Testing in Production

The recent Apple keynote announcing the iPhone 6 was very heavily watched. At least, I think it was heavily viewed because I had trouble connecting, numerous pauses and regular stuttering of the video. Despite the fact that the stream was limited to Apple operating systems (iOS/OSX), it appeared that many other people had trouble watching based on the tweets I saw. On top of the scale issues, there were also different language translations overlaid in the audio and crashes of the Safari browser. Overall, the live event was a disappointment to me, though it hasn’t stopped me from upgrading my iPhone.

The numerous problems that occurred had me wondering if any system wide testing was previously conducted. Was it possible that Apple was actually having their full scale, end to end system test in production? During the live event? I guess it’s possible, though it would be  imprudent and foolish to do so. With all the effort and expense that goes into the “Apple show”, how could a complete system test not be managed?

Certainly a one time event like a product launch can be hard to simulate. The scale alone is difficult to predict, but certainly there are things that can be simulated. The actual people and applications can be used to record, encode, broadcast, etc. As closely as possible to the conditions of the live event, with the same size, type, and configuration of equipment should be used. The same people who will operate it should participate. We know this as technologists, and most of us would perform testing like this if we could.

I know that resources are often constrained, and time is precious. However we need to perform some testing prior to production if we are to have confidence that everything will work during a deployment of new bits. The best way to do this is to deploy often, to a variety of environments in the same way we will to production. Execute a variety of tests each time that ensure the application functions as expected. If we find problems, we shouldn’t fix them in that environment. We should start over, fixing the issue in development, and deploying the changes again through test, pre-production, and any other environments we have. Be repeating the process over and over, we can build confidence that our production environment will work as we expect. 

I hope Apple did this, though the end result has me feeling a bit skeptical.

Steve Jones

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