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Getting Started with Test Environments Management for Quality Testing

Depending on an organization's size and objectives, it is ideal to have different environments for every application's lifecycle, i.e., build, test, and prod environments. To guarantee the quality of every application release, directing, controlling, and managing any test execution environment is mandatory.

This ushers in the concept of enterprise Test Environment Management.

This article provides a complete guide for managing enterprise-level test environments. It will help you understand the requirements, procedures, tools, and resources that are critical in setting up, running, and managing test environments.

Let’s get started!




What is Test Environment Management?

Before conducting software testing activities such as smoke testing, UAT(User Acceptance Tests), regression, and the like, you need an isolated, well-managed compute resource that meets all conditions required for end-to-end application testing. These isolated compute resources are called test environments and can be provisioned on-prem or in the cloud.

Test Environment Management (TEM) refers to the process of planning, setting up, and maintaining the reliability and availability of enterprise-level test environments. TEM entails using procedures, tools, and resources to maintain the components of a test environment, such as software, hardware, databases, test data, and applications hosted.

The main object of test environment management is to improve efficiency in testing cycles by providing a production-like setup with all required connectivity and interfaces for running AUT(Application Under Test).

TEM covers provisioning, configuring, hardening, maintaining, and monitoring test environments to accelerate the release of high-quality software to production.
Test environment management requires developers, testers, infrastructure, and operations teams to collaborate to ensure the efficiency and timely execution of actions within each team's line of duty.


Understanding the Life Cycle of Test Environments

Planning and Requisition

Before any test environment is set up, its request should be logged in an organization’s ITSM(IT Service Managament) platform. This entails defining the details and requirements of the environment, such as compute, storage, security, and any data dependencies.

Setup and Management

With the environment requirements clearly defined, infrastructure teams can then step in to spin up the required instances manually or through IaC tools. Post-setup, test environments require continuous improvement and monitoring to ensure optimal performance.


Where development, testing, and product release are completed, environments may remain unused, requiring a teardown. The decommissioning of test environments is the last phase in TEM and is essential in cutting infrastructure costs since resources such as servers, ports, and databases are released.


Types of Test Environments and Provisioning

Major phases in the STLC require different environments for executing test activities to ensure the testing process is effective, maintainable, and scalable. This calls for setting up isolated environments such as SIT, UAT, Performance, and Preprod test environments.

System Integration Environment

A system integration environment is necessary to verify that all application components, such as microservices, application gateways, and database connections, are well set up to facilitate end-to-end testing. This environment can be shared between developers and QA, and any inconsistencies identified within the environment and the application under test
 can be resolved collaboratively.

UAT Environment

This type of environment verifies that the software meets all requirements specifications documented in the FSRs and performs satisfactorily for users. The aim is to identify and fix any defects or issues that could affect product release.

Performance Test Environment

A performance test environment is used to gauge how well an application or system responds to various user requests by mimicking user-product interaction. Setting up this type of test environment helps understand applications' behavior under different kinds of load and measures their robustness.


Focus on Test Environment Management

Once the right environment is set up, QA teams are responsible for managing the test environments. These teams should lead tasks such as server administration, access control, change management, test data refresh, monitoring/health checks, incident management, and environment evaluation.

Environment Access Control

Admin privileges for test environments should be restricted to QA teams. Any exceptions, such as elevating access rights for existing users, should be raised to the QA manager for approval and execution. Additionally, test credentials for applications, databases, and operating systems should be changed during user creation.

Installations, Upgrades, and Patches

Administration tasks such as modifying compute resource specifications, OS upgrades, and security patches to keep environments up to date are essential elements of test environment management, which should be done regularly and adequately documented. Test environments also require sufficient, up-to-date resources to minimize performance bottlenecks and quality issues.

Monitoring and Health Checks

The test environment administrators need to perform system health checks and monitor the state of usage of the environments. The data from daily checks can be compared against defined thresholds to address critical items that may result in environment instability.

Any incidences encountered in the test environments should be communicated to the responsible team for resolution.


Applications Management

Test application management requires controlled deployments and version control at applications and database levels to ensure consistency and reproducibility of tests. Some action areas that QA teams need to pay attention to for proper test environment management include:

Deploying/Hosting in the Test Environments

Preparing test environments for UAT deployments can involve manual processes or automation tasks. One simple way to release applications to a test environment is by packaging them in executable formats such as jar files and deploying them to app servers or directories within test environments.

In cases where CI/CD practice is mature, QA teams can also incorporate various deployment strategies, such as release pipelines, for continuous application deployment to test environments securely and efficiently.

Test Data Plugging and Refresh

Realistic and valid test data is vital in validating software quality before it is released to production. When dealing with simple applications and small databases, test data can be created manually or through data fabrication tools and plugged into a test environment. However, test environments ideally require copies of production data for more accurate functional end-to-end testing.

Production data used in testing is sensitive and should always be masked or scrambled to meet data masking and sub-setting regulations. This reduces the DB size and allows only data needed for testing.

Data in the test environments should be refreshed regularly to ensure test environments are as close as possible to production environments and to pick up any updated data.


Best Practices for Environment Management and Benefits of Stable Environments

Proper test environment management guarantees consistency during testing and security of applications shipped to production. Some best practices include:

  1. QA Teams should pursue automation of frequent maintenance tasks, such as upgrades, patches, and data masking. Automation tools and frameworks can achieve this.
  2. Test data in the UAT and Preprod environments should be refreshed regularly to ensure test applications and environments are at par with production environments. Data refresh activities should also be communicated to all testers.
  3. Enforcing an organization's test environment management framework will provide proper version tracking and visibility of the AUTs and eliminate the conflicts arising from shared environments.
  4. Continuous monitoring using enterprise tools should be set up to check the usage, errors, and downtime of any test environments.
  5. Regular test environment evaluations should be conducted to verify that the provisioned resources can still handle test traffic and ensure that there are no data gaps in the environments.
  6. QA teams should also get it right with environment documentation. Items such as configurations, dependencies, supporting tools, and any background running services within the test environments should be comprehensively documented. This cultivates team collaboration, reducing downtime and costly delays when troubleshooting environment issues.


Environment Decommissioning

If a testing environment is no longer needed or has reached the end of its useful life, a test administrator should raise an ITSM request to decommission it. Then, the running test applications should be stopped, third-party supporting tools disabled, a database backup taken, and database connections released. If no issues are raised from these preliminary decommissioning steps, infrastructure resources can power off the host machine for the test environments. This completes the test environment decommissioning process.



Without proper test environment management, things can go wrong fast. Bugs may slip unnoticed into production, QA teams are likely to struggle reproducing test issues, and release teams might grapple with unstable releases in production environments. Test environment management is, therefore, essential in setting up safe and isolated environments for assessing the functionality, reliability, and performance of applications before shipping them to production.


Written by Elly

Elly is a Software Test Engineer, with experience in API, Mobile, Web and Integration testing. Besides software testing and writing code, he is an experienced technical writer with great passion for sharing knowledge and learning experiences with others. He is currently working as a Software Quality Assurance Engineer in a Financial Institution.