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Ephemeral Environments in Cloud Infrastructure: Use Cases and Benefits

Explore the benefits and use cases of ephemeral environments in cloud infrastructure. Learn how to optimize development workflows and streamline testing with temporary infrastructure.

Zan Faruqui
May 16, 2023

We can all agree that managing dynamic cloud infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming.

Utilizing ephemeral environments in the cloud offers a solution by providing temporary infrastructure that meets the needs of development teams and workloads, then disappears when no longer required.

In this article, we will define ephemeral environments, explore their benefits, look at implementations across major cloud providers, review use cases showing how teams leverage ephemeral resources for testing and staging, and provide best practices to optimize these environments while ensuring governance.

Introduction to Ephemeral Environments

Ephemeral environments are temporary infrastructure environments used for development, testing, and deployment workflows. They provide many benefits over long-lived environments in terms of cost, efficiency, and security.

Defining Ephemeral Environments

Ephemeral environments are created on-demand when needed and automatically deprovisioned when no longer in use. Key characteristics include:

  • Temporary: Last from minutes to days depending on use case
  • Automated: Programmatically provisioned and deprovisioned
  • Self-service: Users can create environments without manual work
  • Scalable: Easily support many parallel environments

Compared to persistent QA or staging servers, ephemeral envs provide more flexibility and scale.

The Role of Ephemeral Environments in DevOps

Ephemeral environments integrate into CI/CD pipelines and developer workflows:

  • Feature Development: Provide isolated env for rapidly testing changes
  • Pull Request Validation: Verify PRs before merging code
  • Integration Testing: Test builds across services and dependencies
  • User Acceptance Testing: Get early feedback from stakeholders
  • Smoke Testing: Validate builds before promotion

This facilitates rapid iteration without disrupting existing long-lived resources.

Benefits of Using Ephemeral Environments

Key advantages of ephemeral environments:

  • Cost: Only use cloud resources when active, reducing waste
  • Efficiency: Automate environment creation and teardown
  • Isolation: Safely test changes without impacting other users
  • Scalability: Support many parallel workflows
  • Security: Limit exposure by deprovisioning after use

Overall, ephemeral environments streamline infrastructure workflows in cloud-based development.

What is an ephemeral environment?

An ephemeral environment is a temporary software development environment that exists only for a limited period of time.

Ephemeral environments are created on-demand when needed and automatically deleted when no longer required. They provide developers a clean, isolated space to build, test and experiment with application code without impacting longer-living environments.

Some key characteristics of ephemeral environments:

  • Short-lived - Meant to last hours or days, not weeks or months
  • Automated provisioning - Created on-demand with infrastructure as code
  • Self-service - Developers can spin up environments without ops support
  • Disposable - Safely deleted without long term effects
  • Isolated - Separate from other environments to prevent issues

Ephemeral environments empower developers to freely build, iterate and collaborate without worrying about lasting effects. They bring velocity and freedom to the development process.

Platform teams use ephemeral environments to streamline internal workflows. For example, spinning up disposable environments for pull request validation, exploratory testing, experimentation, and more.

What are the benefits of ephemeral environment?

Ephemeral environments provide a number of key benefits:

No resource conflicts

Once an ephemeral environment has served its purpose, it can be deleted without leaving behind any artifacts that could cause issues down the road. This prevents resource conflicts from piling up over time.

Lower costs

Ephemeral environments only use resources when spun up for active development or testing. When deleted, you stop paying for those resources, keeping costs low.

Quick environment provisioning

Ephemeral environments can be rapidly spun up on demand when needed and torn down just as quickly. This improves developer productivity by removing wait times.

Improved security

Data and credentials aren't persisted when an ephemeral environment is deleted. This reduces security risks from abandoned infrastructure containing sensitive data.

Overall, ephemeral environments empower teams to provision infrastructure quickly, use it temporarily, and delete it securely without worrying about lingering effects over time. The disposable nature keeps the focus on building products rather than managing cloud resources.

What is ephemeral system?

Ephemeral environments are temporary replicas of production or staging environments used for testing before deploying to the main environment. They provide several key benefits:

Faster Testing

Ephemeral environments can spin up quickly, allowing tests to start faster without waiting for infrastructure changes. This enables rapid iterations.

Lower Costs

Since ephemeral environments exist only as needed, they avoid overhead from maintaining permanent non-production environments. Their temporary nature makes them cost-efficient.

Reduced Risk

Changes can be validated in an identical environment first without impacting the main production or staging environments. This isolation reduces risk from changes.

Flexible Scaling

The on-demand nature of ephemeral environments allows flexible scaling up and down to meet temporary capacity needs during testing.

Ultimately, ephemeral environments facilitate agile development by empowering teams to reliably test changes first. Their temporary existence provides flexibility without excess overhead.

What is an ephemeral site?

Ephemeral environments are temporary application deployments designed to improve developer workflows. They provide developers with on-demand sandbox environments to test features or changes without impacting permanent infrastructure.

Here are some key things to know about ephemeral environments:

Flexible and Disposable

Ephemeral sites are flexible and disposable. They can be created on-demand for new branches, pull requests, or experiments. Once the task is complete, the environment can be easily deleted without leftover resources.

Automated Setup

The ephemeral site and all its dependencies can be automatically provisioned based on configuration. This saves time compared to manually configuring test environments.

Isolated and Secure

Each ephemeral environment runs in an isolated container or namespace separate from other environments and production. This allows testing changes safely without risk of impact.


Ephemeral sites utilize compute resources only when active. When deleted, you no longer pay for those resources. This optimized model lowers infrastructure costs.

Improved Productivity

By providing automated ephemeral testing environments, developers can try ideas and innovations faster. This leads to more experimentation, faster feedback, and ultimately more productivity.

In summary, ephemeral sites give developers flexible and isolated environments to validate changes more efficiently. Leveraging ephemeral infrastructure improves developer experience and accelerates delivery of innovation.

Ephemeral Environments in Major Cloud Providers

Ephemeral environments refer to temporarily provisioned infrastructure that exists only for as long as it is needed. Major cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud offer capabilities to automate the creation and teardown of these ephemeral environments.

Ephemeral Environments in AWS

AWS provides several services that can be used to build ephemeral environments:

  • EC2 - Launch On-Demand instances that automatically terminate at the end of their billing hour. Use spot instances for additional cost savings.
  • CloudFormation - Define templates to repeatedly create standardized ephemeral stacks.
  • Elastic Beanstalk - Quickly deploy applications on EC2 instances that auto-scale based on demand.

Example use cases:

  • Provision testing environments that dispose of themselves after tests complete.
  • Scale batch processing resources that spin up and down to match workloads.

Key benefits include controlling costs and optimizing infrastructure usage.

Utilizing Ephemeral Environments in Azure

Azure offers comparable capabilities for ephemeral workloads:

  • Virtual Machines - Azure VMs can be set to deprovision at a scheduled time.
  • Resource Groups - Group related resources to be created, updated, and deleted together.
  • Azure Automation - Automate the entire lifecycle of resource groups and VMs.

Use cases:

  • Build developer sandboxes that exist only for a coding session.
  • Schedule pipelines to spin up agents when builds run.

Ephemeral architecture reduces overhead and manages fluctuating demands.

Ephemeral Environment Solutions with Kubernetes

Kubernetes facilitates container-based ephemeral environments:

  • Namespaces - Partition clusters into isolated resource groups.
  • Jobs - Run batch processes on pods that terminate upon completion.
  • Horizontal Pod Autoscaling - Programmatically scale pod replicas to match workload.

Applications include:

  • CI/CD testing environments created for each pipeline execution.
  • Machine learning model training on auto-scaling GPU clusters.

Kubernetes enables organizations to maximize flexibility and optimize costs.

Ephemeral Environments for Different Use Cases

Ephemeral environments provide a flexible and efficient way to provision infrastructure on-demand. As their name implies, ephemeral environments are temporary—they can be created, used, and automatically destroyed as needed. This makes them well-suited for a variety of short-term use cases within the development lifecycle.

Ephemeral Environments for Testing

Ephemeral testing environments are immensely valuable for quality assurance and validation. They allow testers to spin up identical clones of the production stack when needed. Key benefits include:

  • Eliminating Test Environment Sprawl: Instead of maintaining numerous persistent testing environments, ephemeral envs can be created for each test run and destroyed afterward. This maximizes efficiency.
  • Production Parity Testing: Ephemeral envs provide exact replicas of production infrastructure, enabling accurate integration, regression and staging tests.
  • Improved Test Coverage: By removing the friction of configuring test environments, dev teams can afford to run more rigorous tests.
  • Lower Costs: Ephemeral testing infrastructure only runs when tests execute, reducing waste.

Enhancing Continuous Integration with Ephemeral Environments

Incorporating ephemeral environments into CI/CD pipelines unlocks many advantages:

  • Parallel Execution: Multiple short-lived environments enable parallel test runs, accelerating pipelines.
  • Consistency: Ephemeral envs mitigate flakiness by providing pristine infrastructure for each pipeline run.
  • Resource Optimization: Environments scale precisely to pipeline demands instead of overprovisioning.

Overall, ephemeral envs maximize the velocity, efficiency and stability of modern CI/CD workflows.

Dynamic Staging Environments

Ephemeral staging environments allow teams to instantly replicate production infrastructure on-demand for release testing and final validation. Key advantages include:

  • Identical Environments: Ephemeral staging mirrors production, enabling realistic testing.
  • Safety: Changes can be validated without risk before going live.
  • Efficiency: Environments initialize rapidly compared to manually configuring traditional staging stacks.

In summary, ephemeral environments streamline infrastructure provisioning to enhance testing, CI/CD, staging and more within the development lifecycle. Their temporary nature makes them a versatile primitive for optimizing cloud-based development.

Orchestrating Ephemeral Environments with Infrastructure as Code

Infrastructure as code (IaC) tools like Terraform provide a powerful way to automate the orchestration of ephemeral environments in the cloud. By codifying infrastructure into declarative configuration files, IaC enables developers to spin up and tear down environments on-demand.

Leveraging Terraform for Ephemeral Environments

Terraform is purpose-built for provisioning infrastructure dynamically. Its state management and idempotent apply process lend themselves naturally to creating ephemeral architecture:

  • Terraform state allows you to track ephemeral resources. By default, state is ephemeral and cleared with terraform destroy. For longer-term instances, remote state in S3 can retain history.
  • terraform apply handles incremental changes without destroying resources. You can freely create, update, and destroy resources as needed.
  • Modules parameterize configuration, promoting reusability of infrastructure across environments.
  • Counts can be used to spin up clusters of resources in parallel. Combine with lifecycle settings to stagger creates and deletes.

For example, to orchestrate ephemeral testing setups, you could utilize Terraform to deploy fresh dev/QA stacks nightly. These tear themselves down automatically the next day, minimizing waste.

Automating Ephemeral Environment Provisioning

To scale ephemeral infrastructure, it's important to automate provisioning flows. Options include:

  • CLI scripts - Script your Terraform runs for different environments. Parameterize stack variants.
  • CI/CD pipelines - Model environments as code stages. Spin up infra on-demand then tear down.
  • HTTP APIs - Build a web interface or API for users to self-initiate Terraform.
  • Scheduled workflows - Use cloud schedulers like AWS Step Functions for timed builds.

Combining these approaches lets you trigger fresh infra creation for every code change or on a routine basis.

Best Practices for IaC in Ephemeral Infrastructure

When utilizing IaC for ephemeral architecture, follow these guidelines:

  • Abstract resource properties - Reference variables and data sources instead of hard-coding attributes.
  • Validate early, validate often - Continuously check validity of plans to avoid apply errors.
  • Implement lifecycle settings - Configure creates/destroys to avoid resource drift or issues on redeployment.
  • Monitor usage - Log and analyze provisioning activity to right-size your environments.
  • Modularize configurations - Break out reusable component modules to simplify maintenance.

Adhering to IaC best practices will streamline your ability to safely create and destroy cloud resources on-demand via code.

Real-world Implementations and Case Studies

Ephemeral environments provide many benefits for real-world applications across various industries. Here are some examples of how companies have utilized ephemeral infrastructure to meet their business needs.

E-Commerce Platform's Use of Ephemeral Environments for Load Testing

An online retailer needed to test how their e-commerce platform would perform under Black Friday traffic. By spinning up an exact copy of their production environment as an ephemeral environment, they could run intensive load tests to identify performance bottlenecks without impacting their live site. Once testing was complete, the ephemeral environment could be easily torn down.

Key benefits:

  • Simulate real-world traffic spikes on a clone of the production stack
  • Test to scale limits without affecting live platform
  • Identify optimizations to improve site performance under heavy load
  • Cost-effective to run short-term load tests at scale

Media Outlet's Application of Ephemeral Infrastructure during High-Visibility Events

A major media site uses ephemeral environments to flawlessly live stream high-profile events with massive concurrent viewership. By dynamically provisioning resources like computing power and bandwidth only during the event lifespan, they can ensure a smooth streaming experience for customers without overprovisioning infrastructure year-round for short-term usage spikes.


  • Manage ephemeral compute capacity to handle sudden traffic surges
  • Pay only for temporary resources needed to stream major events
  • Reduce infrastructure costs by releasing unneeded capacity post-event
  • Maintain flexibility to scale up and down to meet real-time demand

Tech Startup's Development and Testing Cycle with Ephemeral Environments

A startup focused on rapid prototyping and testing of new app features leverages ephemeral dev environments that can be quickly spun up as needed by developers, then disposed of once the work is done. By standardizing environment configurations and automating provisioning and teardown, they accelerate development velocity.


  • Accelerate prototyping by provisioning disposable dev environments on demand
  • Standardization provides consistent testing environments and metrics
  • Automation simplifies management overhead to create/destroy environments
  • No need to maintain idle resources between development iterations

In summary, ephemeral architecture unlocks flexibility and optimization potential across industries like e-commerce, media, and software development. The temporary and dynamic nature of these environments can benefit workload testing, traffic spike handling, cloud cost reduction, and accelerating software delivery.

Best Practices and Recommendations for Ephemeral Environments

Ephemeral environments provide many benefits, but must be properly managed to maximize efficiency. Here are some best practices:

Effective Management Tools for Ephemeral Environments

Using infrastructure as code (IaC) tools like Terraform or CloudFormation allows you to define ephemeral infrastructure in code. This makes orchestration and destruction automated and repeatable. Other tools like Ansible, Kubernetes, and AWS CDK can further enhance environment management.

To track costs, enable detailed AWS Cost Explorer reports or use third-party tools. Destroy unused resources rapidly to minimize unnecessary spend. Schedule pipelines using Cron jobs or similar tools to manage environment lifecycles.

Cost-Optimization Strategies for Ephemeral Infrastructure

Spot instances can reduce EC2 costs significantly. Auto Scaling Groups with Spot Fleet can replace instances if prices fluctuate.

Shutdown schedules for non-production infrastructure saves money by only running environments when needed.

Analyze usage data to right-size instance types. Use AWS Savings Plans for workloads with predictable usage.

Ensuring Compliance and Governance

Use IAM roles and policies to grant least privilege access. Monitor API calls with AWS CloudTrail.

Encrypt sensitive data at rest and in transit. Manage access with security groups and NACLs.

Log activity for auditing and embed compliance checks in CI/CD pipelines. Schedule recurring security assessments.

With proper precautions, ephemeral infrastructure can comply with regulations like HIPAA and PCI DSS.


Ephemeral environments provide a strategic advantage for cloud platforms by enabling efficient resource utilization and streamlined development workflows. As highlighted throughout this article, some of the key benefits they offer include:

  • Cost savings - Ephemeral environments efficiently leverage unused capacity by providing temporary infrastructure only when needed, reducing waste and saving money.
  • Agility - On-demand ephemeral environments empower developers to quickly spin up resources for testing/experimentation without procurement delays.
  • Productivity - Automating environment creation, updating, and tear-down saves significant manual effort for developers.
  • Security - Ephemeral environments provide isolation for testing untrusted code and help limit attack surfaces by existing only temporarily.

Recap of Ephemeral Environments' Advantages

Future Prospects of Ephemeral Environments

As cloud adoption continues growing exponentially, ephemeral environments will likely play an increasingly essential role in optimizing infrastructure utilization while meeting business demands for agility. We anticipate further innovation in areas like:

By embedding ephemeral principles deeper into cloud platforms, businesses can reap the benefits of elasticity, efficiency and developer productivity.