Different Cloud Environments for Development, Testing and Production

One of the aspects of developing applications that have a cloud backend that gets overlooked initially is how to separate development from test and production versions of the application. For web applications ASP.NET solved this by supporting transformations in the web.config file based on build configuration (eg web.Debug.config and web.Release.config). However, this issue is harder with client applications that don’t have config files and don’t understand configuration transformations. The other issue with transformations is that they’re only applied during the publishing process, rather than simply when you change the build configuration in Visual Studio.

I’ll come back to talk about how I’ve chosen to handle different application configurations in a later post. In this post I want to discuss how we’ve handled having multiple environments for our Mobile Service backend; this includes how we decided to do this working with our development team v’s the client site.

Our strategy was to have three environments: Development, Testing and Production. Development was housed within the Built to Roam development Azure subscription which the development team have access to. For the most part anyone within the development team could deploy to this environment at any stage – of course there was some self management involved to minimize breaking changes. As an aside, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, it is possible to set up Mobile Services to run locally, even if you enable Azure Active Directory authentication. The Development environment was also based on an Azure Active Directory (AAD) tenant explicitly created for the development of that project – that way accounts could be added/removed without affecting any other AAD.

Test and Production were both created in the customers Azure subscription. This was to minimize differences between these environments. These environments also connected to the customers AAD which meant that testing could be carried out with real user accounts since their AAD was synchronized with their internal AD. In a case where writing is supported back to AAD you may want to consider having test pointing to a separate AAD instance but for our purposes AAD was read only so there was no issue in using the same AAD tenant for both Test and Production.

For each of these we created a separate Mobile Service, named according to the environment, with production being the exception as we decided to drop the “production” suffix. Taking the RealEstateInspector example our services would be called:

Development – RealEstateInspectorDev
Testing – RealEstateInspectorTest
Production – RealEstateInspector

Note that we shortened both Development and Testing to just Dev and Test for simplicity.

We also created corresponding storage accounts, with names that matched the names of the mobile service

We also created corresponding applications in the appropriate Azure Active Directory, again with names that matched the corresponding environment. We didn’t use the same applications for Testing and Production to ensure we could configure them separately if required.

One issue we faced is that during the first iteration of development as the system was undergoing final testing in the Testing environment some real data was entered into the system. This meant that rather than simply deploying to Production we actually needed to migrate data from Testing to Production (definitely not something I would recommend as best practice). To do this was actually relatively simple using the ability in Azure to copy a SQL database and then within the Mobile Service change the database that it points to. We also had to migrate content from one storage account to another for which we couldn’t find a simple out of the box tool to use. However, this was actually much simpler than we thought and I’ll come back to this in a future post.

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