Ulta Beauty Speeds Time-to-Market By Easing and Accelerating Deployments

Ulta Beauty sought to improve guest experience by developing its digital store of the future. Harness CD helped achieve this, increasing deployment volumes 50x.

By
Harness
Published on
8/28/2023
  • Faster time-to-market for key project
  • 50x increase in deployment volumes
  • Time saved for developers and DevOps teams

Ulta Beauty is the largest U.S. beauty retailer and the premier beauty destination for cosmetics, fragrance, skin care, hair care products, and salon services. The company offers a complete beauty experience with more than 25,000 products from over 600 well-established and emerging beauty brands sold online and at its 1,300+ stores across all 50 states. Ulta Beauty also has more than 39 million loyalty members and over 40,000 employees, helping drive nearly $9 billion in annual sales. 

Challenges

Ulta Beauty wanted to improve its guest experience by developing its digital store of the future to stand out among the crowd and better cater to today’s growing consumer demands. This was a fundamental shift for the company as building the new experience with speed and reliability in mind involved moving its ecommerce platform to Google Cloud from an on-premise data center. However, friction across the delivery process began to impede the transition and grow the scope for developers.

“Continuous delivery (CD) was hugely important to us,” recalled Michael Alderson, Principal Cloud Architect at Ulta Beauty. “Our goal was to get out of the way of our developers and take work off their plates. We needed to build a delivery process that was both seamless and transparent for them.”

Ulta Beauty also quickly outgrew its existing delivery tool. Alderson pointed to maintenance and troubleshooting processes that were “less than ideal” and other issues that could occur when the tool was left to run for extended periods of time. It all hastened the company’s decision to make a change.

“We want to spend time using the business rules, not maintaining the platform,” said Alderson. “This was our opportunity to empower developers to spin up or down a new environment without worrying about the details.”

When exploring new CD solutions, Ulta Beauty knew they needed a tool that would allow them to continue using its Helm charts to manage Kubernetes, employ environment variables to port CI data into its CD process, and integrate tightly with tools already in place like Jira. 

Solution

Realizing its current deployment tooling couldn’t support its needs, Ulta Beauty considered new solutions for CD and, ultimately, landed on Harness Continuous Delivery & GitOps as the best choice.

“Once we saw Harness, it was immediately evident this was the direction we needed to go in,” said Alderson. “Harness was SaaS-driven, had more security than we could deploy in-house, and provided transparency for troubleshooting. It was also easy to integrate with Jira, so we could pass information to developers or deploy an app to different landscapes just by changing the ticket status.”

Using Harness, Ulta Beauty organized its Helm charts and created reusable variables to templatize the information throughout its CI/CD pipeline, making deployments more repeatable and less manual in nature. Combined with the Jira integration and streamlining more of the overall delivery process, Ulta Beauty was able to increase deployment velocity with Harness. 

“Harness lets developers spin up a new environment in just a few minutes,” added Alderson. “They don’t have to worry about the inner workings of the deployment. It’s empowering them to do what they need to do without any hurdles.” 

Harness helped Ulta Beauty overcome its key challenges — troubleshooting, maintenance, organization, and integration — while expediting the delivery process for developers. Better yet, the company could do it all with a Harness rollout that took “maybe an hour,” according to Alderson.

“We’ve just found benefit after benefit with Harness,” Alderson said. “In under a month, we were in full production, able to do canaries, get ephemeral environments spun up, organize and optimize our Helm templates, and connect with Jira. Every strength Harness has lined up with what we needed.”

Results

Ulta Beauty has now expanded Harness to CD processes beyond just its digital store of the future to seven more projects across multiple teams. Developers can deploy faster with more confidence and consistency, without getting bogged down by repetitive tasks. When an issue does arise, Harness provides clear visibility to uncover the root cause. For DevOps teams, the ability to provision infrastructure on-demand, verify deployment health automatically with Continuous Verification, automate rollbacks, and standardize around pipeline templates with Harness saved countless hours of work. Enforcing pipeline governance policies and relying on audit trails to keep compliant also played an integral role in scaling their CD processes effectively. 

“Time-to-market for our eCommerce platform was a huge benefit of Harness,” Alderson said. “We saved months of time. Months. Harness really came through in a big way for that project.”

Faster, more streamlined processes with Harness have also drastically increased the total volume of deployments. When developers used to rely on local sandbox environments before Harness, Alderson estimated Ulta Beauty would deploy only about 100 environments per month. Now, it’s well over 5,000 per month with over 15,000 instances deployed at any given time. According to Alderson, “Harness helped us increase our deployment volumes by 50 times.”

“We’re more agile and can quickly give developers the environments they need,” said Alderson. “Teams are on a two-week delivery cycle and eventually want to move to daily. Harness will allow us to get there.”

Alderson added that the speed enabled by Harness extends across projects and teams, saying it saves “tons of time” for DevOps and developers alike. People can use that time for more strategic tasks, key projects, or simply logging off in time for dinner.

“The big benefit of Harness comes down to one thing: quality of life,” concluded Alderson. 

To learn more about Harness Continuous Delivery & GitOps, visit: https://www.harness.io/products/continuous-delivery

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