ClearPeople recommends that Atlas customers consider maintaining a non-production environment. The non-production environment is a separate Microsoft 365 tenant dedicated to non-production purposes. It does not have to be dedicated to Atlas.
Some customers who do not already have a separate Microsoft 365 tenant for non-production purposes often ask why it is recommended and why their main production tenant is not good enough for this purpose. This article aims to answer both questions.
What is the purpose of a Non-Production environment?
First, please note that while a non-production environment is often referred to as UAT (User Acceptance Testing) environment, it is in fact not intended as such in its true meaning. As Atlas is an evergreen platform and is updated in your tenant on a quarterly basis, ClearPeople’s deployment approach is largely (if not completely) automated.
By the time a customer gets an update to their Microsoft 365 environment(s), the Atlas product release cycle has already gone through several Development and QA environment iterations, as well as the actual UAT process within ClearPeople.
The purpose of the recommended non-production environment is therefore not for customers to accept (or bug test) an Atlas release as this has already been done through the development release process. The primary purpose of the non-production environment is for customers using Atlas in BAU (Business as Usual) to early sight of new features or feature updates, as well as a sandbox for training etc, before the update gets deployed to production.
For customers with non-production tenants, ClearPeople can stagger the timing of deployments so that there is a delay of a few weeks between the deployment to non-production and the deployment to the customer production tenant.
The benefits to the customer of this approach include:
- Ability to get familiar with new/updated features for support, helpdesk, Atlas Administrators and even Atlas Champions.
- Benefits of changed or new features can be determined in advance to see how they should be used (if at all) within the production environment. Comms plans can then be considered if necessary.
- Updates to internally produced training guides can be done before updates reach production.
- Training sessions can be carried out with low risk allowing training delegates to build-up experience in Atlas administration and new features.
Why do I need two Microsoft 365 tenants?
Technically, there are a number of specific reasons why it is not possible to mix two Atlas releases within a single tenant.
Atlas is a digital workspace platform product on and within Microsoft 365. As such, it leverages many of the same system and management features as the core applications within Microsoft 365.
For example, the Atlas content management and information management features rely not only on SharePoint, but also on the core backend features of SharePoint, such as:
- SharePoint Online Tenant Search configuration, including Managed Properties, Result Sources and more
- SharePoint Online Tenant Term Store
- SharePoint Online Tenant User Profiles
- The App Catalogue
Atlas also utilises a central Atlas Configuration workspace that holds Tenant-wide properties that customers may wish to change in order to test certain new features or functions of the platform.
Another example is the centralised Teams Administration, where the Atlas applications for Teams are configured, and where Viva Connections is also configured.
There is no option in Microsoft 365 to have “sandbox” versions of these.
In conclusion, by separating production and non-production environments customers can get early visibility of new features and perform isolated evaluation of them whilst minimising impact on end users.
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