Manual Deployment Disasters


Crista Perlton

Crista Perlton


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Manual Deployment Disasters

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Many companies aren’t yet automating their deployments, whether out of fear of change, the realities of the high upfront costs, or because “our current release process works just fine, thank you very much.”

But manual processes are fraught with potential disasters that create huge business problems that cost you both customers and market share. And in a market that demands unprecedented speed and security in IT, manual deployments will very soon become impossibly unsustainable.

Knowing the biggest problems common to manual deployments can help you better assess your current systems and learn why/how automation can mitigate these pitfalls. So, we’ve assembled this list of the top manual deployment disasters to avoid.

1. Bugs in Production

It’s common wisdom in IT that you must expect the unexpected, especially during a deployment. But there have to be limits.

The Problem

Manual deployments are much buggier and more prone to breaks than automated deployments are. The main cause is the room for human error in manual processes. Humans do not replicate things exactly in the way automated systems can. Even with the best intentions and greatest care taken, human errors happen.

Errors in the pre-production steps lead to errors in production, and there are many more of these errors in manual processes. A significant contributor is testing: In manual shops, the testing teams usually don’t get ahold of a build until it’s already nearly finished, so problems are caught much further down the pipeline and have likely ballooned to a much more hard-to-fix size.

Moreover, when deployment windows are both fixed and high-stakes, getting the code to work becomes a necessity, even if that means getting “creative” with code—and they rarely document these changes, in the rush to just get the thing working and out the door.

On top of all this, additional undocumented changes to servers made to support some specific code can drag server configuration away from its pre-defined state and further away from the test environment. This results in configuration drift, making tests unreliable and allowing bugs through.

Bugs in production, of course, mean longer time-to-market, longer outages, angrier customers, and much more high-stress deployments.

The Solution

By contrast, automated systems run the same thing over and over; if it works the first time, it’s almost guaranteed to work the next. This predictability means that fewer errors occur, letting fewer nasties through into production.

One way that automated deployments prevent bugs from getting into production is “pushing left” testing. Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD), referred to together as CI/CD, run automated tests at almost every stage of the software delivery process. Instead of testing a massive, almost-finished application at the end of the pipeline, smaller checks are done more often and earlier. If your CI/CD tool finds a problem, it throws up a wall, halting progress until the problem is fixed.

Replicable or cloned applications can also prevent developers from creating roundabout changes that sometimes create tangled dependencies that cause problems later on. Because devs merely reuse templates that were previously successful, room for human error shrinks.

Another preventative measure is blue/green deployment, wherein two production environments exist, but only one is live at any given time. The other remains idle and is used for testing. If green is idle for testing and blue is live, and something in green passes its tests, blue goes idle and green becomes live, releasing the successful software into production. This ensures that the final tests on software happen in an exact replica of the production environment, allowing IT to remedy bugs before they reach end users.

DevOps tools also let companies avoid the impact of tangled-up dependencies and messy code. Monitoring and remediating drift stop unacceptable changes that would pull server configurations away from the pre-set, pre-approved state and keeps dependencies in check.

In Short

Manual deployment lets lots of bugs through; automated deployment, very few.

2. Buggy, Multi-day Deployments Increase Stress, Kill Morale, and Increase Turnover

Given the number and severity of the bugs manual processes allow into production, deployments in manual shops can become dreaded events. The same horrible dread and fear of having a root canal is the reality every time a deployment must happen—and in a market demanding unprecedented TTM and constant uptime, deployments occur more frequently than they used to.

The Problem

You know the nightmare: Deployments that take not just hours but days because things run slowly and keep going wrong. Everyone involved and their support teams all need to remain on-call for the duration of the deployment, meaning longer hours at the office and higher stress when you finally leave, wondering when you’ll be called back in. This creates tension not only at work but also in workers’ home lives. And developers live in quiet, constant fear that something they wrote will cause a problem that will lengthen the deployment—and may shorten their career.

All of this combines to increase employees’ stress and kill team morale. No one wants to stay long at a job that makes them sometimes physically ill, so companies with these super-stressful release windows see very high employee turnover, especially of more junior staff members. This hurts the business, as managers are constantly onboarding new team members who take at least a few months to contribute full value to the company.

The Solution

Automated deployments not only tend to go smoother because automated testing along your CI/CD pipelines catches bugs well before production but also because of automated release safeguards like the aforementioned drift management and blue/green deployments. Furthermore, automated deployment supports microservices and containers, which allow for more frequent, much smaller, lower-stakes deployments. Reducing the stakes of a single deployment reduces the associated stress, which can increase employee satisfaction and retention.

In Short

If fear of manual deployment is like fearing a root canal, automated deployments are about as scary as brushing your teeth in the morning: routine and nearly carefree.

3. Buggy, Torturous Releases Contribute to Blame Culture

Manual processes mean bugs and breaks in production are likely, and the agony of manual deployments means that those breaks wreak havoc on you and your coworkers’ working relationships.

The Problem

Being the cause of those breaks is, frankly, terrifying. Adding to this terror is the all-too-common practice at manual shops to blame an individual, rather than a bad process, for problems in production and to scapegoat that person. Mistakes can be literally career-jeopardizing. Employees are, therefore, much less likely to ever deviate from the norm, carefully attempting to replicate what has worked before, even if it’s costlier and more time-consuming than some alternative.

The Solution

CI/CD enables more than automated deployments: It creates a technological safety net that gives both companies and employees the security of knowing developer innovation won’t ever ruin the business.

CI/CD adds more automated testing to the development processes, catching problems earlier and halting things when problems are detected. Integrated with issue trackers, CI/CD tools can also block deployments automatically until all proverbial “t”s have been crossed and “i”s dotted. And most CI/CD tools, like Inedo’s BuildMaster, create automatic logs with all pipeline actions. A developer who creates a problem would not only have the tool catch the problem before production, but they would also have an explanation of what went wrong so they could learn from the mistake and not repeat it.

In Short

People who lack psychological safety in the workplace are less likely to take the risks necessary for innovation, a key factor in staying ahead in an extremely competitive modern market. Automation reduces deployment risks, and automated fail-safes protect employees from blame culture.

4. Roll-backs are Often Impossible and Audits are Painful

When production breaks almost inevitably happen during a manual deployment, rolling back to a previously successful version is, at best, extremely difficult or, at worst, impossible.

The Problem

Manual processes usually lack rigorous, centralized documentation explaining who did what, when, where, and why. Undoing an unsuccessful change can be as fruitless and painful as digging a well with your bare hands.

This missing documentation also makes audits extremely painful and time-consuming. Not only might compliance-risking issues have ended up in your pipelines due to manual errors and developers’ “creative” solutions to problems, but merely finding the information auditors need can mean an arduous process of digging through emails, Slack chats, people’s memories, and so on. At best, you take forever to hand auditors a piecemeal record, and you repeat this process for each auditing question.

The Solution

Rolling back in CI/CD takes just a few minutes and very little effort. Most CI/CD tools allow for a simple redeployment of past releases. If bugs somehow make it into production (which is less likely with automated deployments) and a break happens, just a few clicks can redeploy a previously successful version of the software back into production. This eliminates end-user downtime and gives developers more time to work with the unsuccessful new software to figure out what went wrong and to remedy all problems for re-release.

Furthermore, the automated logs created by CI/CD tools like BuildMaster keep information about builds and releases in context. Just looking up a specific release yields detailed information about every action that occurred (and by whom), all in just a few seconds. Auditing becomes simple and routine.

Automation is the Answer

Manual deployments might seem to be working for your teams, but you’re really falling into a sunk cause fallacy: The ultimate cost of sticking with outdated manual practices will be substantial and could even cost you your business as demands for time-to-market speeds increase every day. Automating your deployments with CI/CD, though a substantial up-front investment, has a huge ROI, reducing lead times and releasing much more reliable software, keeping you ahead of the competition.

Inedo DevOps tools maximize developer time, minimize release risk, and empower stakeholders to bring their vision to life faster. All with the people and technology you have right now.

Crista Perlton

Crista Perlton