Test Data Management (TDM) is a critical aspect of the software development and testing process. Poor test data can miss critical bugs, delay releases, and frustrate engineering teams. Test data management aims to effectively handle and control the test data for use in testing, which means that it should:
Before delving into the intricacies of Test Data Management, it's essential to understand the pivotal role that test data plays in software testing. Test data serves as the various inputs needed to simulate real world examples in lower environments, like local development environments and staging environments. The quality and relevance of test data can directly impact the accuracy and comprehensiveness of testing and development efforts. In other words, poor test data will miss real world applications that could potentially break your software in production. For example, if you do not factor in names with special characters, like Zöe or Eleña, then your application may break when it encounters those fields. More commonly you won’t account for all of the structural variations that can exist in your application. In the case of a property ownership in your database, you would have to account for the range of:
TDM solutions typically include one or more of the following components:
De-identification or data masking is crucial for protecting sensitive or personally identifiable information (PII) during testing. It involves replacing sensitive data with fictitious or masked values while preserving the data's format and structure. The objective is to generate data that cannot be tied back to any real world individuals. In order to avoid breaking the application you are developing, your de-identified data must maintain referential integrity.
2. Data Orchestration
Data orchestration involves the seamless flow of test data across different testing phases and environments. It ensures that the right data is available at the right time for testing. This often entails automating processes to bring together data from multiple sources, combining, and preparing it. It can also include tasks like provisioning resources and monitoring.
Subsetting involves creating subsets of production data to reduce storage and resource requirements while still representing critical data scenarios. This component enhances efficiency in managing and utilizing test data, while also minimizing your data footprint from a security perspective. It can be challenging to pull all of the necessary dependencies while keeping the dataset size small, making subsetting one of the more complex components to deliver effectively within TDM.
4. Database Virtualization
Database virtualization involves creating virtual, isolated copies of databases to provide a controlled and consistent test environment without having to worry about data formatting or where it is physically stored. It allows testing teams to work with real data without affecting the production database and without requiring additional data storage space.
5. Data Versioning
Data versioning ensures that different versions of test data are available for various stages of testing. Each version represents a change in the structure, contents, or condition of the data. This component helps in maintaining data consistency across different testing environments and iterations.
Test data governance is crucial for ensuring data quality, security, and compliance. While the most realistic data sits in your production database, as a result of recent advances in data privacy regulations, that data should not be accessible to everyone in your engineering organization. For example, if you have a 50 person engineering team for an ecommerce platform, using production data in development and testing puts you at risk of exposing sensitive information like credit card numbers to the entire department. With regulations like GDPR and CCPA, organizations are increasingly limited in how they can process and use production data. For software development and testing, masking or de-identifying production data prior to use in lower environments is now a legal imperative. In other words, your test environment should be stripped of all personally identifiable information.
Other ways to ensure compliance and privacy is to set data ownership practices, limiting who has access to PII, setting policies to enforce data masking, and incorporating auditing as a regular part of the data pipeline. Role based access and other features of TDMs can make this process easier.
Test Data Management offers a wide range of benefits to different stakeholders within an organization:
Developers benefit from TDM by having access to consistent and reliable test data, enabling them to identify and fix defects early in the development process.
Devops can leverage TDM to streamline the deployment pipeline by ensuring that test data is readily available and compatible with automated testing processes.
Quality Assurance teams can generate datasets for different testing phases and reduce time it takes to run through all of the test cases.
Engineering Orgs gain efficiency and productivity as it empowers them to execute comprehensive test suites, reduce resource costs (such as storage), and ultimately introduce stability into releases.
There are some common problems with test data that test data tools aim to remedy:
When deciding to go with a test data management platform, here is a checklist for features and functionality that you’ll want to evaluate.
Test Data Management is a fundamental aspect of modern software development and testing, ensuring that the right data is available at the right time to support efficient and effective testing efforts. By implementing TDM strategies and leveraging its core components, organizations can enhance software quality, reduce costs, and expedite their time-to-market while adhering to data security and compliance standards.
The Tonic test data platform is a modern TDM solution built for today's engineering organizations, for their complex data ecosystems, and for the CI/CD workflows that require realistic, secure test data in order to run effectively. To learn more, explore our product pages, or connect with our team.