How can it be determined if a test environment is appropriate?
This is a difficult question in that it typically involves tradeoffs between ‘better’ test environments and cost. The ultimate situation would be a collection of test environments that mimic exactly all possible hardware, software, network, data, and usage characteristics of the expected live environments in which the software will be used. For many software applications, this would involve a nearly infinite number of variations, and would clearly be impossible. And for new software applications, it may also be impossible to predict all the variations in environments in which the application will run. For very large, complex systems, duplication of a ‘live’ type of environment may be prohibitively expensive.
In reality judgements must be made as to which characteristics of a software application environment are important, and test environments can be selected on that basis after taking into account time, budget, and logistical constraints. Such judgements are preferably made by those who have the most appropriate technical knowledge and experience, along with an understanding of risks and constraints.
For smaller or low risk projects, an informal approach is common, but for larger or higher risk projects (in terms of money, property, or lives) a more formalized process involving multiple personnel and significant effort and expense may be appropriate.
In some situations it may be possible to mitigate the need for maintenance of large numbers of varied test environments. One approach might be to coordinate internal testing with beta testing efforts. Another possible mitigation approach is to provide built-in automated tests that run automatically upon installation of the application by end-users. These tests might then automatically report back information, via the internet, about the application environment and problems encountered. Another possibility is the use of virtual environments instead of physical test environments, using such tools as VMWare or VirtualBox.