you need to identify the deployment hoops that you
need to jump through to be successful.
- Identify your deployment strategy early. Will you run the
new system in parallel with the existing system or will you perform a
cutover? Running the system in parallel offers the advantage that you can
easily back out to the original system if the new one runs into problems.
However, parallel operations requires significant effort on the part of
everyone involved: Your users need to do double entry, operations staff need
to run both systems, support staff need to support both systems, and
development staff may need to create integration code that temporarily works
behind the scenes to synchronize data. For many systems, particularly ones
supporting online customers via the Internet, a cutover is your only option
– few customers would be willing to place their book order with both Amazon
version N and with Amazon version N+1. With a straight cutover you will
need to plan for a downtime period in which the cutover occurs, anywhere
from a few seconds to a few hours, or even a few days depending on the
nature of the system being deployed.
- Installation testing. Just like you test your application,
you should also test your installation scripts. A good way to do this
is to develop your installation scripts as you develop your system, and use
them to promote your software between your team integration sandbox into
testing environments as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Development sandboxes.
- Release regularly. Agile software developers typically
deliver development releases at the end of each iteration into
staging area(s) (see Figure 1). A development release of an application is
something that could potentially be released into production if it were to
be put through your pre-production quality assurance (QA), testing, and
deployment processes. Granted, this won’t be true earliest development
releases because you won’t have delivered sufficient functionality to make
deployment worth your while. Furthermore at the beginning of a project you
often stub out interfaces to shared services – such as security,
persistence, or even reusable legacy functionality – so technically you
still have some clean up to do before you’re ready to release to
production. This is why in Figure 2 you see that the
first production release often takes longer to deliver than subsequent
releases; in the first release of a system you likely need to get a lot of
the “plumbing” in place and your team likely hasn’t “gelled” yet enabling
them to become efficient at collaboration. The first production release may
take you twelve months to deliver, the second release nine months, and then
other releases are delivered every six months. An early focus on
deployment issues not only enables you to avoid problems it also allows you
to take advantage of your experiences during development. For example, when
you are deploying software into your staging area you should take notes of
what works and what doesn’t, notes that can serve as the backbone of your
Figure 2. Regular software releases.
- Start planning early. Deployment can be quite complex,
especially when your user base is physically dispersed or there is a wide
range of system configurations, you often find that you need to start
planning early in your project lifecycle to be successful. There is nothing
worse than rushing to finish software on time only to have it put on the
shelf to await installation due to lack of deployment planning.
- Recognize that deployment is harder than it looks.
Figure 3 depicts the workflow of the
Process (AUP)'s Deployment discipline. Regardless of whether your
organization has adopted the AUP or not, the fact is that as you can see
there are several activities which you need to consider when deploying a
system into production.
Figure 3. The AUP Deployment
- Take an agile approach to planning. Keep your plans high-level
at first, focusing on the major dependencies. The people doing the
work should plan the details, and you don't need to worry about the details
until you're about to do the work.
- Reduce your pre-production testing efforts safely over time.
It’s of little value to deliver working software on a weekly basis if there
is a three-month pre-production testing process which it must go through
each time. With agility you’ll find that you can reduce the amount of time
invested in your pre-production testing efforts, and thereby speed up
deployment. Why is this? Agilists produce high quality artifacts and have
the regression test suite to prove that their system actually works. This
higher level of quality implies that you’ll be able to do less testing
during system deployment. Once you get really good you may find that you
can in fact deploy working software into production on a weekly basis – I’ve
seen this at a very large financial institution and a dot-com so it is
possible, regardless of what the traditionalists may tell you.
- Well-tested software is easier to deploy.
is a complex and difficult endeavor, but one that you must undertake. I
have several fundamental philosophies regarding testing. First, test early
and test often. Two, if you can build it you can test it. Three, if it
isn't worth testing it likely isn't worth building.
- Your plan must reflect your organizational culture. You need to
understand whom you are deploying software to, their current work practices
and policies, the amount of change they are willing to tolerate, and how
your software will affect them once deployed. I've found that the larger
the organization the more difficult it is to deploy new software due to
cultural inertia. Most people have a tendency to sit back and wait to see
who else is using a product, which is often contrary to the nature of most
software developers who will jump at the chance to work with new software.
- Update your deployment plan regularly. This helps to set
realistic expectations by both your project team and your deployment
- Work backwards when deployment planning. Envision the system
in production – users are working with it, operations professionals are
keeping it going, support staff are helping users to work with the system,
and developers are potentially evolving the system to address defects and to
implement new requirements – and ask what needs to occur to get me to that
point. Then compare that vision with where the current environment is
today, something called deployment gap analysis, to determine what needs to
occur to successfully install your system. My experience is that forward
planning generally isn’t sufficient when it comes to system deployment
because your requirements often do not reflect issues pertinent to the
production phase of your system, the need to operate and support your
software is often assumed and therefore not explicitly reflected in your
- Have go/no-go decision points during the installation process. A good
deployment plan includes go/no-go decisions points during the installation
process. If at defined times during the installation you have not reached a
certain point in the overall installation process you will rollback your
efforts and try to install again at a future date. This is a critical
concept for projects that have very stringent deployment requirements,
typically software that is replacing existing mission-critical systems that
currently run your business.
- Develop "de-installation" scripts. The ability to back out
becomes critical with this approach, requiring investment of additional
resources to develop and test de-installation scripts. In fact, many
deployment efforts fail miserably because the development team didn’t bother
to consider how to back out their new system, and then discovered that they
had to do so because of an unforeseen problem during installation. Never
assume that your deployment efforts will go smoothly.
- Remember the data. Data conversion is often a key task for
the deployment of a new software system, a complex effort that should be
started early in your project.
Analysis of your
needs to be performed: the legacy data sources need to be identified, the
legacy schemas should be modeled, and official sources of each attribute
need to be chosen for data stored in several places. You need to understand
your existing legacy data so that you can convert it to your new schema
- Negotiate with legacy system owners early. During
development you will discover dependencies between your system and other
systems, dependencies that should appear on your deployment model.
These dependencies affect your deployment plan because they imply the order
in which updates to the various systems (if any) must be installed. You
will need to negotiate deployment efforts with the other project teams that
own the systems you have dependencies on, effectively a cross-project
effort. If the interface to your system changes, or if you require new ways
to access their systems, then they may also need to release all or part of
their systems before yours.
- Announce the deployment. You should announce the
anticipated deployment schedule, including both the expected training and
installation dates. Your announcement could be an email to your customers, a
press release, or even advertisements on television, in magazines, or on the
Internet. Release announcements are important because people want to know
how the new system will affect them, if at all, and when it will affect
them. Respect the fact that your deployment efforts are disrupting the
lives of your stakeholders.
- Hold regular release meetings. The closer you get to
deployment, the greater the need to hold regular release meetings with key
players involved in the actual deployment. This includes quality assurance
staff to advise everyone of the testing status of your software, developers
to advise you of the current rework status, operations staff to inform you
of current production issues of the existing environment, and support and
user management to inform you of their training statuses.
- Understand the associated risks of deploying systems. Because
software projects have a tendency to be delivered late and over budget,
there is often spectacular pressure exerted by senior management on the
project manager to forgo training. Without training, your users won't be
able to effectively use your software, your operations staff won't
understand how to operate your software, and your support staff will have
difficulty properly supporting your system. Documentation is typically at
risk on most projects, once again due to being late and over budget as well
as a general lack of knowledge among developers as to how to write effective
documentation. Poor documentation results in significantly higher
maintenance and support costs for your system. The greatest risk is often
data conversion, a very complex and critical task that is often ignored
until it is too late.
- Don't underestimate the opportunities for reuse. Other projects
may have already developed
deployment models that reflect your target
platform, models that you can evolve as needed for your own use (ideally
your enterprise architects should be able to provide these models).
Furthermore, templates for deployment plans, installation procedures, and
templates for operations, user, and support documentation can also be reused
from other projects. Remember,
you can reuse
more than just code.
- You may need to upgrade your user's existing environments.
These upgrades could include changes to existing hardware, operating
systems, databases, or middleware. If you don’t know the current status of
your technical environment you will also need to plan for activities to
perform the required legacy analysis. If you are upgrading your database,
you may be upgrading the database software itself or the schema of your
database, you will need to include data conversion activities in your
deployment plan. Physical considerations should also be considered when
performing environment upgrades. Is sufficient power available? Are
working areas such as desks and cubicles in place? Does sufficient room
exist in the building(s) that you are deploying to? Do sufficient network
drops exist for new workstations?
- Training is an important part of deployment. Remember that your
stakeholders may need training beyond that of learning how to work with your
application. For example, this may be the first time that some users are
working with a PC, a browser, or even a mouse. Similarly, this may be the
first time that your operations staff is working with a new technology that
your system users, such as an EJB application server, and therefore will
need to be trained and educated in that technology to qualify them to work
with your system.
- Develop supporting documentation. Another important effort
is the development of operations, support, and user documentation, the
potential artifacts of which are summarized in Table 1.
Depending on your corporate documentation standards you will likely find
that you need to include one or more technical writers on your team to
develop this documentation (hopefully in an
Table 1. Potential documentation requirements.
Batch job and printing requirements
Data extraction/sharing requirements
- Release notes
- Contact points within development and operations
- Escalation procedures
- Support call recording process
- User documentation (all versions)
- List of new features
Support user’s guide
- List of new features
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