Infrastructure pains

One of the headaches that has plagued various projects I have been part of has been Infrastructure. From the provisioning of environments, to dodgy release practices, to environments that were deemed “unnecessary” – sometimes the problems have not been the code, but where and how it gets into the wild.

Dev -> Test -> Prod

At the very least, any software release should go through these basic code promotion steps. When you’re doing a BI project, just because its a bit odd in software terms, doesn’t mean you can skip the standard code promotion activities. Development should be done in the Dev environment, where any damage done by bad code is minimal. Once it “works” it needs to be promoted into a Test environment to ensure that it actually does work, and it’s not a fluke of the right test data having been constructed. Once its been tested, it can then go into Production.

This means on a project you need these three environments up and running from the outset. It can sometimes be a hard sell to smaller, less experienced IT departments who haven’t experienced the pain of an overly keen developer trashing production IT infrastructure. It does increase cost, but prevention is far better than cure.

As far as how the environments look, Dev can be whatever you like – the databases can be a mess, the code can be spaghetti – who cares? This is the developers playground and they can do what they like in here. However Test and Prod should be exactly the same. This way you can spot the “but it worked in Development” problems that somehow drag down production.

Dev = Test = Prod

Now, the next important thing is to ensure each of these environments are physically the same. So all the software is the same, it’s patched to the same version, it has the same network cards and drive mappings. If you have a seperate database and SSAS box, don’t just use one machine in Dev and Test because “in theory” it’s the same as production.

This –┬álike the code promotion cycle above – is about prevention being better than cure. I’ve wasted many hours of my development life debugging issues that eventually turned out to be due to inconsistent patching, drive letters not being the same in different environments and so on. One of the issues with inconsistent environments is that after a while you accommodate for them – and forget you are doing it – then a new developer comes on board and blows things up because you’ve become so accustomed to the workarounds you’ve almost forgotten they’re there.

The key here is to have a good infrastructure build guide that explains how each environment is constructed, so the Infrastructure team have no excuse for building inconsistent environments. There will of course be some differences – IP addresses, Server Names, etc. – but these will be documented and should be legitimate.

Dev -> Test = Dev -> Prod

Finally, code promotion should be the same regardless of environment. If you find yourself making allowances for a quirk in one environment… well, see my comments above about inconsistent environments. Code promotion should be a boring routine that can be done by anyone who can follow simple instructions. Because in theory, your developers should have no access to production environments and the promotion from Dev to Test should be considered a dry run for the promotion to Prod.

Surely this is a bit too much?

Yes, yes it is. If we all coded perfectly and when we deployed we never made a mistake it’s totally unneccessary :)

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