SRE vs. DevOps? Successful Platform Engineering Needs Both
When talking about cloud native computing and digital transformation, two industry terms frequently appear: site reliability engineering (SRE) and DevOps. Often, they’re mentioned in opposition: SRE versus DevOps. But that is wrong.
To succeed in the cloud native world, organizations need both DevOps and SRE. Moreover, teams need a third element to assure transformation success as they move into the cloud native world: a platform engineering team.
That makes it important to understand the definition of each term, the distinctions between them, what they do and how they benefit business, as well as why organizations need all three to succeed.
What Is DevOps?
DevOps is a software methodology, but also an IT culture. It combines software development and IT operations to streamline software and services delivery with the objective of building software more efficiently, as well as harness automation as much as possible to drive faster deployment of higher-quality software. Its overall goal is to make system changes easier and rely on continuous improvement instead of massive improvement initiatives.
DevOps’ cultural implications come from its emphasis on enhanced collaboration and communication between different teams. Developers, operations staff, quality assurance (QA) professionals and security specialists all work together using automation tools to accelerate and standardize the development process. These teams also use CI/CD techniques to test, integrate and deploy software changes as quickly and reliably as possible.
What Problems Does DevOps Solve?
Legacy software development practices such as waterfall are typically quite slow and can cause conflicts between developers and operations teams. Prior to DevOps, the development team would already be working on a new project by the time operations completed QA and security checks. The organizational silos between development and operations discouraged collaboration to fix issues, instead promoting finger-pointing. This frustrated business clients and other stakeholders who were impatiently waiting for an application to move into production.
DevOps also solves the testing issue in traditional development environments. Without rigorous testing, software bugs can go undetected, which leads to unplanned downtime of critical production systems, user frustration and even lost revenue. With CI/CD, DevOps implements testing earlier, avoiding the last-minute rush to test quickly and push apps out the door.
Security is another critical issue. DevOps incorporates continuous security audits as an integral part of the development process to identify and address vulnerabilities before bad actors exploit them.
Benefits of DevOps
Some advantages of a DevOps culture include:
- Faster time to market: DevOps enables organizations to bring new products and features to production faster through a streamlined development process and by eliminating bottlenecks.
- Improved collaboration: Having teams working together helps to reduce silos and improve communication across the organization.
- Better quality: With testing and deployment automation, DevOps can help to reduce the number of errors and improve the overall quality of the software.
- Increased efficiency: Automation aids in velocity by reducing repetitive tasks and manual intervention.
- Greater scalability: DevOps provides a framework to build scalable and resilient software capable of supporting rapidly growing businesses.
What Is SRE?
Site reliability engineering (SRE) is a discipline that applies software engineering to operations to build and maintain highly reliable and scalable applications. SRE started at Google but is now widely adopted throughout the technology industry.
Part of the SRE creed is that “every failure is an opportunity for learning” and thus engineers must find the problem’s contributing factors and make adjustments at the system level to ensure that particular issue doesn’t resurface.
What Problems Does SRE Solve?
First and foremost, SRE tries to reduce system outages and downtime by identifying and addressing issues quickly. With investigations and incident analyses, SRE teams contribute to the DevOps team’s ability to build and modify systems to be highly available and resilient by design.
SRE helps system performance to ensure that software in production meets all user needs, whether internal or external. The SRE team also monitors usage patterns and capacity to ensure that the IT environment can handle expected traffic, avoiding overloading and service disruption.
SRE teams collaborate closely with DevOps teams to confirm that issues are truly resolved. There is a constant feedback loop between SRE and DevOps to guarantee that flaws are fixed at the source and not just temporarily patched.
The Benefits of SRE
Beyond improving systems reliability — its primary objective — SRE teams help design operable systems that are less likely to fail or experience unplanned downtime. SRE promotes:
- Faster incident resolution: With a data-driven approach to issue identification, SRE teams can address them quickly and reduce the time to detect and resolve incidents.
- Efficient resource utilization: SRE teams optimize resource usage to ensure that systems can scale efficiently without requiring significant additional resources.
- Improved collaboration: Close work with development teams ensures that software is designed with reliability in mind from the outset.
- Greater automation: SRE teams use automation to reduce the risk of human error and increase efficiency, which frees up both DevOps and SRE teams’ time for more strategic work.
What Is Platform Engineering?
Platform engineering is the practice of building and maintaining an internal software platform — consisting of tools, services, and infrastructure — that lets developers effectively and efficiently build, deploy, operate and observe applications. Platform engineers’ objective is to enable developers to focus on writing code rather than infrastructure issues.
Many platform engineering teams designate “golden paths” for application development in pursuit of maximum reliability, quality and developer productivity. Golden paths are pre-architected and supported approaches to build and deploy software. If development teams use golden paths, then the platform engineering team supports production, and developers don’t have to learn all the underlying technology. This dramatically accelerates an application’s time to market.
Platform engineers monitor developer efficiency for the entire software development life cycle, from source code to production, to ensure that developers have the required tools and support to produce the highest-quality applications.
What Problems Does Platform Engineering Solve?
Platform engineering directly addresses the overall developer experience. Developers are getting more frustrated. According to a recent survey, DevOps team spend, on average, more than 15 hours each week on activities other than coding.
This includes internal tool maintenance, development environment setup and pipeline debugging. The cost of this is astronomical. In the United States alone, businesses are losing up to $61 billion annually, according to Garden.io.
The complexity of managing today’s cloud native applications drains DevOps teams. Building and operating modern applications requires significant amounts of infrastructure and an entire portfolio of diverse tools. When individual developers or teams choose to use different tools and processes to work on an application, this tooling inconsistency and incompatibility causes delays and errors. To overcome this, platform engineering teams provide a standardized set of tools and infrastructure that all project developers can use to build and deploy the app more easily.
Additionally, scaling applications is difficult and time-consuming, especially when traffic and usage patterns change over time. Platform engineering teams address this with their golden paths — or environments designed to scale quickly and easily — and logical application configuration.
Platform engineering also helps with reliability. Development teams that use a set of shared tools and infrastructure tested for interoperability and designed for reliability and availability make more reliable software.
It also allows developers to access the tools they need themselves. Instead of using an IT ticketing system or having a conversation about creating a new database, a developer can simply spin it up in a user interface and know the configuration of any alerts, replications and operating parameters.
Finally, platform engineering addresses the high cost of building applications the traditional way, in which the development team purchases a broad range of tools and environments, frequently with overlapping functionality. Through standardization and automation, platform engineering minimizes these costs.
The Benefits of Platform Engineering
A well-designed development platform with tested and optimized golden paths helps developers build and deploy applications faster with pre-built components and infrastructure. This reduces the amount of required time and effort to build and configure these components from scratch. Other benefits include:
- Standardization and consistency: Platform engineering delivers a standard set of tools and infrastructure to ensure that all applications built on the platform are consistent and meet the same quality standards.
- Scalability and flexibility: Environments provided by the platform engineering team enable developers to deploy and scale applications quickly and easily.
- Reduced operational costs: With task automation for deployment, monitoring and scaling, platform engineering frees up DevOps teams to focus on more strategic work.
- Improved application reliability and availability: A platform engineering team provides a set of shared tools and infrastructure specifically designed for high uptime and 24/7 access.
Puppet’s 2023 State of DevOps Report found that platform engineering multiplies the chances of DevOps success.
What Are the Differences Between DevOps, SRE and Platform Engineering?
Organizations venturing into the cloud native world must do things differently to get transformative results; cloud native problems require cloud native solutions.
The first step is usually to adopt a DevOps culture if they don’t already have one. But DevOps needs support to make the transition and operate in cloud native environments. SRE and platform engineering teams provide such support.
It might be possible to get by with just two — or even one of these teams — but an organization aiming to modernize some or all of their workloads to cloud native should consider establishing all three teams.
- DevOps: Responsible for the complete life cycle of the apps, from source to production and modifies/enhances apps post-production.
- SRE: Primarily focused on application scalability, reliability, availability and observability. This team typically acts in crisis management mode when the performance or availability of an app is at risk.
- Platform engineering: The definition is still evolving, but platform engineering’s role of setting standard tools and processes to speed development is acknowledged as an extraordinarily helpful bridge for DevOps to make the transition from monolithic to microservices-based cloud native computing.
Each team has a specific role and objectives, yet all three work together best to ensure the business can deliver cloud native applications and environments according to industry best practices.
How Chronosphere Supports All Three
The addition of DevOps, SRE and platform engineering teams boosts cloud native adoption and succeeds when these teams have complete visibility into their cloud native apps and cloud environments. This comes from a new generation of monitoring and observability solutions.
Cloud-hosted monitoring and application performance monitoring (APM) were born in the pre-cloud native world, one with very different assumptions. It’s no wonder they struggle with cloud native architectures. A cloud native observability solution like Chronosphere that is architected for modern digital business and observability can tie all three teams together.
With cloud native monitoring and observability, increased visibility into overall metrics usage and the power to set quotas for quickly growing services, Chronosphere gives organizations the flexibility and control they need over the entire application life cycle.