The Business Case For Zero Downtime Deployments

This post describes the business advantages of zero-downtime, (a.k.a. blue-green) deployments. If you are not familiar with blue-green deployments, you can read the excellent Martin Fowler article about blue-green deployments. But in a nutshell this amounts to the idea of releasing to production by deploying a release to a separate production environment and behind the scenes gradually redirecting user activity to the new environment from the old one.

Why Do I Want This?

  • Eliminate downtime: Done correctly, your users will literally see zero downtime. Many organizations do deployments at midnight local time so that they can takenthe entire service offline “when nobody’s using it.” But if your software is successful in a global environment (or if your target demographic’s usage time is split between midnight and mid-day), there is no time when “nobody’s using it” and the best time for one group of users may be the worst time for another.
  • Increase support: Production deployment is potentially the single most dangerous activity your team does. Instead of midnight deployments when everybody is exhausted or asleep, deploy during business hours when the entire team is available and alert.
  • Reduce risk: allows easy and safe rollback, if something unexpected happens with your release, you can immediately and safely roll back to the last version by simply directing user traffic back to the previous environment
  • Provide for staging: when the new environment is active, the previous environment becomes the staging environment for the next deployment. If you didn’t have a staging environment, you should probably have one anyway.
  • Hot backup for disaster recovery: after deploying and we’re satisfied that it is stable, we can deploy the new release to the previous environment too. This gives us a hot backup in case of disaster.

What’s The Catch?

Zero-downtime deployment isn’t free: it requires a certain diligence and maturity of process and devops, but not any more than you really need to play with the big kids in the world of software engineering anyway. Details at the engineering level to follow in a future post!

Conclusion

The benefits of this kind of deployment are actually huge. If you can deploy with zero downtime once per month, why not once per sprint? Why not every day? Why not as you finish features and fix bugs so that your customers see their bug fixes and feature requests in a fraction of the time?

If you can do deployments this way, your users with thank you. And your boss will thank you. 🙂

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