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ODE – Migrating Configuration Data

by | Aug 7, 2015

We have recently been discussing various ways we can promote our configuration data for Optimal Data Engine (ODE) from one environment to the next.  Our config data is the heart and soul of ODE, it is the foundation for the entire engine.

The config in ODE is the relational data model we have built that holds all of the configuration required to make ODE run.  It includes definitions for all source and targets, as well as any mappings.  Being such an integral part of ODE, it is essential we are able seamlessly promote new or updated configuration code from one environment to the next.  Ultimately, it comes down to making this process as clean and easy for our customers as possible.  We don’t want them to have to deal with the nitty gritty of a code release.  We want to package our config up in a nice little bundle, deliver it, and have them install it without breaking a sweat.

Over a number of discussions a list of different options was collected on potential ways to capture changes and migrate the config code:

  • Compare scripts between environments to identify differences
  • A flag column to identify new config entries to be promoted
  • A back-end logging mechanism
  • A trigger based mechanism
  • A SQL merge statement
  • SQL insert, update and delete scripts
  • Version or release numbers to indicate a group of changes to be promoted
  • Version or release dates to indicate a range of changes to be promoted
  • Changes pushed as code into GIT and then pulled into the new environment

It obviously wasn’t as simple as picking one item off the list.  Many options had different merits, and the end result ended up being a bit of a mash between the options and they continue to evolve as discussions continue.  Two key challenges became evident during these discussions.  Firstly, we need to get all our ducks in a line so we know what we are releasing, and that we are also releasing it in the right order.  Secondly, we need to devise a simple solution for packaging it all up and releasing it into the next environment.  None of this should impact the customer, or cause them any undue stress.

Challenge One – Versioning

Multiple development streams can occur at any one time on the config and this means each section of code can be at a different development phase to another.  We need a way to distinguish between what is ready to be released and what is still being developed and tested.  We also have to take into account the various dependencies that may exist between different pieces of config and ensure that piece one gets released before piece two etc.  This makes it unrealistic to release the entire config code, as it currently stands, into the next environment.  We need a process to select and choose what we want to release and when we want to release it.

In order to successfully do this, we need to develop a tightly controlled versioning process, firstly to keep track of what has already been released, and secondly to bundle together specific changes into releases while also taking into account dependencies between pieces of config.  The simplest approach to this is to include a version column on all of our config tables.  This could also be called a release number.  We toyed with the idea of using version date, which would enable us to select all config after a specified date, however a version number gave us slightly more flexibility as we could distinguish between two new pieces of config that may have the same version date.  The version number will be controlled by the developer, instead of a trigger for instance, as we need control of what changes go in what release.  While a trigger may give us automation, it limits us in distinguishing between concurrent changes that need to be implemented separately.

In some cases, our config data may be created or updated on a regular basis.  Decision tables are a prime example of this.  Keeping control of versioning and when to release new rules from this table may become rather chaotic.  For this challenge, we have discussed the idea of an “in progress” table where new rules and mappings in development are first created in their “in progress” table, only moving to the final decision table once they are ready for release.

It is essential we keep a history of all changes that have happened in the config tables.  For this, we can use a trigger that automatically populates a history table.  This provides us with a number of benefits including being able to determine if a row has been inserted, updated or deleted, and also gives us a base for rolling back a release.  An alternative approach would be to create a view over the top of the history tables, with only the current rows.  This means we would only have to maintain one table.

We also need to know what is the current release in subsequent environments.  We can do this by implementing an audit table that keeps track of what release has been implemented in an environment.  This table can track valuable information such as who commissioned the release and when the release happened.

Challenge Two – Packaging

The next step is determining how we are going to package the code so we can effortlessly promote and execute the code without unnecessary manual steps.  We decided the best approach for this is to create a script that automatically generates a SQL merge statement containing any data pertaining to that release number.  Using simple dynamic SQL, we can extract all the data we need from the config tables by filtering on the release number.  Each version number encompasses one release, so each row that has a version of 5 will be released as a whole.

This code could then be pushed to Git, ready for another developer to pull it down and execute in the subsequent environment.  A SQL merge statement gives us the flexibility to handle inserts, updates and deletes while also being able to package it all up nicely into a single piece of code.

While this approach makes it easy for a customer to accept or install a new release of config data, it also enables us to rollback any release using a combination of the version number and config history tables.  Should a release fail, or if we decide to “clean out” a development version, we can delete everything with that particular version number and then re-implement any updates using the config history tables.  A delete script can easily be written for any release using the version number as a filter, and the update script from the history table into the current config can be a standardised script.

That’s the original plan formulated, now comes the fun task of putting it all into action.  No doubt we will come across a few hurdles, and we will have to adapt accordingly with some ideas replaced by others.

Until next time, Nic!

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