Ephemeral environments have grown in popularity with software development teams over the last few years because they’re a great way to foster productivity and efficiency simultaneously. Individual developers are now free to work how they want while still having the opportunity to bring in others to get an objective viewpoint on certain deliverables. All this and ephemeral environments also streamline the development process significantly, freeing up the valuable time of team members so that they can focus on more important matters. All told, there are a number of ways in which ephemeral environments supercharge developer workflows that are worth a closer look.
What are ephemeral environments about in software development?
Ephemeral environments are all about granting developers the flexibility they need to execute their tasks while ensuring that these activities do not interfere with one another. Rather than having multiple team members working on the same project, ephemeral environments compartmentalize them in separate spaces to guarantee that the efforts of one team member do not overlap or conflict with those of another.
This makes it easier for teams to work together without worrying about potentially stepping on each other’s toes. Additionally, ephemeral environments allow development teams to quickly spin up and shut down projects as needed without worrying about long-term resource allocations. This makes it much easier for teams to take on new initiatives without draining resources from existing projects that could be better used elsewhere.
Rapid testing and experimentation
Any type of software development process naturally requires a significant amount of testing. Indeed, a long-accepted best practice has been “test early and test often.” When things are still being designed as a monolith, the issue with this idea is that this testing can only happen at very precise points in the development process. This can (and often does) cause delays in the larger development lifecycle. Team members are a victim to the mantra of “hurry up and wait” – they work to quickly accomplish all their tasks, at which point they must wait until the testing process can begin for feedback and any necessary changes.
This is one of the reasons why many software projects often go over schedule and over budget. People aren’t waiting around because they’re lazy or have nothing better to do. There is always something that can be done. But when everything must be completed in a very specific order, and different teams of developers are all vying for the same resources, this tends to cause a bottleneck more often than not.
On the other hand, ephemeral environments relieve this pain point almost instantly. One of the benefits of an ephemeral environment, by its nature, is that it can be scaled up and down quickly without impacting what anyone else is doing. The ability to provision an isolated environment that mimics a live production environment closely is almost effortless. Developers can take advantage of modern-day automation tools to ensure their ephemeral environment is set up precisely the way they need, literally in minutes.
The short-term benefit is that developers can start working on new features, bug fixes, or anything else they need without delay. They don’t have to wait for anyone else to finish testing or worry about causing an issue that could spell trouble for other disconnected teams.
Those teams can also now quickly provision different environments for different testing scenarios. This helps ensure that the test conditions are always the same, thus minimizing risk from any environment-specific problems. Development teams can now run tests simultaneously, for example, or embrace continuous integration and delivery methodologies. Regardless of the use case, ephemeral environments give developers the chance to quickly identify and fix problems, going a long way towards improving both testing and quality assurance at the same time.
Consistent and secure development processes
Another one of the ways that ephemeral environments supercharge developer workflows has to do with their enhanced collaboration and developer productivity. Especially for teams that are hard at work on complicated projects, ephemeral environments are critical. A consistent development environment is always shared across the team, ensuring everyone can access the same resources without environment-related conflicts.
If you’re a developer who needs to quickly bring someone in on a task to troubleshoot an issue, you can do so via an ephemeral environment. You can set up that environment in minutes, give whoever you want access to, workshop your issue, tear down the environment, and move on – all in a fraction of the time it used to take.
Not only does this allow for better communication, but it also helps to empower collaboration. This is true regardless of a developer’s physical resources, or even where they might be located.
Ephemeral environments also make it easy to undo changes quickly as needed, which creates the perfect setting for experimentation. Developers can make certain riskier choices that they may not have dared to in the past, knowing full well that the “consequences” of their actions are not permanent. From that perspective, an ephemeral environment becomes a safe, controlled space to embrace the type of innovation and risk-taking that most successful projects depend on.
Innovation enhances collaboration
In the end, far too many team members have fallen prey to the “old school” software development methodology. Essentially, you hurry up and complete your first task only to wait patiently for someone to contribute to a deliverable so you can move on to what is next. Development exists in a series of disconnected silos; communication is difficult on the best of days, and true collaboration is nearly impossible on the worst. Schedules, budgets, developer morale – all these things tend to suffer, even if the client is ultimately happy.
Thankfully, ephemeral environments can address many of these pain points in one fell swoop. Streamlining tasks and fostering collaboration allows all key stakeholders to take a much more innovative approach to the proceedings. Now, development teams can truly optimize their software development lifecycle, achieving faster iterations and unlocking the full potential of their projects as well. It’s an advancement that would have been unthinkable even as recently as a decade ago, but it’s officially here, and it would be a shame for teams everywhere not to take full advantage of it.
Photo credit: The feature image is symbolic and has been done by Christopher Isak with Midjourney for TechAcute.