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Plutora Blog - Release Management, Test Environment Management

Test Environment Management Best Practices

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This post highlights the importance of an efficient and reliable Test Environment Management process in supporting application releases/project delivery. We begin with the introduction of test environments and the problems that companies are facing due to poorly implemented and executed test environment management practices. Finally, we suggest itSMF ITIL V3 compliant best practices for improving the Test Environment Management processes and explain how a dedicated test environment solution can help you achieve those best practices.

The Balcony View of the Poorly Run Test Environment Management Process

Any software development has to go through a series of development stages that are defined in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) methodology. The unique stages will include, Requirements analysis, Design of the software module, Implementation or development of the software module, Testing of the software modules and continuous evolution of the software modules.

test environment sTest Environment Management Best Practices

Testing is a very critical stage of the SDLC and can decide the ultimate fate of the quality of software being released into the live environments. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that the test environments used for testing the software are reliable and as close to Production as possible.

Here is a list of hotspots Environment Managers should take special interest in:

  1. Managing test infrastructure such as hardware servers, application servers, networking, firewalls, software components required for testing, build software required for testing releases etc.,
  2. Managing test environments such as database clusters, UAT, Pre-prod and the data required for testing.
  3. Manage or monitor Service Level Agreements (SLA).
  4. Planning and analysis of test environments.
  5. Monitoring servers and infrastructure.
  6. Environment Maintenance.
  7. Effective Communication between the test team and other stakeholders.
  8. Bug or Defect Lifecycle & triage processes.

Why is the Test Environment Management Process Important?

In today’s ever changing dynamic IT/Software field, requirements keep changing and evolve as technology evolves. There is a complex entanglement between three dimensions – namely cost, quality and time. Ideally, if we have the sufficient budget and time, software teams will be able to implement a high quality product. In practice though, it’s rarely the case that projects have the right budget and time. More often, projects run over budget and time constraints. As a result, the quality of the product suffers.

In most of the cases, the reason for a bad quality product is because test environment management isn’t given high priority or the environment management process is not managed efficiently. With regulatory compliance such as Sarbanes Oxley, it’s becoming increasingly important for IT to ensure that their software or service is compliant with industry norms or business requirements.

Some of the relevant problems that IT face today include:

  1. Test environments differ from Production environments in terms of the Operating systems, configuration, software versions, patches etc. The wider the gap between test and Production, the greater the probability that the delivered product will have more bugs/defects. This not only results in poor code quality, but may also lead to product failures in Production or live environments.
  2. Poorly managed infrastructure assets can result in budget spikes and may delay the testing process.
  3. Poorly administered and poorly controlled environments/infrastructure assets can result in unintended consequences. It may also result in poor configuration and change control.
  4. Root Cause Analysis of incidents and defects becomes challenging due to the misalignment of test and production environments.
  5. Due to budget or time constraints, it isn’t uncommon for companies to assign the application developers as testers or for testers to directly test the code in Production. This has not only resulted in lack of accountability, but also poses deep risk in the software development process. Sarbanes Oxley requires that IT companies steer strict controls and accountability of their software development processes.
  6. It is very common for test teams to clone or extract the production data and use it for testing purposes. This approach is time consuming, error prone and may not meet the data protection policies. Further, it isn’t change-controlled and cannot be audited.
  7. Communication plays a very critical role in any phase of the software development lifecycle. Poor communication can result in mis-understanding of the testing/business requirements and may also result in failure to identify important defects.
  8. Bug or defect tracking tools need to be configured well and there should be a process in place to manage the lifecycle of bugs. It isn’t uncommon for defects to be assigned to the wrong teams or people and important information missing from the defects. This not only results in wasted time/money, but may also infuse more defects at later stages.

Fixing bugs or defects is easier at the early stages of the software development process, rather than at later stages. It is also extremely expensive to fix bugs found in Production, compared to fixing them in earlier stages such as the testing stage. This is the reason that test environment management is extremely important and organizations need to take this seriously.

It’s important to implement an efficient test environment management process that fits with a company’s culture and stakeholder requirements.

For Example: An e-commerce company named XYZ may be adding a new webpage to sell bikes online. Once the development team at XYZ writes the code for the new webpage, the code is packaged and released into the test environments. Multiple test teams may have to test this component(s), across different environments, before it is approved for deployment in Production, for usage by end users or customers. In order to ensure that the product is tested efficiently, test teams need to have the testing infrastructure/environments and other testing components pre-configured well in advance of the code release to Test teams.

Further, these pre-configured assets will have to align correctly with the Production/live environments, with minimal distortions and variations.  Many companies lack this process of efficiently managing the test environments, resulting in Production bugs or failures, missed SLA’s and poor quality of end products. It is very problematic if customers are charged twice for an e-commerce transaction due to a bug in the credit card transaction-processing module because a test environment wasn’t configured as per production during testing.