Flagship 2024 – Day 2 is live! Click here to register and watch now.

The Difference Between Rolling and Blue-Green Deployments

Contents

Rolling deployment and blue-green deployment are two prominent deployment strategies used in software engineering to update applications with minimal downtime and risk to the end user.

Let’s start with a Rolling Deployment. It is a deployment strategy where the new version of an application is gradually deployed across servers or containers, such as Docker instances, replacing the old version incrementally. This process involves updating a subset of servers at a time, rather than updating all servers simultaneously. It allows for the application to run different versions briefly during the deployment process. This approach minimizes downtime and reduces the impact on end users, as there’s always a version of the application available to serve user requests. However, managing different versions during the rollout can be complex, especially with database changes.

Blue-Green Deployment involves maintaining two identical production environments, only one of which is live at any given time. When a new version of an application is ready for release, it is deployed to the inactive environment, which is then thoroughly tested and evaluated. Once the new version is verified to be stable, the traffic is switched from the old environment (blue) to the new environment (green), making the new version active and accessible to end users. This strategy allows for instant rollback if issues are detected by simply switching back to the blue environment. Blue-green deployment is particularly effective in reducing downtime and risk as it provides a straightforward way to switch between different versions. However, it requires double the resources since two environments must be maintained simultaneously.

Both strategies aim to enhance the deployment process, offering ways to release new versions with minimal disruption to the end user. Rolling deployments offer a gradual, controlled update mechanism, while blue-green deployments provide a quick and low-risk way to switch between different versions, with both approaches often leveraging containerization tools like Docker to streamline and manage deployments.

Selecting the right deployment strategy is important, especially if you want to optimize for efficiency and stability. This blog post will help you understand the nuances of each approach, ultimately so you can select what works best for your needs.

Deployment Strategies in Modern Software Development

Deployment strategies in software development are crucial for managing the release and update process of application versions, ensuring minimal downtime, and enhancing the reliability and stability of software services. These strategies define the deployment pattern and pipeline through which new versions of the application are introduced to production environments, balancing the need for rapid innovation with the necessity of maintaining service availability and performance.

Downtime is a critical factor that deployment strategies aim to minimize. By carefully planning the rollout of new application versions, organizations can ensure that their services remain available to users, even during updates and migrations. This is essential for maintaining a good user experience and trust in the software service.

Canary Deployment is a deployment pattern where a new version of the application is rolled out to a small subset of users before it’s made available to the entire user base. This strategy allows teams to monitor metrics and performance indicators to ensure the new version operates as expected in the production environment. If issues are detected, the process includes mechanisms for a quick rollback to the previous version, minimizing the impact on users.

Metrics and metadata play a vital role in deployment strategies. Metrics allow teams to measure the performance and impact of the new version, while metadata provides valuable information about the deployment, such as the version number, deployment time, and configuration details. This data is crucial for automating deployment pipelines, enabling sophisticated decision-making processes that support gradual rollouts, automatic rollbacks, and the management of complex migrations.

Migrations are often required when deploying new versions, involving updates to databases, configurations, or other dependent systems. Effective deployment strategies incorporate plans for these migrations, ensuring they can be executed smoothly and without causing service disruptions. When migrating database schemas, consider  using an additive strategy, also known as expand/contract. When migrating from one data infrastructure to another, consider using a parity testing strategy, which allows you to validate the new infrastructure with live traffic before ramping down the old infrastructure.

In summary, deployment strategies, including the deployment pattern and pipeline, are foundational to modern software development, enabling organizations to deliver new features and fixes while ensuring high availability, minimizing downtime, and providing mechanisms for safe migrations and quick rollback if necessary. Through careful monitoring of metrics and the use of detailed metadata, these strategies support the continuous improvement of applications in a way that is transparent and minimally disruptive to end users.With the advent of CI/CD, software deployment strategies have evolved to be more continuous and automated. Progressive delivery is the ideal goal to meet the complex needs of today’s fast paced software development.

What Are Rolling Deployments

Rolling deployments are a methodical approach to updating or releasing a new version of an application in the production environment, allowing for a seamless transition with minimal downtime. This strategy incrementally updates instances or pods of the application so that not all are updated simultaneously, ensuring that the service remains available to users throughout the process. Here’s a deeper look into how rolling deployments work, their benefits, and the challenges they may present. Additionally, we’ll explore how feature flags can enhance this deployment strategy.

How Rolling Deployments Work

In a typical rolling deployment scenario, the process involves several steps, usually managed by an orchestration tool like Kubernetes:

  1. Preparation: The new version of the application is containerized and ready for deployment.
  2. Initial Rollout: The deployment starts with one (or a small group) of instances being taken out of the service pool by the load balancer. These instances are then updated to the newer version.
  3. Health Checks: After the update, health checks are performed to ensure that the new instance meets all operational criteria and does not introduce any new issues.
  4. Gradual Rollout: If the health checks pass, the updated instance is reintroduced to the pool of service instances, and the load balancer begins routing traffic to it. The process is then repeated for the next set of instances until all instances are updated.
  5. Monitoring and Rollback: Throughout the rollout, the application is closely monitored. If issues are detected, the deployment can be halted, and a rollback to the previous version can be initiated.

This strategy relies heavily on automation tools and services, such as Kubernetes, which can manage the complexities of rolling updates, including the orchestration of updates, health checks, and rollbacks.

Benefits of Rolling Deployments

  1. Minimized Downtime: Since the application is updated in phases, services remain available to the user, reducing the impact of deployments on application availability.
  2. Gradual Exposure: This allows for gradual exposure of the new features to users, enabling feedback collection and usage monitoring in the production environment.
  3. Risk Mitigation: The ability to monitor the performance of the new version in the production environment with real traffic before it’s fully deployed helps in identifying and mitigating risks early in the deployment process.
  4. Simplified Rollback: If the new version introduces issues, rolling back to the previous version is more straightforward, as not all instances are updated at once.

Potential Challenges

  1. Version Compatibility: Rolling deployments require careful management of version compatibility, especially for stateful applications or when database migrations are involved.
  2. Resource Requirements: Temporary spikes in resource requirements can occur as both the old and new versions of the application run simultaneously during the rollout.
  3. Complexity in Large-Scale Environments: Managing rolling deployments in large-scale environments can be complex and requires robust orchestration tools.

Enhancement With Feature Flags

Feature flags, or toggles, can significantly enhance the flexibility and control of rolling deployments. By decoupling deployment from feature release, developers can:

  • Toggle New Features: Activate or deactivate new features in the production environment without changing the deployed version of the application. This allows for easier A/B testing and gradual feature rollouts.
  • Targeted Rollouts: Use feature flags to enable new features for specific user segments or environments, providing additional control over the rollout process.
  • Mitigate Risk: Quickly disable a feature if issues arise, without the need for a full rollback of the application version, thereby reducing risk and minimizing impact on the end user.

Integrating feature flags into a rolling deployment strategy adds an extra layer of control, allowing for more dynamic management of new features and the user experience. By combining the gradual rollout of updates with the selective enabling of features, organizations can achieve a high degree of operational flexibility and risk management in their production environments.

What Are Blue-Green Deployments

Blue-green deployment is a tried and true deployment strategy that plays a critical role in modern DevOps practices, aiming to reduce downtime and risks associated with deploying new versions of software. This strategy involves maintaining two identical production environments, traditionally labeled as “blue” and “green.” At any given time, one of these environments is live, serving all production traffic, while the other is idle or being prepared for the next release. The process, impact, and nuances of blue-green deployments provide a comprehensive understanding of how this strategy enhances software releases.

The Process of Blue-Green Deployment

  1. Preparation: Initially, both blue and green environments are set up to be identical in terms of hardware, software, and configuration. This includes databases, application servers, and any other required services.
  2. Deployment: When a new version of the software is ready for release, it is deployed to the idle environment (let’s say green if blue is currently live). This deployment includes all necessary updates, migrations, and configurations needed for the new version.
  3. Testing: The green environment, now hosting the new version, undergoes thorough testing and verification. This phase is crucial for ensuring that the new release meets all quality and performance standards without affecting the user experience negatively.
  4. Switching Traffic: Once the new version in the green environment is verified to be stable and ready for production, the traffic is switched from the blue environment to the green environment. This is often achieved using a load balancer or DNS switch, redirecting all user traffic to the green environment seamlessly.
  5. Monitoring: After the switch, the new live environment (green) is closely monitored to ensure that it operates as expected under full load. Any anomalies or issues are addressed immediately.
  6. Rollback: If any critical issues are discovered after the switch, the system can quickly revert to the previous version by switching traffic back to the blue environment, which remains intact and operational.
  7. Cleanup and Preparation for Next Release: Post-switch, the now idle blue environment is updated with the new version in preparation for the next deployment cycle. This ensures that both environments are again identical, ready for the next blue-green switch.

Impact on Software Releases

Reduced Downtime

Blue-green deployment is designed to eliminate downtime during software updates. Since the switch between environments is typically a quick routing change, users experience no service interruptions, maintaining a high-quality user experience.

Enhanced Reliability

By fully testing the new version in a production-equivalent environment before making it live, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of deploying faulty updates. This thorough testing phase helps in identifying and fixing issues before they affect users.

Immediate Rollback

The ability to quickly rollback to the previous version by simply switching environments minimizes the impact of any unforeseen problems post-deployment. This safety net is vital for maintaining service stability and user trust.

Automation and DevOps Integration

Blue-green deployments are highly conducive to automation, allowing for seamless integration with continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. Automation tools can manage the deployment, testing, switching, and rollback processes, reducing manual intervention and potential human errors.

Despite its benefits, blue-green deployment requires significant resources, as maintaining two identical production environments can be costly. Actually extremely costly. Additionally, careful management of stateful components and databases is necessary to ensure data integrity across both environments. These challenges necessitate a well-thought-out strategy and robust infrastructure management practices.

Comparing Rolling and Blue-Green Deployments

Rolling deployments and blue-green deployments are two distinct strategies used for deploying new versions of an application, each with its specific advantages, drawbacks, and ideal use cases. By comparing these methodologies, we can understand their roles in different scenarios, particularly focusing on how they manage risk, user experience, and resource utilization.

Rolling Deployments

Pros

  1. Zero Downtime: Rolling deployments allow for updating nodes or instances incrementally, ensuring that the application remains available to users throughout the deployment process.
  2. Gradual Exposure: They enable the new version of the application to be rolled out to a subset of users initially, which can be useful for monitoring performance and gathering feedback without impacting the entire user base.
  3. Resource Efficiency: This method does not require doubling the infrastructure since the update occurs in place, making it more resource-efficient.

Cons

  1. Complex Version Management: Handling different versions of an application simultaneously can be challenging, especially when it comes to maintaining state consistency across the database or managing feature compatibility.
  2. Potential for Bugs in Production: If the new release has issues, they might affect a portion of the users before the deployment is fully rolled back or completed.
  3. Slower Rollback: Rolling back a deployment, if necessary, can be slower and more complex because it might involve reverting each node individually.

Use Cases

Ideal for applications requiring continuous availability, rolling deployments are well-suited for services where even minimal downtime is unacceptable. This strategy is particularly beneficial for online retail platforms or media streaming services, where maintaining a constant user experience is crucial.

Blue-Green Deployments

Pros

  1. Instant Rollback: The ability to switch traffic instantaneously between the blue and green environments allows for immediate rollback to the previous version if the new release introduces bugs or performance issues.
  2. Simplified Testing: Testing the new version in a production-like environment (the green environment) before making it live ensures that most issues can be caught and fixed before affecting any users.
  3. Clear Separation of Environments: Having two identical environments reduces the complexity of version management and minimizes the risk of configuration drift between development and production.

Cons

  1. Resource Intensive: Requires maintaining two fully operational production environments, which can double the cost of infrastructure.
  2. Not Ideal for Real-Time User Data: Handling live user data and stateful applications can be challenging, as any changes to user data in the blue environment during the switchover may need to be synchronized with the green environment.
  3. Risk of Unseen Issues: While testing in the green environment can catch many issues, some problems may only become apparent under the full production load or due to interactions with live user data.

Use Cases

Ideal for high-stakes-deployments, blue-green deployments are particularly useful for applications where the risk of deployment-related issues needs to be minimized, such as financial services applications or critical infrastructure services. This method allows for thorough testing and a safety net for instant rollback without affecting users.

Choosing between rolling and blue-green deployments depends on the specific needs of the project, including considerations like resource availability, the criticality of maintaining uninterrupted service, and the complexity of managing different versions of an application. Rolling deployments offer a more resource-efficient approach with gradual exposure, while blue-green deployments provide a higher degree of reliability and faster rollback capabilities, albeit at a higher resource cost.

The Role of Feature Flags in Deployment Strategies

Feature flags, also known as feature toggles, are a powerful technique used in software development and deployment that allows teams to enable or disable features of an application without deploying new code. This mechanism provides a high level of control over who sees what features and when, making it an invaluable tool in implementing rolling updates, canary testing, and achieving zero downtime deployments. Here’s an explanation of how feature flags work and their benefits, especially in the context of rolling deployments.

How Feature Flags Work

Feature flags operate by wrapping a new feature or code path in an if-else statement that checks the flag’s state (enabled or disabled) in a configuration file, database, or feature management platform. When using the database or feature management platform approaches, the state of these flags can be changed at runtime without needing to redeploy the application, allowing developers to turn features on or off for specific segments of users or environments.

Benefits in Rolling Deployments

  1. Zero Downtime: Feature flags contribute to achieving zero downtime during deployments by allowing new features to be merged into the production codebase but kept inactive (off) until ready to be enabled. This ensures that the old version of the application remains operational until the new features have been thoroughly tested and gradually rolled out.
  2. Gradual Rollout of Features: Rolling updates can be enhanced with feature flags by enabling the new feature for a small subset of users initially, then gradually increasing the user base exposed to the new feature. This phased approach helps in monitoring the impact of the new feature on application performance and user experience in a controlled manner.
  3. Canary Testing: Feature flags facilitate canary testing by allowing new features to be enabled for a specific group of users or servers before a broader rollout. This can be particularly useful in identifying any unforeseen issues with the new version under real-world usage conditions, without impacting the entire user base.
  4. Dynamic Control and Testing: Feature flags provide the flexibility to dynamically control which features are available to which users, enabling A/B testing, beta releases, and user-specific functionalities. This dynamic control extends to rolling deployments, where new features can be tested and rolled back with minimal effort if necessary.
  5. Risk Mitigation: By using feature flags, teams can mitigate the risk associated with rolling out new features. If an issue is detected with the new version, the feature can be quickly disabled (turned off) without rolling back the entire deployment. This allows for pinpoint adjustments and minimizes the disruption to the overall user experience.
  6. Use Cases Exploration: Feature flags enable the exploration of different use cases and user behaviors by selectively enabling features for different segments of the user base. This can provide valuable insights into how different features are used and perceived, informing further development and refinement.

Feature flags are a versatile tool that, when combined with rolling deployments, offer a robust strategy for releasing new features with zero downtime, enhanced control, and reduced risk. They enable teams to test new features in production, perform canary releases, and adjust the user experience dynamically. The ability to toggle features without deploying new code allows for a more agile and responsive development process, catering to the evolving needs of users and the business.

Implementing Deployment Strategies

Adopting a deployment strategy requires thoughtful consideration of your team’s specific needs, the nature of the project, and the existing infrastructure. Deployment strategies not only determine how new code reaches production but also influence the team’s workflow, the application’s availability, and the overall user experience. Here are practical guidelines for development teams looking to adopt a deployment strategy, along with an overview of other possible strategies and considerations for integration with existing tools and systems.

1. Evaluate Your Project Requirements

User Traffic

Consider the volume and patterns of your user traffic. High-traffic applications may benefit more from strategies that minimize downtime, like blue-green deployments or rolling updates.

Microservices vs. Monoliths

The architecture of your application (microservices vs. monolithic) will influence your choice. Microservices might lean towards strategies like canary deployments using containers, while monoliths favor blue-green and the use of feature flags, which allow for more granular control. Feature flags are a great tool to help you migrate from monoliths to microservices in a way that’s easy and safe. 

2. Understand Different Deployment Strategies

Rolling Updates

Rolling updates are good for applications where slight variations in versions can be tolerated during the deployment process. It’s beneficial for environments like Kubernetes, which can manage rolling updates natively.

Blue-Green Deployment

Blue-green deployments are ideal for critical applications that require near-zero downtime and support rapid rollback. Requires infrastructure that can support running two parallel environments.

Canary Releases

Canary releases allow you to roll out the new version to a small subset of users before a wider release. This is particularly useful for testing in production with real user data.

Feature Flags 

Feature flags offer high flexibility by toggling features on and off without deploying new code. Great for A/B testing and canary testing within specific user segments.

A/B Testing

Beyond being a deployment strategy, A/B testing can be used to make data-driven decisions about which features to roll out based on user engagement metrics.

3. Compatibility with Existing Tools and Systems

Kubernetes

If you’re using Kubernetes, leverage its built-in support for rolling updates and health checks. Consider using Helm charts for managing application releases and Kubernetes Operators for automating deployment workflows.

AWS and Other Cloud Providers

Cloud services like AWS Elastic Beanstalk, AWS ECS, and Azure App Service offer built-in deployment strategies such as rolling, blue-green, and canary deployments. Utilize these features to simplify your deployment process.

Open Source Tools

Incorporate open-source tools like Spinnaker, Argo CD, or Jenkins for more complex deployment pipelines. These tools offer flexibility and integration capabilities with Kubernetes, AWS, and other cloud platforms.

4. Development Teams’ Workflow Integration

Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)

Ensure your deployment strategy aligns with your CI/CD pipeline. Automate builds, tests, and deployments to streamline the release process.

Version Control and Branching Strategy

Your version control strategy (e.g., GitFlow, trunk-based development) should complement your deployment method, allowing for efficient management of new code and configurations.

5. Security and Compliance

Ensure that your deployment strategy adheres to security best practices and compliance requirements. This includes secure handling of secrets, audit trails for deployments, and compliance with regulatory standards.

6. Monitoring and Rollback

Implement comprehensive monitoring to quickly detect issues post-deployment. Have a clear rollback strategy for each deployment method to minimize impact on users in case of unforeseen issues.

Choosing the right deployment strategy involves balancing between application requirements, team capabilities, and infrastructure constraints. By considering the nature of your user traffic, the compatibility with tools like Kubernetes, and the adaptability of your team’s workflow, you can select a deployment method that enhances your development cycle, ensures reliability, and provides a seamless user experience. Additionally, openness to evolving your deployment strategy as your application grows and changes is key to maintaining efficiency and effectiveness in your release process.

Choosing the Right Deployment Strategy

Hopefully this helped you understand the intricacies and nuances of two prominent deployment strategies in software engineering. In summary, rolling deployments involve gradually updating application instances to minimize downtime and offer gradual exposure of new features, while Blue-Green deployments maintain two identical environments, enabling instant rollback and reduced downtime.

Don’t forget. It’s important to select the right strategy based on project requirements, infrastructure compatibility, and team workflow. 

Finally, lean on feature flags to further enhance your deployment strategies with added security, monitoring, and speed.

Switch It On With Split

The Split Feature Data Platform™ gives you the confidence to move fast without breaking things. Set up feature flags and safely deploy to production, controlling who sees which features and when. Connect every flag to contextual data, so you can know if your features are making things better or worse and act without hesitation. Effortlessly conduct feature experiments like A/B tests without slowing down. Whether you’re looking to increase your releases, to decrease your MTTR, or to ignite your dev team without burning them out–Split is both a feature management platform and partnership to revolutionize the way the work gets done. Schedule a demo to learn more.

Get Split Certified

Split Arcade includes product explainer videos, clickable product tutorials, manipulatable code examples, and interactive challenges.

Want to Dive Deeper?

We have a lot to explore that can help you understand feature flags. Learn more about benefits, use cases, and real world applications that you can try.

Create Impact With Everything You Build

We’re excited to accompany you on your journey as you build faster, release safer, and launch impactful products.