January 18th, 2022
The Value of Ephemeral Testing Environments
Testing is a complicated, yet necessary, challenge for any development team. It’s a constantly moving target as new ideas, tools, and best practices shape and reshape the testing landscape. Much of this change is about expanding the scope of what can be tested and refining the methods of how they are tested. A lot of emphasis has been placed on testing automation in recent years and with good reason. Automating your testing allows teams to take advantage of better testing speed, consistency and versatility.
Tests can be run automatically on every commit, but it’s important to consider where you’re running your tests. If your testing environment does not exactly match the production environment, you’re not running your tests under the same conditions as your users will experience it, and you’re risking missing potential bugs that may go unnoticed until they hit production. Read on to find out what ephemeral testing environments are and how they help solve this problem.
What Is an Ephemeral Testing Environment?
An ephemeral testing environment is a temporary environment that is spun up for a specific purpose (generally to run a test suite) and then destroyed once completed. They contain a self-contained copy of your application that replicates the entire environment of your application and can be deployed for every feature branch. Many hosted DevOps solutions can be configured to automatically create an ephemeral test environment on every commit, for example.
There are several reasons for using ephemeral test environments over more traditional CI/CD platforms. First and foremost is the assurance that it offers testers when returning test results. Since the entire application environment is created for every commit, you can be assured that your test suite results reflect only the changes that you are testing. Naturally, it also means that any projects that rely on specific environments configurations or variables can be properly and intentionally tested against environments tailored to those requirements.
Since it replicates the same environment as will be used in production, it also ensures that anyone can run a test suite against the project without requiring a pre-configured development environment to be set up first. This means, for example, that developers no longer need to keep a copy of the development environment running on their local machines if they want to run tests against it.
What It Allows You to Test
Ephemeral testing environments offer more precise testing conditions, as each environment that is spun up can be configured to replicate any other environment, such as production. It also broadens up the scope of who can take part in testing. Since the entire environment is spun up and replicated, it enables not only traditional software testing to be run against your application but it also enables visual testing for non-technical stakeholders. They get to use a fully deployed version of your application, which means that anyone can access this test environment and offer feedback. No longer is testing limited to just QA or between testers and developers. Ephemeral testing environments open up the possibility of your designers, project leads and even clients being able to view and interact with test applications running under exactly the same conditions as they would in production, but at any stage of the development process.
The increased scope of who can offer input during testing accelerates the pace of the software development life cycle. No longer do clients or project managers have to wait until developers have finished making changes before they can review them and make suggestions. Instead, these stakeholders can have direct input during the development process, as ephemeral testing environments can be spun up at any time and during any stage of the development process. Teams can react much faster to changing client suggestions or project requirements. In software development, this can represent a huge potential saving in both time and money due to the costs associated with having to refactor code or rethink how software is architected in response to unanticipated changes during development.
Being able to directly test environmental configuration changes also allows testers and developers to directly test how their application responds to different platforms and configurations. This is particularly powerful for applications intended to be platform-agnostic or deployed across multiple environments that are outside the control of developers. Being able to test these different environments gives developers and testers assurance that the application still works on different platforms with different environmental configurations.
Setting up an Ephemeral Testing Environment Has Been Historically Difficult
Setting up ephemeral testing environments is not a straightforward process and there have not been many easy solutions to address some of the problems posed when attempting to create these processes. Probably the most major issue developers and testers run into when trying to create ephemeral testing environments is that it is difficult to know when it is safe to shut down an ephemeral testing environment. These environments are only intended to last as long as necessary, but they also should not be terminated until all tasks have finished. Meanwhile, leaving the environments alive too long incurs costs and drains resources.
This is an issue that quickly compounds itself. Creating temporary environments that mirror production requires spinning up resources that are not cheap. One potential solution for this is to tie them to merge requests in the repo, such as creating an ephemeral testing environment for every merge request opened and then destroying it when closing the merge request. However, unless you very strictly limit the amount of open branches, your provisioning costs will quickly skyrocket if you try this on a project with dozens of open merge requests.
Guide-Rails® Makes It Possible
Guide Rails is a self-service solution that can automatically create and destroy ephemeral testing environments on-demand. This allows you to absolutely nail down the environment settings to mirror your production environments exactly without running up exorbitant provisioning expenses on every open merge request. You can catch those nasty bugs lurking in different environment variables, settings and server configurations and accurately run load testing under the exact same environment as production.
Guide Rails smooths out many of the difficulties of provisioning your own testing environments. There’s no need to wait around for testing environments to be ready, and you can easily test several environments in parallel without the associated costs of provisioning enough resources to run them yourself. Guide Rails also offers developers and testers some key insights into their project, such as providing an easy visualization of dependencies and the sharing of these dependent pipelines with tests and test data.
The Platform Value-Add:
Guide-Rails® has a unique combination of capabilities to automate integration tests:
Automatic Environment Creation
Easy Visualization of Dependencies
Sharing of Dependent Pipelines with Tests & Test Data
While ephemeral environments offer value on their own, when they become part of self-service pipelines that run automatically the value is exponential. Best example of this is how Guide-Rails® can automate integration tests.
All pipelines that run in Guide-Rails® can be shared, plus the tests and test data associated with these pipelines is shared as well. Now when an integration test is being built, the orchestration is just a matter of including these different pipelines and pinning them to use the most recent version.
One challenge when building out an integration test is understanding all the dependencies a pipeline should include. Guide-Rails® greatly simplifies this by providing a graphic visualization of all these dependencies.
When you combine automatic ephemeral environment creation with the sharing of dependencies and dependency visualization, you now have a system with self-service pipelines that automates integration tests. Developers, QA and Ops all have the visibility and control they need with a process that provides higher quality and speed.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can test your applications faster and more thoroughly, then get in touch with a member of staff at Guide Rails. We can help walk you through the process of integrating ephemeral testing environments into your testing pipeline, so that you can offer greater assurances about the stability of your code in development and production.