Big News! Split to be acquired by Harness. Read More

Key Differences in Deploy and Release in DevOps


Split - Blog-2160x1080-Key Differences Between Deploy and Release in DevOps

While the terms “deploy” and “release” may seem similar, they represent different processes that play crucial roles in the software development lifecycle. Understanding their nuances is essential for streamlining operations and delivering high-quality software to end-users.

In a DevOps environment, deployment refers to the technical process of moving software from a development environment to a test, staging, or production environment, ensuring it is operational and ready for use. Release, on the other hand, focuses on the strategic decision of when and to whom the software will be made available, aligning with business objectives and market readiness. 

By understanding the distinctions between the two concepts, teams can improve collaboration, enhance communication, and ultimately provide a superior user experience. This post will explore the intricacies of deployment and release in DevOps, exploring their goals, automation’s role, challenges, and best practices for mastering these critical processes.

What Is Deployment and Release

Deployment and release are two distinct phases in the software development lifecycle, even though they are often used interchangeably.

The Deployment Phase

Deployment refers to the act of moving code or software from a development environment to a test, staging, or production environment, where it ultimately becomes accessible to end-users. This phase involves tasks such as configuring servers, installing software components, and ensuring the application is ready for use. Deployment is a technical process that focuses on the infrastructure and technical aspects of getting the software up and running.

The Release Phase

In contrast, the release phase is the process of making the deployed software available to the target audience. This includes activities like announcing the new features, communicating with users, and rolling out the updates. The release phase is more user-centric, as it involves managing expectations, gathering feedback, and ensuring a smooth transition for the end users.

Deployment and Release in Agile and DevOps Methodologies

In Agile and DevOps environments, continuous deployment and release are closely intertwined, as they enable the rapid, iterative delivery of software. Deployment focuses on the automated, frequent, and reliable transfer of code to production, while release management ensures that new features and updates are delivered to users in a controlled and coordinated manner. This flexibility and speed are crucial for meeting the needs of customers and staying ahead of competition.

How Deployment and Release Work Together

The deployment phase focuses on the technical aspects of moving code from a development environment to a test, staging, or production environment. Tools like Docker and Kubernetes play a crucial role in streamlining the deployment process.

The release phase often includes stages like alpha, beta, and release candidate (RC) testing, where functionality and user experience are validated before a wider release.

To ensure a successful deployments process, software teams should leverage version control systems like GitHub, along with automation and testing frameworks. This helps maintain a clear, auditable record of changes, minimize errors, and verify the integrity of the software before it reaches production.

In Agile and DevOps methodologies, deployment and release work together to enable rapid, iterative delivery of software. The deployment phase focuses on the continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) of code, while the release phase manages the controlled and coordinated delivery of new features to end-users. This allows organizations to stay responsive to market demands and user feedback, ultimately driving innovation and customer satisfaction.

Aligning these two processes, software teams can deliver a seamless user experience, maintain a competitive edge, and build a strong, loyal customer base. The strategic integration of deployment and release is a hallmark of modern, user-centric software development practices.

The key to this differentiation lies in the strategic use of feature flags. Unlike a traditional “all-or-nothing” approach to software updates, feature flags allow you to gradually roll out new functionality to targeted user segments and to randomized subsets of your user population. This separates the technical deployment of code from the user-facing release of features, empowering you to test, iterate, and validate in a production environment before a wider rollout.

The Benefits of Differentiating Deployment and Release

Feature flags are more than just a technical tool – they are a critical enabler of modern, user-centric software development practices. By leveraging feature flags, you can:

  • Decouple deployment from release, giving you fine-grained control over when and how new features reach your end-users.
  • Implement efficient release management strategies like canary releases, and progressive rollouts minimizing risk and downtime.
  • Gather real-time user feedback and usage data to inform your feature development process.
  • Rapidly experiment, iterate, and optimize your software based on actual user behavior, not just assumptions.

As we’ve explored in the past, feature flags are a critical component of DevOps best practices, enabling the efficient, iterative delivery of software that is essential for staying competitive in today’s fast-paced market.

By clearly delineating the deployment process and leveraging the power of feature flags, your organization can foster a truly user-centric software development lifecycle. This approach will empower you to deliver better products, drive higher customer satisfaction, and maintain a sustainable advantage.

Implementing the Split Approach

To illustrate the practical benefits of differentiating deployment and release, let’s consider a real-world example from one of Split’s customers, a leading SaaS company in the HR technology space.

This organization previously struggled with a traditional “big bang” release approach, where new features and updates were bundled together and pushed to all users at once. This all-or-nothing strategy made it difficult to gather user feedback, test new ideas, and respond to evolving market demands. Deployments were also prone to issues, as any problems would impact the entire user base.

By adopting the Split approach and leveraging feature flags, the team was able to decouple these two critical processes. Deployments became a more routine, low-risk activity, as code changes could be rolled out at any time without any exposure to users, allowing for testing and validation in staging and production. This allowed the development team to move faster, experiment more freely, and quickly address any issues that surfaced.

The release phase, on the other hand, was transformed into a more strategic process focused on the user experience. With the ability to selectively enable new features for specific segments, the product team could gather real-time feedback, measure the impact, and make data-driven decisions about wider rollouts. This resulted in higher user satisfaction, faster feature adoption, and better alignment with customer needs.

Of course, implementing this approach did not come without its challenges. Gaining buy-in from stakeholders, integrating the necessary tooling, and developing the right processes and workflows took time and effort. However, the long-term benefits of this strategic shift have been undeniable, with the organization reporting significant improvements in development velocity, customer satisfaction, and overall business performance.

The Split feature flag management platform was instrumental in supporting this transformation, providing a centralized hub for managing feature flags, observing system performance and user behavior in the context of each flag rollout,  and analyzing the impact of changes. By seamlessly connecting the deployment and release phases, Split empowered the team to make faster, more informed decisions about their product roadmap and deliver exceptional user experiences.

Ultimately, the separation of deployment and release, enabled by feature flags, has become a core tenet of the organization’s software development lifecycle. This customer-centric approach has not only driven internal efficiencies but also contributed to their continued market leadership and growth.

How to Start Differentiating Between Deployment and Release

If your team is ready to recognize the strategic benefits of separating deployment and release, the first step is to assess your current software development workflows and identify opportunities for improvement.

Begin by documenting your existing processes, understanding the pain points, and mapping out the dependencies between technical deployment activities and user-facing releases. This exercise will help you pinpoint areas where you can introduce more flexibility and control.

Building Your Toolkit

To facilitate the differentiation of deployment and release, you’ll want to build a toolkit of tools and practices that support this approach:

  • Continuous Integration Services: Leverage platforms like GitHub Actions, CircleCI, or Jenkins to automate your build and deployment processes, ensuring consistent and reliable transfers of code to target environments.
  • Project Management Software: Utilize tools like Jira, Trello, Azure DevOps, or Asana to manage the release planning and coordination process, keeping all stakeholders aligned on feature rollouts and user-facing changes.
  • Feature Flags: Integrate a feature flagging solution like Split to decouple deployment from release, enabling you to gradually roll out new functionality and gather real-time system performance and user behavior feedback.

Measuring Success

Leveraging feature flags, like all changes to your development process, must have KPIs attached to ensure you are making a meaningful change. Otherwise, you may be making a change for the sake of change which never works out well.

To track the effectiveness of your separate deployment and release strategies, focus on the following key performance indicators:

  • Deployment Frequency: Monitor how often you’re able to safely deploy code changes to production without disrupting the user experience.
  • Change Failure Rate: Measure the percentage of deployments that result in incidents or failures, indicating the stability and reliability of your processes.
  • Performance and behavioral data: Gather and analyze impact data from your users during deployment and releases to understand their experience.

Continuous delivery practices are essential for driving continuous improvement and maintaining a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced software landscape.

By building a solid foundation with the right tools and practices, you can effectively differentiate deployment and release, empowering your team to deliver better software, faster, and with greater confidence. The Split feature flag management platform is designed to be a key enabler of this strategic approach, helping organizations harness the power of feature flags to unlock new levels of agility and customer-centricity.

Embracing Change for Better Software Delivery

By decoupling the deployment and release phases through the use of feature flags, companies can experiment, iterate, and validate changes in a production setting before exposing them to the broader user base. This not only minimizes risk and downtime but also empowers product teams to gather real-time feedback, make data-driven decisions, and deliver exceptional user experiences.

Split‘s comprehensive suite of development tools and feature flagging capabilities are designed to be a key enabler of this strategic approach. By integrating Split’s solutions into your software delivery workflows, you can seamlessly manage deployments and releases, track the impact of changes, and continuously optimize your products to stay ahead of the competition.

Embracing the differentiation of deployment and release is a hallmark of modern, user-centric software development practices. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, teams that can adapt quickly, have a test environment that includes a safe way to test in production, and maintain focus on customer needs will be poised for long-term success.

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.