Deployment and Release are NOT the Same: Here are the Crucial Differences to be Aware of


Tech Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for IT pros

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Are you using deployment and release interchangeably? Here's why you shouldn't, and how to optimize your rollout process.

Article 4 Minutes
Deployment and Release are NOT the Same: Here are the Crucial Differences to be Aware of

Good news. After a lengthy development process, with many rounds of iteration, testing and refinement, you're finally ready to deploy your latest software application. Therefore, it's time to take a breather, sit back and congratulate yourself on a job well done, right?

Not necessarily. Just because an application has been successfully deployed, this doesn't mean the work is complete or it's ready for wide-scale release. In fact, one common mistake many companies make when nearing the end of the software development cycle is to conflate 'deployment' with 'release' instead of decoupling them.

These two stages are not the same thing at all, and getting them confused can lead to a range of issues. Releasing updates to users before they're ready can mean you run the risk of bugs and features not working fully. What's more, if you're making major changes within your release, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong.

Learn more: 6 Key Challenges Holding DevOps Engineers Back

Defining deployment vs release

Understanding the difference between deployment and release is vital to the successful completion of a software development.

In this context, deployment refers to moving software from one controlled environment to another. This could mean moving it into production, but it could also mean shifting it to a final testing or staging environment.

Release, on the other hand, involves making your service available to users. This often includes business considerations rather than purely technical issues, such as which features get introduced and when.

Functionality vs features

One way to think of deployment vs release is to consider deployment as getting the base functionality of your software in place, whereas release is delivering full features to end-users.

Deployment doesn't necessarily mean all features will be fully available. Rather, it involves ensuring that all the technical requirements needed to make the application function are in place, are healthy and running as intended. This doesn't have to be done in production - in fact, it’s often better off to do this in testing or staging environments where you have tighter control and don't have to deal with the unpredictability of live users.

Compared to deployment, release is a more wide-ranging and complex process. You'll have to deal with all the risks and issues that can go wrong when introducing new applications or features to users, such as reliability.

Ensuring ongoing development

Many of the issues associated with premature or overly-optimistic release schedules can be avoided by taking a continuous development approach that focuses on the gradual iteration of features as opposed to a single headline launch.

This allows you to test individual additions more closely and understand exactly what effect they will have on the overall product. The smaller each release is, the faster you can deliver it and the more flexible you can be with how you roll it out.

Such an approach allows you to deploy new features whenever you want in order to ensure they work as expected, while reserving full releases for only when you're sure they're ready.

5 ways to optimize the software release process

Getting the release process right is an essential part of the development cycle. Try these five key tips to ensure you're optimizing this to reduce the risk of errors and are delivering a service that meets the expectations of users.

  1. Keep your requirements specific: It can be easy for expectations to spiral out of control as new features and functionalities are added. Keep this in check by having specific, clearly-defined requirements for a release, such as fixing a certain bug or adding a new tool.
  1. Conduct small-scale tests in production: Testing new code and features on a small section of your users in real-world conditions - known as dark launching - is often more useful than doing so in pre-production environments. However, you'll need to keep this small to avoid any disruption. Start with just 1% to 2% of users, and you can always expand your rollout if it goes well, while if it doesn't, you can turn off the features without affecting the majority of users.
  1. Have a standardized release process: Developing a consistent process for each deployment that can be followed every time you need to make an update saves your team having to create workflows on each occasion. As part of this, include clear schedules and approval requirements, as well as flag triggers that can be used to quickly shut down an update if it goes wrong.
  1. Automate: Deploying automation tools frees up your team's time for more productive activities, as well as ensuring your releases follow a consistent pattern. For example, scheduling updates for specific times or automatically increasing a progressive rollout to more users keeps things on track and avoids tedious manual operations.
  1. Track the right metrics: Identifying the best indicators to understand how users are responding to a release is vital, but it's also important you do this as early as possible. Focus on objective key performance indicators, such as load time, error rate, downtime, conversions and opt-ins, and make sure you're tracking them before, during and after release in order to fully understand the impact of any changes.

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