Ephemeral environments are getting popular among companies that need to scale their business efficiently. Traditionally, the deployment environments usually included development, QA, staging, UAT, and production. However, the bottlenecks with shared QA and staging environments have hindered the efficient workflow of IT teams. The first issue you will face is environment drift because it is a shared environment, and you cannot afford a separate static environment for each developer. Similarly, you cannot take valuable feedback from the product manager, QA engineer, or developers unless you merge the code and deploy it on a shared staging/QA environment. Environment setup also becomes challenging now that most applications are containerized and consist of docker, Kubernetes, and microservices.
This article will discuss Ephemeral Environments and how they solve the problems mentioned above with a simple but powerful solution. We will describe its benefits to organizations and how the modern workflow based on ephemeral environments differs from the traditional workflow. Ultimately, we will discuss how to get started with ephemeral environments.
What is an Ephemeral Environment?
An ephemeral environment is a lightweight, short-lived, fully functional instance of your UAT or production environment. You can use it for testing, validation, and gathering feedback on your product features and bugs.
An ephemeral environment is also known as an “on-demand”, “preview”, or “dynamic” environment.
The ephemeral environment possesses some key characteristics, some of which are the following:
They are Automated and On Demand
One feature distinguishing an ephemeral environment from other environments is its automatic creation upon a particular event. That event can be the creation of a PR, for example. In addition to automatic creation, you can create ephemeral environments on-demand based on a particular need, e.g., To test R&D features in an isolated environment. Note that the ephemeral environment works in complete isolation without impacting other development work.
They are the Clone of The Production Environment
We have often seen a bug appearing only on production but not on staging or UAT. It can be due to different data or different configurations. Ephemeral environments are replicas of your production environment, including all the data, configuration, runtime, libraries, integrations, etc.
They are Shareable
One of the amazing features of ephemeral environments is that you can share them through a unique URL. Different stakeholders access the new ephemeral environment through the URL and can test and provide feedback on the code change early in the release cycle.
Ideally, They Have Replicated Data
The ephemeral environment should have the same data as the production. This ensures that your ephemeral environment is a true replica of production. As the ephemeral environment is short-lived, removing the ephemeral environment also removes its database. This can be accomplished by using Replibyte, an open-source project that can help you with blazing fast data replication in a secure manner.
From Traditional Git-Flow to Modern Git-Flow with Ephemeral Environments
Before walking you through the key differences between a traditional Git flow versus a modern Git flow with ephemeral environments, a diagram is worth more than a thousand words to better understand what it is about.
Now, let’s see the key factors to keep in mind between these two approaches:
Dedicated Vs. Shared
The traditional staging environment is a shared environment and contains code of different branches and versions. If one branch conflicts with other branches, then nobody can perform testing on staging until the conflict is resolved. In an ephemeral environment, the environment is created dedicated to a particular branch and does not contain any other code changes. This allows teams to test each feature in isolation.
Setup of The Environment
Consider a scenario where the sales team asks the DevOps team to set up a new environment because of a demo the next day. Modern containerized applications using docker, Kubernetes, and microservices are not easy to set up. You will need valuable time in the setup, configuration, and testing of the newly built environment. Ephemeral environments let you create a replica of your deployment environment on the fly, and it handles all the complexities like databases, integrations, scripts, libraries, packaging, dependencies, etc.
No Wasted Resources
The traditional environments are based on permanent infrastructure, and all the services like databases, schedulers, 3rd party integrations, external storage, etc., are all part of this permanent infrastructure. On the other hand, an ephemeral environment is just temporary. It is created once a PR is generated on a code branch. All the related services are also created with it. As soon as the testing is complete on the ephemeral environment and PR is merged, everything associated with this particular ephemeral environment is wiped like it never existed. This saves your cost big time.
In the traditional approach, different teams access the same shared staging environment with many code branches deployed in one go; The result is a huge bottleneck slowing down the release cycles. On the other hand, ephemeral environments are unique to each PR and can be shared through a distinct URL; instant feedback from different stakeholders improves your release cycles tremendously.
Main Benefits of Ephemeral Environments
Ephemeral environments carry many benefits to businesses. Some of these are:
Increased development speed
An ephemeral environment eliminates the bottlenecks associated with shared staging environments. It acts as a personal integration atmosphere that allows teams to test each feature instantly in isolation. This increases the development pace and fast release cycles.
Improve Team Collaboration
Sharing each ephemeral environment through a unique URL promotes collaboration among different cross-functional teams. Now that the product owners, QA engineers, and UI/UX engineers can provide their valuable feedback on different product features, this enhances team coordination and results in a much-refined product.
Unlock the Potential for Software Testing
The most significant impact of ephemeral environments is on the testing of the product. Software testing is very powerful as you can easily create a separate, fully working environment for each code PR.
Whether you are performing manual testing, automation testing, performance testing, or API testing, ephemeral environments unlock the potential for software testing.
Save Time and Money
Ephemeral environments save much time on manual setup and configuration of a deployment environment. This reduces your DevOps bill. Similarly, you also save cost on the infrastructure because ephemeral environments are short-lived; all the associated infrastructure is also destroyed as soon as the ephemeral environment is closed. This results in improved cost optimization.
How to Get Started with Ephemeral Environments
Now that we know that ephemeral environments are inevitable for companies who want to have a technical competitive advantage over competitors, the next question is “how”. The first option is to develop an in-house environment management system that will help you create temporary environments on the go. However, that will take time, skill, and patience. On the other hand, platforms like Qovery (#1 platform delivering Environments-as-a-Service at scale.) enable you to have a complete system connected with your own AWS account. Using Qovery, you can use modern technologies like microservices, Kubernetes, etc. Because Qovery hides all the complexities under the hood, using Qovery to create ephemeral environments will work like a charm.
A video is worth thousands of words, this is how to implement a Preview Environment system on your AWS account in a few minutes:
Preview Environments Demo with Qovery