You, as Head – SaaS development, understand the constant pressure to innovate and deliver new features that keep users engaged. Your team has just built a fantastic new feature for your company’s flagship sales automation platform. It’s going to revolutionize the way your clients manage their sales pipelines. But a crucial question hangs over the launch – how do you ensure a smooth deployment that doesn’t disrupt your user base or cause critical system failures?

Downtime during updates is the bane of any SaaS development team. It translates to lost revenue, frustrated customers, and potential damage to your company’s reputation. The traditional “all-at-once” deployment approach is risky, and you need a more strategic solution.

Thankfully, there are powerful tools at your disposal – Blue/Green and Canary deployment strategies. These modern rollout strategies are the secret weapon of successful SaaS companies. They ensure seamless updates with minimal disruption, allowing you to release new features with confidence.

There’s no one correct answer as to which deployment is the right fit for any given business. For instance, Netflix uses a three-cluster canary release process. Each cluster – production, baseline and canary – serves the same traffic, but in different amounts. On the other hand, Google appears to uses blue/green deployment, though there’s little solid information available.

Understanding the nuances of both Blue/Green and Canary strategies, and choosing the right one for each situation, is critical for your team’s success. This article will equip you with the knowledge you need to navigate the world of rollout strategies. We’ll delve into the details of each approach, explore their advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately help you select the best strategy for your next SaaS update.

So which strategy should Alex opt for? And like Alex, which strategy should you choose for rolling your updates?

In this article, we will discuss just that. Let’s get into the details of both strategies and help you choose one.

Why do you need a Rollout Strategy?

In software development, rollout refers to introducing changes to a system or application in production or live environment, open to users. The right rollout strategy ensures that these changes happen with minimal disruptions to users.

Back in the day, developers would implement changes or updates late in the night to avoid downtime. However, that doesn’t take into consideration the global nature of modern business! Modern rollout strategies ensure a smooth transition for users from one version to the next.

There are essentially two kinds of rollout strategies: Blue/Green, and Canary.

Here’s How Netflix and Google Use These Two Methods

Netflix automates Canary analysis using the open-sourced Kayenta platform, which manages automated analysis. This move helps Netflix perform rapid deployments and update rollouts while being reliable to their audience.

With the automated Canary rollout method, engineers at Netflix experience a higher degree of confidence regarding deployments, leading to increased productivity.

Kayenta automatically compares key metrics between the old and new versions. If it finds significant degradation in these metrics, it triggers an abort of the canary deployment, and all the traffic gets rerouted back to the stable version.

Netflix’s Enhanced Canary Process

To make Canary even more efficient and improve the overall deployment process, Netflix utilizes a three-cluster system:

Production Cluster:This refers to the unchanged version currently running, handling most of the traffic.

Baseline Cluster:This is the three instances that run the exact production code and configuration, for comparison.

Canary Cluster:Three instances running the proposed changes allow for controlled testing and analysis before a wider rollout.

Netflix also employs the blue/green method to rollout their updates and ensure zero downtime for their viewers. Netflix uses two identical environments, blue being the live and green being the idle one.

Once the new version is deployed, Netlifx uses load balancers like Ribbon and Zuul, and the traffic is switched from blue to green. Here, automated testing ensures that the switch is stable, and if disruptions happen, then the traffic can be switched back to the prior environment.

For additional assurance, Netflix utilizes chaos engineering tools like Chaos Monkey to test the resilience of the environments. This comprehensive strategy allows Netflix to deliver updates with high reliability and minimal disruption.

Google’s Blue/Green Strategy?

While there’s little information available on the subject, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) documentation heavily promotes Blue/Green deployments for containerized applications using Kubernetes Engine (GKE). This suggests Google embraces Blue/Green within GCP.

In that case, this is how Google probably utilizes the strategy:

  • Two Identical Environments: Google sets up two identical production environments, traditionally named Blue (current version) and Green (new version).

  • Green Gets the Update: The new version of the application is deployed to the Green environment. This can involve building, testing, and staging the update.

  • Testing in Green: Once deployed in Green, Google can thoroughly test the new version to ensure it functions correctly without impacting live traffic.

  • Seamless Traffic Switch: When testing is complete and confidence is high, Google seamlessly switches traffic from Blue to Green using tools like load balancers. This minimizes downtime for users.

  • Blue as Backup: Google might keep the Blue environment operational as a backup in case of unforeseen issues with the Green version. Alternatively, they can decommission Blue and use it for the next update.

How Does Blue/Green Deployment Work?

The Blue/Green deployment strategy achieves continuous delivery of updates and minimized downtime. Here’s how:

1. Create Two Identical Environments

Two environments are created, called Blue and Green. Both environments are to be identical in terms of hardware and software configuration. The Blue version keeps all the data of the application or software, while the Green one remains idle.

2. Deploy The New Version

Once the development team has the new version ready, the new version is released in the Green environment (which currently doesn’t serve any traffic). This environment is then tested for inconsistencies and room for improvement. This is the phase when testing – functional testing, integration testing, and performance testing – takes place.

3. Switch Traffic To The Green Environment

Once tests are done and verification is successful, developers shift traffic to the Green environment. This change comes to fruition by utilizing load balancer configuration changes. The traffic is gradually shifted to the Green and the Blue one becomes idle.

4. Roll Back

In cases where some issues are detected in the Green environment, developers switch traffic back to the Blue environment. Rollback of this kind ensures minimal user disruption. This process also allows developers to address issues encountered in the new environment and try again.

How Does Canary Deployment Work?

Canary rollout is another deployment strategy that software product engineering services utilize. Here is how updates in Canary deployment take place:

1. Introduce A Small Set Of Users To Updates

In the Canary deployment strategy, the development team introduces a limited number of eligible users to the updates. Often referred to as a “canary group”, these users experience the new features without any disruptions in their processes.

2. Monitoring Performance

Once the specific users are exposed to the new version of the software, the development team tests performance through close monitoring. The team considers metrics such as response times, error rates, resource utilization, and others, to determine the success of the implementation.

3. Gradually Opening Up to A Larger User Base

When the team confirms that the implementation was a success, it slowly introduces a larger audience to the new version of the software. This is performed until the team redirects the entire traffic to the updated version.

Choosing The Right Strategy: A Decision Framework

There’s no single correct answer when it comes to which is the better strategy. Some SaaS companies such as Google (for Gmail) and Uber use canary deployment, while others use Blue/Green. For instance, Netflix​⁠ and FinTech business Intuit prefer Blue/Green. Cloud platforms like AWS also opt for Blue/Green.

That being said, whether to choose Blue/Green or Canary depends on various factors.

While choosing the right rollout strategy, organizations should consider key factors such as risk tolerance, downtime tolerance, and budget. Either rollout strategy would enable your development teams to minimize disruptions and implement the updates effectively, but it’s important to choose the one that will fit into your team more effectively. Whether you choose Canary deployment, Blue/Green, or even traditional rollout methods, it’s important to keep assessing results and improving the strategy in force.

Rely on Ziffity as your ultimate professional software product engineering services partner. We provide a comprehensive range of software services that covers every step from planning to development, maintenance, and more.