A concept of “environment” permeates software development lifecycle. No application is released into production directly from developers PCs. There has to be a place where an application can go through various stages of testing. We use different environments for that purpose, e.g., “QA environment” or “acceptance environment”.

An “environment” is just a collection of resources which could include middleware and OS/filesystem resources. In the simplest case, an environment for a J2EE web application consists of a single application server. Complex applications consisting of multiple components could utilize many different resources, including several different middleware products (e.g., app server, Web server, messaging infrastructure, ESB).

For any IT organization it is important to know how their resources are used. ITIL has a concept of “CMDB”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CMDB that’s supposed to contain all IT resources. However, the granularity of CMDB implementations is usually too high (typically, a server level) which makes it difficult to use for software development. Also, CMDB is not really integrated with development processes and tools, it’s kind of a thing on its own.

Ideally, the environment concept must be supported by development, version control, change management and build/deploy tools. Environment metadata can be used to automatically install an application in a given environment. Testing tools can use this metadata to generate “smog” tests or to adjust existing test cases (e.g., by using different URLs/endpoints). There should be a capability to produce various reports showing what version of what application is installed in what environment.

Sadly, all these wonderful features are mostly missing from modern development and CM tools. Developers rely on scripting and informal use of environment variables. Essentially, today, each application has its own “selfish” view of what an environment is. This makes providing consistent operations and support difficult. This is especially true in virtualized environments where each logical environment may consist of many different VMs.

Case in point are build servers and build tools. I looked at several build servers and found explicit environment support only in “AntHill”:http://www.anthillpro.com/html/products/anthillpro/default.html. All the others I looked at (several, I won’t name them) omit the environment concept completely (except for some lame support of environment variables). To me, this is really odd. While build servers have their root in continues integration, their key selling point in an enterprise is actually release management (at lease for commercial products; there are many great open source build servers to choose from if continuous integration is the only goal). So how can a release process be automated if the foundation of this process is missing entirely from the tool that’s supposed to help with the automation?

Build tools are the same way. There is some deployment support in both Maven (“Cargo plugin”:http://cargo.codehaus.org/Maven2+plugin) and Ant, but no way of supporting environment as an entity.