5 Things Amazon Taught me About Deployment Automation

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5 Things Amazon Taught me About Deployment Automation

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Early this week, I noticed a lightbulb went out and we were out of spares. Instead of adding a trip to the store to my todo list, my first instinct was to order a lightbulb off Amazon with two day shipping. That would be a little crazy if I didn’t have Amazon Prime.

Prime has a one time annual fee, after which any purchase I make for the year has free two-day shipping. So instead of a $10 pack of lightbulbs that I pay $5 to get in a week, I just pay $10. The goods show up before I would bother to go to the store, for less effort, and without paying for gas.

The downside? Imagining the carbon footprint of flying that bulb across the country just because I was too lazy to swing by the store on the way home.

So, what does this have to do with automated software deployments?  When you make it cheap and easy to do something, you change behavior in pretty radical ways.

1. Frequency Increases

One of the ways Prime is a winner for Amazon, is that it encourages me to buy more frequently. It’s easy and without shipping price penalties I feel like I’m getting a bargain. I also buy tons more music off iTunes than I ever did from music stores.

Likewise, automation makes deployments cheap enough that you do more deployments. We’ve seen customers increase their number of deployments to test environments by an order of magnitude once automated.

Small Things Count: There’s a surprising difference between having a web page where someone can easily request a deployment and automatically deploying to test as the result of a new build or a nightly schedule. On event/schedule gets has a bigger impact over self-service. In Amazon terms, this is “subscribe and save“. New parents, take note, this was made for diapers. Developers, this helps turn CI into CD.

2. It’s about effort not speed

If I’d needed drain cleaner, speed might have been paramount in deciding how I shopped. Likewise, for some deployment teams, automation’s main benefit is shorter outage windows.

But for most of us, the attractive part of shopping online is just how easy it is. Online, I do my part of the purchasing in 5 minutes, rather than a half hour in the real world. Most teams who are implementing automation are doing so because the deployment guys are stretched beyond capacity and need time back. Shorter outages are a side benefit.

3. Batch Sizes Shrink

I used to avoid buying just one thing off a website. I’d wait until I had a few things to get and save on shipping by doing them together. Looking at my orders before and after purchasing Prime, I’ve seen my orders get smaller and smaller.

The same thing happens with deployment automation. When deployments are a big, scary ordeal teams set up release weekends and release trains where numerous projects go out in a big effort. With automation comes confidence, comfort and eventually more independence project to project. When something is ready to ship, it goes out. It doesn’t wait for a bunch of unrelated other projects to make a release weekend worthwhile.

This is a nice little side effect. You see faster time to market, and those practicing Lean are thrilled. The see less “inventory” waste, and smaller batch sizes tend to appeal to both the Lean and Agile camps for a host of reasons.

4. Free Returns

My wife now buys many of her clothes through Amazon Prime and shoes from Zappos (a recent Amazon acquisition). In both cases, the ability to order, try on, and return any rejects with free shipping both ways has been a huge factor. She no longer goes to six stores to try things on and can pull the trigger with confidence that if she’s wrong about the fit, reconsidering is easy.

This is the real key to deployment rollback automation. Because rollbacks allow us to reconsider more easily, they enable us to be more aggressive in releasing (even to just test environments). Partial (canary) production deployments build on this pattern.

5. Do things the “right” way

All these little benefits add up to one key thing for Amazon: We do more of our shopping there than we otherwise would have. We buy more stuff how they want us to: on their website.

If you are trying to wrangle people and get them to deploy following the proper approvals, and deployment plans, learn this lesson. Make it easier for people to deploy following protocol than to work around the system. Push button deployment automation is so much easier than manual deployments, that any process you build into that automation system has much higher odds of being followed than something enforced by sternly worded memos.

* This is me talking about a service I consume and like. Amazon hasn’t endorsed this, and all their trademarks belong to them. Their services, pricing, etc can change. And seriously, think about the gas, jet fuel, and people’s time you waste when you order a lightbulb two day shipping. At least get an eight-pack or one of those nifty new LED bulbs. On the other hand, don’t have any guilt about deploying more.


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