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Test Environment Management: dos and don’ts

‘It’s not a bug, it’s a feature’. If this phrase is not your R&D team’s credo, you’re doing your best to set an efficient R&D flow and the perfect QA process. Quality assurance is one of the final and crucial stages of a product delivery process and nobody wants to argue with its importance. But do companies care enough about how they organize this testing? 

Test Environment Management: dos and don'ts

Here we’re not going to discuss how to test applications, but how to set up a Test Environment Management strategy to enhance team collaboration and reduce IT infrastructure costs. According to the recent Gartner research, 66% of respondents said that digital tech initiatives are a top strategic business priority. So you can take into account a relatively new tech initiative – Test Environment Management (TEM). You can read in one of our previous articles what TEM is.

Is a proper Test Environment Management obligatory to implement in any company?

QA and R&D teams have great experience in the field but still keep struggling with a list of problems: complicated communication among distributed teams especially in the era of remote work, numerous non-production environments with various OS versions, lost data about historical changes of environments and forgotten resources without ‘an owner’. 

Reliable test and production environments and accelerated release cycles are the results of a fundamental Test Environment Management strategy. In this case, it is believed that nobody wants to lose these advantages that TEM ensures.

TEM roles and responsibilities

Unlikely you’ll find a vacancy called ‘Test environment manager’ or you’re willing to hire one more specialist. The main idea of TEM strategy is to set close collaboration between various team members in order to improve R&D efficiency with predictable infrastructure and product delivery cost; book, coordinate and orchestrate pre-production environments and engage engineers in cloud cost savings.

Here is the list of the titles of the employees who are deeply involved in Test Environment Management:

  • QA Managers, Engineers and Quality assurance analysts
  • Release Managers, Coordinators and Leads
  • Solution Architects
  • Engineering Managers
  • DevOps Manager
  • Team Leads
  • Project Managers
  • Directors of Engineering

Every team member can help build an effective test and production environment performance and be a part of a Test environment Management process.

Don’ts - Hints to identify that your Test Environment Management isn’t perfect

1. Huge difference between testing and production environments

Bugs and incidents of an application/software caused by the colossal difference between test and production environments. It might occur because of outdated OS or software versions, wrong configuration set and human error. This problem will lead to a test failure and will also result in extra testing budgets and costly delay in the release timetable.

2. Exceeding the budget allocated for IT infrastructure and testing

Unexpected expenditures on IT infrastructure caused by numerous, but underutilized environments and resources without clear owners. This case is more common among cloud IT environments.

3. Absence of transparency in environment utilization

A lack of exact information about manual changes applied to any environment or unsynchronized simultaneous environment usage might lead to inefficient testing and release delays.

4. Testing a code in the production environment with the idea to save budget or time

Obviously, it’s a threat for the whole business as any error can cause production environment downtime and data loss and strictly forbidden cause may lead to great risks and financial losses/ROI decrease.

5. Communication challenges or fastly changing requirements

Misunderstanding and time zone differences between colleagues is a common issue. Release delays or unexpected bugs might occur as a result of a mismatch of testing goals and business requirements that might be changed unexpectedly.

This checklist may be continued to 100+ points because all projects and teams are unique but we have mentioned the widespread mistakes that commonly appear during software development and testing.

Dos - Test Environment Management best practices

The importance of Test Environment Management and all its benefits get emphasized with every IT project rollback from production because of quality issues. In order to avoid such a confusing experience, have a look at the following list of hints and implement them in your team.

1. Proper alignment of pre-production (test) and production environments

Track and control all the configurations to be sure that no failures, bugs or even missed SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) appear due to the mismatch of configurations or OS/software version.

2. Utilization of automation and CI/CD tools

It might be a challenge to implement, but definitely it’s worth doing. It enhances accurate, reliable, quick and secure test results if performed correctly.

3. Control and schedule test environment usage

Track resource usage, discover a solution to acquire and release resources, organize simultaneous shared access for distributed teams. Real-time tracking helps set up an effective collaboration and avoid a lot of inconvenience for remote and distributed R&D teams during test environment usage. Create an easy-to-use schedule for every team member to be aware of the cluster utilization and availability.

4. Track all software versions across all environments

Track all the details of every software version, which was deployed across any test environment during the R&D process. There are solutions to maintain a complete and verifiable history of changes for six months or more. In this case, an R&D team can easily monitor software versions launched on AWS, Microsoft Azure, GCP, Alibaba Cloud, Kubernetes clusters or on-premise infrastructure.

5. Environment performance monitoring

It helps stay informed with successful or failed deployments, monitor the status of applications at every stage of a pipeline. Monitor all the VMs, configuration details and components used in a test environment group.

6. Establish a balance between environment performance and price

The proper environment usage and cost optimization is everyone’s responsibility. Collaboration of team leads, engineers and finance department is a key to successful test and dev environments management and cost optimization.

7. Give more freedom to your team

Don’t create a bottleneck – assigning environments might be a time-consuming and tricky process. Create constraints and give every team member an opportunity to book, coordinate and orchestrate pre-production environments in accordance with their own working requirements.

8. Regular updates of test environments

Audit your test environment after every major release or test cycle to identify under- and over-utilized resources and make required corrections. Here it’s crucial to take into account the requirements of the QA team and alter environment resource allocation.

You can find extra ideas on how to set up a solid Test Environment Management strategy in one of our previous articles: Test Environment Management: why it’s important.

Is Test Environment Management a magic bullet? Spoiler: not

To sum up: TEM is the right solution to speed up CI/CD cycles and releases, decrease time to market, eliminate possibilities of bugs and ease communication. There is no universal tool or strategy for all R&D teams, but combining best practices and searching for effective tools gives great results.

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