Especially in the fast-paced digital world that we’re now living in, project managers and team leaders are always looking for opportunities to improve their approach to the software development process. End users can no longer afford to wait years for a critical application to be delivered – in order to remain competitive in their own industries, they need it as quickly as possible.
This is part of the reason why most teams have eschewed the monolithic development structure that was popular in the past in favor of more flexible and agile methodologies. In recent years, ephemeral environments have become a major part of that for a wide range of different reasons, all of which are more than worth exploring.
What is an Ephemeral Environment?
An ephemeral environment is a type of dedicated, temporary development environment that allows team members to test out new features and changes in a controlled place before officially deploying them to a live production environment.
Instead of deploying a new feature that may not be quite ready, which in turn ends up causing issues for the critical work that other people are doing, developers can work in total isolation without worrying about these types of potential problems. Features can be honed and refined as-needed and, when they’re ready, they can be compiled into the larger project so that others are able to build upon this progress.
The Major Benefits of Ephemeral Environments
By far, the biggest advantage of ephemeral environments comes by way of how they allow developers to both create and destroy these previous environments quickly.
You don’t have to spend time creating a long-term infrastructure and doing all the (lengthy but temporary) work that comes with it. Ephemeral environments can be employed easily and exist only as long as they absolutely need to. If something needs to be tested immediately, it can be.
Ephemeral environments also go a long way towards helping to control many of the costs associated with the software development as well. In a more “traditional” approach to development, many organizations end up paying money for cloud-based resources that eventually are no longer being actively used for the purposes of things like testing. Rather than paying for something that you’re not utilizing 100% of the time, you can instead utilize ephemeral environments and deploy them (and eliminate them) as frequently as you need to. That way, you’re generating the highest amount of value from your investment at a lower price than you would otherwise be paying.
This also has the added advantage of increasing productivity significantly – both in terms of individual developers and with regard to the work the team is doing as a collective. Developer B doesn’t have to wait around for Developer A to finish their work, at which point they get to start on theirs. Both developers can work simultaneously, albeit in isolation, without impacting each other. That way, you’d get two feature sets completed and properly tested in the same amount of time it would have taken you to arrive at one under previous development techniques.
Along the same lines, this has the added benefit of reducing the risk of many issues that commonly arise during software development. When everything is connected and different developers are working on various aspects of the same product at the same time, any issue can potentially impact the collective depending on the scope. This has historically been one of the major reasons why software development tends to take so long – after a certain point as things become more complex, there is no such thing as a “small problem” any longer.
With ephemeral environments, this is no longer the case. If Developer A encounters an issue, it only impacts the work they’re doing. It happens in isolation, and it can be addressed in much the same way, all before anything is rolled out to the rest of the team and certainly before the product makes its way into the hands of end users.
Finally, ephemeral environments are also an invaluable collaboration tool for development teams. Individual members can share their work and collaborate prior to a feature being merged into the collective, allowing them to get actionable feedback more often than they would have in the past.
Overall, investing in an ephemeral environment isn’t just a “best practice” for software development any longer. If yours is a development team that is always looking for ways to maintain the highest standards of both quality and efficiency (and it absolutely should be), it’s no longer a recommendation – it’s practically become a requirement.
Empowering a Better Software Development Process
In the end, ephemeral environments are more than just another “tool” to be used to assist with the software development process. Once deployed, these temporary environments have an almost immediate boost on a team’s productivity because nobody has to wait around for someone else to finish their work. They have access to all the resources they would have in a live production environment, but in a silo that they can use to refine their own process.
Not only does this make it easier to deploy features, but it makes it easier to test as early and as often in the process as possible. This leads to better, more reliable software being delivered far faster than ever before, which in and of itself is the most important benefit of all.