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GuidesProduct developmentProduction environment: The definitive guide

Production environment: The definitive guide

Last updated

17 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

The significant effort that goes into developing a software product faces the ultimate test in the production environment. The production environment is where the product or its update is available to the end user.

Even if the software has been tested many times in the staging environment, some issues may remain. No pre-production environment can ever perfectly reproduce the production environment, particularly when it comes to actual data and usage. After releasing their work to production, the development team can monitor how it fares in a real-world setting and fix problems that arise along the way.

Let's explore the production environment and its role in the development process.

What is a production environment?

A production environment is a setting where end users gain access to new software apps, websites, or services and start using them as intended. This final stage of the software development cycle comes after development, testing, and staging.

When the product enters the production environment, the development team expects it to be solid enough to perform reliably and handle user needs efficiently.

In a production environment, the software is expected to perform seamlessly, handling real user traffic and data. Any changes to the product in this environment are carefully planned and executed to minimize disruptions and avoid downtime for the user.

The importance of the production environment

A production environment is an integral part of the software development process. It may seem that the development team's work ends as soon as the product is deployed. In reality, this is the most important stage of development because it helps developers understand whether the product meets the user's expectations.

This environment allows the development team to test the scalability, usability, and performance of the software in real-world conditions. Developers can identify bottlenecks that weren't obvious in the testing or staging environment.

These issues can arise because, in the production environment, the system has to handle large volumes of traffic or data that weren't available during previous phases. No matter how well the development and operations teams plan for the product's deployment, some problems are bound to surface.

In the production environment, the team is constantly monitoring the system and maintaining its stability. Developers track errors and provide timely responses to incidents.

Overall, a well-managed production environment ensures the software is delivering value and offering a seamless user experience.

Production environment vs staging environment

A staging environment is the development phase that precedes the production environment. It mimics the production environment as closely as possible. The goal is to identify problems and fix them before the software goes live.

During the staging environment, the development team checks if the changes that were made in the testing environment are successful. Some developers use the staging environment to demonstrate the product to the client and allow them to do final testing before launch.  

In the staging environment, the development and QA teams copy the configuration, servers, databases, and hardware that will be available in the production environment. The only elements this environment can't usually recreate are the large volume of traffic and data the product faces once it launches.  

Tests you can run in a staging environment include:

  • Smoke test: making sure the main functions of the software work as expected

  • User acceptance test (UAT): operating the software as the user would or allowing a group of real users or a client's representative to test the system and provide feedback

  • Chaos engineering test: intentionally introducing problems into the system to check its ability to handle them without downtime

  • Integration test: checking how all software modules work together as a group

The staging environment prepares the software for the production environment. However, it doesn't ensure 100% efficiency and reliability. In most cases, this can only be tested and adjusted after the product goes live.

What the development team does in a production environment

In the production environment, the development team gains a unique opportunity to see how the product works in real life. However, any issues discovered in production are ones that an end user might encounter. The goal is to fix issues promptly without disrupting the product’s operation.

Performance testing

Performance testing is the standard production testing process that checks the software’s:

  • Stability

  • Response time

  • Reliability

  • Scalability

As the product receives its normal volume of activity, the development team tracks how well it's responding.

This type of testing can help you identify issues with elements of the product's operation as users take full advantage of it.

A/B testing

A/B testing allows the development team to compare how two versions of the same app work in production. The two versions that are being tested have minor differences but help developers understand which one performs better.

Version A goes to one group of users while Version B is given to another group. The development team monitors user behavior and any operational issues to choose the version that offers better results.

A/B testing can also be implemented during the staging phase. However, the lack of a large number of users can make it less informative.

Canary testing

Canary testing involves introducing the product to a small group of users before launching it to the entire audience. By delivering the app or website to a small percentage of the user base, you can fix issues before they have a significant negative effect.

This type of testing is popular for major software updates. When developers worry about the way users will react to a serious change in the software, they launch it to a limited number of people first.

Even though canary testing slows down the production phase, it gives the team an extra opportunity to fix issues before the final launch. 

Feedback tracking

As the product launches, developers begin gathering feedback from users. Even if the system performs seamlessly, users could find experience-related issues that may need to be fixed.

Tracking, gathering, and analyzing feedback allows the development team to make changes in real time.

Spike testing

Spike testing involves identifying how a product performs when there is a sudden increase or decrease in load. For example, if you are launching a website, spike testing would involve checking how it responds to an unexpected change in traffic.

It enables you to identify the maximum load of the product and check how long it takes it to recover.

Production environment: best practices

The production phase of the development process is often the most stressful. Besides worrying about the product's usability, developers have to stay on top of each issue in real time to ensure prompt updates so that as few users as possible are affected.

To get the most out of a production environment, development teams should follow these practices.

Emphasize the testing and staging environments

Anything related to fine-tuning the application should be done in the test environment. Even if the product is already running, any update demands proper testing.

While fast reaction to an issue in a production environment is always a priority once the product is live, developers must take time to run proper tests before it is launched.

Ensure regular data backups

When deploying an app that handles vast amounts of business data, you must implement strong backup practices. Errors in the production environment could lead to data loss. While many methods of data backup exist, the key is to ensure their regular implementation.

If an issue in the production environment causes a shutdown or data-recovery problem, you should have a recent copy of business data ready for restoration. Check the backup system regularly to make sure it works properly.

Avoid user disruptions

After the product goes live, it becomes an important tool that users count on. Whatever issue you may discover during this stage should be fixed without disrupting its operation. If downtime is unavoidable, make sure it's outside business hours and keep users informed.

Focus on security

One of the main reasons businesses invest in third-party or custom software is security. Once the product launches, attacks and breaches immediately become a possibility. Implement strong authentication measures, access levels, and encryption.

Have a backup plan

If you are rolling out an update and something goes wrong in production, you should have a well-rehearsed plan for going back to the previous version. This can help avoid disruptions and give the development team enough time to identify and fix the problem.

In summary

Production is the most important part of the development process. The aim is to have a seamless launch and for users to be unaware of any functionality issues.

While it's nearly impossible to avoid issues and drawbacks once the product launches, developers can make sure these don't significantly disrupt the users’ experience.

The entire product development process aims to simplify, improve, and optimize the production phase.

FAQs

What is another name for the production environment?

Another name for the production environment is the deployment environment or the live environment.

What is the difference between QA and the production environment?

Quality assurance (QA) tactics are conducted in the staging environment, which closely simulates the production environment.

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