85% of Engineers Say They’ll Use a Dev Portal in 2024
We know that the platform engineering movement has been gathering pace over the last year with great potential to break down cross-organizational silos. Platform engineering’s key enabler is the internal developer portal, which had its big breakout moment in 2023 as engineering leaders sought to reduce the cognitive load on developers, drive productivity and improve engineering standards.
But rather than presuming that this is the trend, we wanted to ask engineering leaders where their companies really stood in regard to both the emerging discipline and the primary tool to drive it. So, true to tech company form, Port has compiled a 2024 “State of Internal Developer Portal” report. We surveyed 100 engineering leaders from companies using a microservice architecture in production and asked them about their current setup, and their thoughts and motivations behind platform engineering and portal usage.
Platform Engineering and Internal Developer Portals Go Hand in Hand
We found that virtually all (99%) of the engineering leaders we surveyed had begun using platform engineering in their organizations, with 53% reporting that they’ve begun in the past year. Meanwhile, the vast majority (85%) of respondents said they’d either started implementing internal developer portals or were planning to do so in the next year.
Companies are clearly dedicated to incorporating portals as a core part of their commitment to platform engineering; the two elements go hand in hand and engineers acknowledge that an internal developer portal serves as the developer interface to the platform. Nearly everyone wants an internal developer platform and portals are how to get there.
There are also differences when it comes to the size of the companies. In smaller companies with fewer than 300 developers, there is less reported use of portals (43%), compared to larger companies (57%). This makes sense given that platform engineering and internal developer portals rely on larger engineering teams where greater microservice complexity, onboarding needs and DevOps-developer silos usually appear. But smaller companies are not standing still, with 45% planning to add a portal within the next 12 months, compared to 26% in larger organizations. So, regardless of size, platform engineering and internal developer portals adoption look set to continue to increase over the next 12 months.
What Is An Internal Developer Portal?
There’s nothing hugely surprising so far in our findings, but when we asked the respondents that were either using or planning to use a portal, what type of portal this was, there was a surprise in the response. While over half (53%) used what would typically be defined as an internal developer portal, be it Backstage, a developer portal based on a commercial product or an in-house developer portal, 35% suggested spreadsheets with microservice data was their “porta”’ of choice. This is despite the approach — which is highly manual and without self-service capabilities — being exactly what internal developer portals are aiming to shift organizations away from. A further 12% said they used a self-service CI-based interface as a portal.
The market may be mistakenly assuming that software catalog capability in a spreadsheet or a self-service CI constitute an internal developer portal. As it’s still an emerging space, over time engineers will become more aware of the make-up and benefits of a portal.
The four key pillars engineering leaders should consider are:
There are various types of software catalogs that a portal might rely on, but the emphasis should really be on an organization being able to choose its own software catalog, whether it’s a CI/CD software catalog, whether it’s driven by cloud resource data or GitOps data. It should act as a central metadata store for software, environments, resources, pipelines, CI/CD, cloud resources — essentially everything a developer needs. It then shows developers abstractions of the data, helping to ease the cognitive load through redaction and whitelisting.
One of the core benefits of platform engineering is a better developer experience, and self-service within a portal is key to that, enabling developers to roam freely (with the right guardrails and control measures in place). The idea is to create on-demand self-service on top of any automation created by the platform or DevOps teams. Ideally the portal interface will have a one-click experience and be consistent and decoupled from the infrastructure. The portal can reflect consumed resources in your software catalog and their correlated state in real time, and come equipped with role-based access control and an audit log.
An easier work life for developers ought to include automations. This means they can programmatically trigger alerts or DevOps workflows. They can terminate an environment or send an alert when a service’s scorecard degrades. They can trigger workflows around resource management, remediation, provisioning, incident escalation, security remediation, service monitoring, catalog updates and more.
Drive quality and standards for the engineering organization using scorecards to define metrics for quality, production readiness and developer/DevOps productivity. Ensure the metrics can be contextualized for specific entities, as this can help communicate standards and drive visibility within the organization. Meanwhile, rather than sending repeated messages asking everyone to update charts or versions, bringing everything under one place in a portal can enable organizations to communicate initiatives and easily track them by developer, team and service.
A portal that is ready-made for developers should also come equipped with developer dashboards and visualizations.
While it’s apparent from our research that organizations are increasingly adopting internal developer portals as part of their platform engineering approach, it’s also clear that leaders are still getting a feel for the different pillars and understanding how the different elements interplay to drive applicability and robustness. As the space is still so new, there are some within the industry that are still approaching platform engineering with manual methods rather than an internal developer portal and hoping they’ll be able to reap the same benefits. Over time, it’ll become obvious that these won’t do the job.