In database management, maintaining service reliability while integrating new technology is a constant challenge. Blue/green deployments offer a solution, balancing innovation with stability, and ensuring that significant upgrades don’t disrupt the user experience. This strategy, akin to the canary releases detailed in Google’s SRE workbook, focuses on more than just minimizing downtime; it’s about building confidence in each transition, thoroughly vetting new versions under real-world conditions.

During my tenure as a Staff Site Reliability Engineer at Arcadia, I collaborated with engineering teams to enhance system reliability. A pivotal project involved refining database upgrades using AWS RDS Blue/Green deployments. The goal was clear: make database transitions safer and more predictable, not merely upgrading technology. By applying principles like canary releases and phased rollouts, every upgrade was meticulously tested and risks were systematically reduced. This post will walk you through a practical example from Arcadia, demonstrating how blue/green deployments can be effectively applied to RDS workloads, turning routine updates into well-planned, strategic operations.

Join me as we explore the nuances of blue/green deployments, link them with canary release strategies, and highlight the thorough planning and execution required. You’ll learn about a robust feature in the AWS ecosystem, a valuable addition to your SRE toolkit that enhances database management and operational reliability.

Overview of AWS RDS Blue/Green Deployments

Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a robust solution for managing database transitions with minimal disruption through its Blue/Green Deployment feature for RDS (Relational Database Service). This feature is particularly well-integrated with Amazon Aurora PostgreSQL and Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL, as highlighted in a recent AWS blog post.

Key Takeaways from the AWS Blog Post:

  • Fully Managed Deployments: AWS manages the complexities of the deployment process, allowing SREs and engineers to focus on strategic tasks rather than operational nuances.
  • Seamless Transition: The blue/green deployment approach ensures that the transition between database versions happens with minimal disruption, adhering to high standards of continuity and reliability.
  • Testing and Validation: Before the switch, the new version (green environment) can be thoroughly tested and validated, ensuring that any potential issues are addressed prior to going live.

Benefits of Using AWS RDS Blue/Green Deployments:

  • Enhanced Reliability: AWS RDS automates failover mechanisms and backup processes, ensuring that the system’s integrity is maintained during and after the transition.
  • Minimal Downtime: The switch between the old (blue) and new (green) environments is designed to be swift, significantly reducing downtime and mitigating the risk of service interruption.
  • Smooth Transition: The process allows for a controlled release, with the ability to revert to the blue environment if issues arise, ensuring a smooth transition and providing peace of mind.

By leveraging the Blue/Green Deployment feature in AWS RDS, engineering teams can achieve a balance between maintaining operational stability and introducing necessary updates or improvements to their database systems.

The Challenge at Arcadia

At Arcadia, our database infrastructure faced a critical juncture. Several of our key RDS clusters were operating on database engines nearing the end of their life (EOL), posing not just a technical challenge but also a strategic concern. The urgency to upgrade these databases was clear, but the path to achieving this, while ensuring operational stability and minimizing service disruption, was less straightforward.

The project’s primary goal was twofold: firstly, to migrate our RDS clusters from these EOL database engines to supported, more robust versions, and secondly, to establish a safer, more reliable process for database maintenance and future upgrades. This was not just about keeping pace with the latest technologies but about redefining how we handle critical database operations — making them safer, more predictable, and aligned with our broader operational excellence goals.

In this context, my role as a Staff Site Reliability Engineer was to spearhead the solution’s identification and implementation. Drawing upon my expertise in AWS services and database management, I was tasked with navigating the intricacies of this transition. The challenge was not just technical but also strategic — it required a deep understanding of the existing infrastructure, a clear vision of the desired outcome, and a meticulous approach to managing the transition. By harnessing the capabilities of AWS RDS Blue/Green deployments, I aimed to lead this change, ensuring that every step, from planning to execution, was aligned with our objectives of reliability, scalability, and minimal service interruption.

Implementation Strategy

At Arcadia, we were deeply invested in Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) practices, managing our AWS resources primarily through CloudFormation templates. To enhance our developer experience and streamline RDS cluster management, we utilized a Ruby tool called stax. Recognizing the need for a safer and more efficient process for database upgrades, I contributed to stax’s RDS mixin, significantly enhancing its capabilities to support blue/green deployments for RDS clusters.

Approach: The approach was methodical and centered around the blue/green deployment strategy. By implementing four new commands in the stax RDS mixin (create-upgrade-candidate, delete-upgrade-candidate, switchover-upgrade-candidate, tail-upgrade-candidate), I empowered our teams to manage RDS blue/green deployments more intuitively. This implementation mapped directly to the RDS API client methods, ensuring a seamless integration and an efficient workflow.

Tools and Processes: The integration with stax was pivotal. The create-upgrade-candidate command initiated the process, allowing the creation of a new database version, which could then be thoroughly tested. The switchover-upgrade-candidate command was used to switch the traffic to the new version once it was deemed stable, and delete-upgrade-candidate was used post-switch to clean up resources. The tail-upgrade-candidate command provided real-time feedback on the deployment status, enhancing visibility and control over the process. This suite of tools, now part of the stax toolkit, enabled a more controlled, reliable, and efficient upgrade process for our RDS clusters.

Results and Impact

The implementation of the blue/green deployment strategy using stax at Arcadia significantly improved our database management process. The key results and impacts of this initiative were:

  • Increased Operational Reliability: The new approach minimized disruptions during database upgrades. By testing in the green environment before switching, we significantly reduced the risk of introducing errors into the production environment.
  • Reduced Downtime: The ability to quickly switch between the old and new database environments led to a drastic reduction in service downtime. Our database upgrades, which previously involved extensive planning and potential service interruptions, were now accomplished with minimal impact on our users.
  • Enhanced Developer Experience: The integration of blue/green deployment into our stax toolkit simplified the upgrade process for our engineering teams. This improvement streamlined their workflow, allowing them to focus more on development and less on operational challenges.
  • Scalability and Future Proofing: The new system not only addressed our immediate needs but also positioned us well for future growth. It provided a scalable framework that could be easily adapted for upcoming database upgrades and maintenance tasks.

Through these results, the project demonstrated the effectiveness of combining robust tooling with strategic deployment methodologies, underscoring the importance of innovation in operational processes for continuous improvement in technology infrastructure.

Lessons Learned and Best Practices

The implementation of AWS RDS Blue/Green deployments at Arcadia offered valuable lessons and best practices that can be broadly applicable:

  • Expect and Plan for Behavioral Nuances: During initial tests in development and UAT environments, we observed that AWS RDS switches the blue environment to read-only mode during switchover, impacting active workloads. This is critical for preventing data loss but can cause application-specific issues.
  • Proactive Workload Management: To counteract connection issues during switchover, we added steps to scale down our workloads before the transition and reset connections immediately after. This involved performing a cluster writer failover on the green environment post-switchover, ensuring smooth reconnection before scaling the workloads back up.
  • Iterative Testing and Adaptation: This experience underscored the importance of iterative testing and adaptation in operational strategies. What works in theory often needs fine-tuning in practice, especially in complex environments.
  • Documentation and Communication: Keeping detailed documentation of the process and openly communicating with all involved teams was essential for ensuring a smooth transition and for future reference.

These insights not only enhanced our approach to database upgrades but also provided a framework for handling similar challenges in the future. They exemplify the importance of agility and preparedness in operational strategy, particularly in an environment as dynamic as cloud database management.


The journey of implementing AWS RDS Blue/Green deployments at Arcadia has been both challenging and rewarding. It highlighted the critical importance of careful planning, innovative problem-solving, and continuous adaptation in database management. This experience has not only fortified Arcadia’s RDS workloads but also provided a blueprint for future operational strategies.

Embracing such advanced deployment methodologies is essential in the fast-paced world of technology. It’s about more than just keeping systems running; it’s about ensuring they evolve safely and efficiently. As we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in cloud computing, strategies like blue/green deployments will remain integral to managing complex infrastructure changes with confidence.

Remember, the key to successful database management lies in balancing technological advancements with operational stability. By sharing this journey, I hope to inspire and equip fellow engineers and leaders to navigate similar challenges with greater ease and assurance.