Mitigate your Infrastructure Migration Risk with Feature Flags

4 min read

Organizations are migrating infrastructure to the cloud en masse.

Almost half (48%) of all respondents to a 2021 survey indicated that they plan to move 50% or more of their applications to the cloud in the coming year, with 20% planning to migrate all of their applications, according to O’Reilly.

The journey to cloud-native applications isn’t always smooth, though. Migration is a risky business that can disrupt services and introduce unexpected costs. Mastering cloud migration calls for advanced techniques that dovetail with existing continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) methods.

Progressive delivery and feature flags are fast-evolving techniques that can keep migration projects focused while sustaining momentum.

The Challenges of Infrastructure Migration

By migrating infrastructure to the cloud, digital enterprises can realize some notable benefits. Scale-out cloud architectures enable applications to rapidly scale up transaction volumes while maintaining performance. Cloud architectures also promise more flexibility and agility as part of a DevOps discipline that supports fast deployment.

However, these benefits don’t come without risks. Migrating to new infrastructure risks downtime if the code and infrastructure aren’t compatible. It could break data integrity if transactions fail after the big switchover, creating a mess that requires complex recovery and affects longer-term operations.

Even if the migration failure isn’t cataclysmic, performance or usability issues could create problems of their own. Bewildered users could clog up the help desk with calls, creating bottlenecks and user acceptance issues.

A New Approach to Cloud Transformation

Developers often test for performance and reliability issues before deployment, but they’re a best-effort attempt. Testing and staging environments might not accurately reflect production platforms.
Typical monolithic code migrations involve running legacy and new systems side by side for a period until the project team is certain that the new system works properly. Then, they turn the old system off. That’s a frightening prospect when handling code bases millions of lines long-especially if migrating infrastructure to the cloud changes its underlying architecture.

Progressive delivery takes a new approach to code deployment by testing it safely in production. This technique doesn’t abandon traditional testing, but it swaps monolithic big-bang code roll-outs in favor of gradual feature deployments. It gives you the luxury of testing your code against real live production data, leading to more reliable code with proven performance on cloud infrastructure.

Progressive delivery tests new features in production while simultaneously using those features on legacy systems. The development team only switches over an individual feature permanently when it has proven itself in the production environment.

How Feature Flags can help Mitigate Risk and Add Value

Managing this gradual migration of individual features to new infrastructure involves adapting something over which you have complete control: your code. You can insert control switches into your code that define if that code runs, where, and for whom. This is where feature flags come in.

Feature flags are variables in your code that let you control software functions at any level, from a database read to a form element in a browser. By flicking these variables on and off, developers can change application behavior in production without having to rebuild and redeploy.

Developers can make feature flags as granular as they like. This enables them to change functions at a minute level, including those that aren’t user-facing. Their fast, granular flexibility makes them valuable assets when migrating infrastructure to the cloud.

Here are four powerful benefits that feature flags can deliver to project teams during migrations:

  1. Fast testing and rollback

  2. A smooth shift to cloud-native infrastructure

  3. Easy identification of user issues

  4. Increased leadership confidence

For more on this fascinating topic, download our whitepaper, Mitigate your Infrastructure Migration Risk with Feature Flags

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