Beginner’s Guide to Site Reliability Engineering
In today’s dynamic business environment, keeping up with customer expectations requires companies to constantly improve their services and products in terms of accessibility, convenience, and added value. It’s hard to imagine succeeding in these fields without extensive use of technology. As a consequence, maintaining an efficient digital infrastructure becomes an actual top priority for many companies.
Fortunately, utilizing current approaches and methodologies, such as Agile, DevOps, and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), can quickly bring any organization up to speed when it comes to upgrading its IT infrastructure. By leveraging cloud computing and automation, your business can significantly improve infrastructure reliability, application scalability, and security while simultaneously reducing time to market and overall cost.
Read further to learn everything a company owner or a non-technical executive should understand about SRE and the way digital transformation leaders approach infrastructure today.
Infrastructure automation impact on business performance
Site reliability engineering is an approach that brings developers and operations teams together to create reliable and scalable software systems by applying software engineering solutions, such as automation, to infrastructure and operations. Since upgrading software systems is a common requirement for all kinds of companies, let’s use it as an example of what benefits SRE and automation can bring to virtually all businesses.
For example, the moderately easy process of upgrading a website based on WordPress formerly involved a couple of steps. The user had to manually download a zip file, follow some instructions on the screen, and execute several steps on the server. However, advancements in technology made it possible to automate this process. Now, the user’s involvement is reduced to simply clicking a button. The entire upgrade process is executed by a previously written code running in the background, which results in no downtime, better resilience, and improved scalability.
As a result, by automating only the upgrade process, businesses already achieve a better time to market. The traditional process for upgrading software requires scheduled maintenance windows, learning new systems, and multiple tests before the upgrade’s completion. If your competitors already utilize upgrade automation, such an extended timeline means your customers will receive new features later than their peers who use a rival solution, potentially leading to their dissatisfaction or even loss of business.
Furthermore, a traditional approach to software upgrades is also error-prone, especially if an operations team lacks the technical skills necessary to handle code properly. After all, managing physical infrastructure and developing software are fundamentally different skills. With several manual steps involved, even an excellent engineer can easily make an unfortunate mistake that leads to downtime or other issues.
To remain competitive, businesses need to take advantage of the latest technological advancements and streamline their operations. Automation is a critical tool for making all kinds of processes more reliable and significantly reduces the risk of human error. It is also a core part of SRE.
How SRE is transforming infrastructure and operations
Traditionally, the role of an operations team was to keep applications up and running in any infrastructure, be it data centers or cloud-based systems. This involved bringing up virtual machines (VMs) and deploying applications on top of them. Engineers used various monitoring tools, but most of them were only reactive. When something went wrong, they would trigger an alert to let the team know they had to take care of it. Bringing systems back up could have taken anywhere between zero minutes to a couple of days.
Software-driven operations are much more efficient. This is why today, most IT infrastructures are software-defined. Take Amazon Web Services (AWS), the most popular cloud provider in the world. AWS provides a platform where configuration, scaling, and resource allocation are all managed by using the software. This means that to make your infrastructure work, you no longer have to do things physically. Instead, you just make API calls (or push a button), and the change you request happens (for example, a processor becomes available).
The shift to a software-defined infrastructure has completely changed the way we look at operations. Applications like Uber or Airbnb are expedient examples of how software has transformed traditional industries. You can book a ride or a place to stay without making a phone call or leaving your home. Similarly, operations can be transformed by bringing software development practices into the equation.
The goal of SRE is to achieve operational goals better and faster by using software. The approach results in better resiliency, better scaling, and better user experience for end customers. Site Reliability Engineers ensure that applications are up and running and that any problems are automatically fixed as soon as possible with automation. Alerts and notifications still happen, but only if the software can’t resolve a given issue alone.
SRE practice is focused on the end user, not the operations team. For example, if you are an end-user of a banking application, you want the bank’s mobile application to be up and running 24/7. This is the value the bank provides you, and you’ve come to expect. But not that long ago, downtime for maintenance activities between 3 and 4 am was common. During that maintenance period, you couldn’t do any transactions. Nowadays, you don’t see that anymore - because it’s not people taking care of maintenance activities. The software is doing that automatically, behind the scenes.
Site Reliability Engineering achieves its goals by using software development methods. This means that an operations engineer becomes more of a software engineer who codes how infrastructure should behave in various situations so that reliability can be achieved through automation. While it may sound easy, there are certain things that SRE experts need to follow to get there.
Four key checkpoints before implementing SRE
Site reliability engineering (SRE) is a methodology that creates software solutions to infrastructural needs and, by doing so, visibly increases reliability and scalability while decreasing overall costs and time-to-market. But how can you know if your company should implement SRE? Here are four key checkpoints to consider when making this decision.
Checkpoint 1: Reliability and scalability
First, evaluate whether your site has reliability issues, such as slow loading times or frequent downtime. These issues can negatively impact customer experience and lead to lost revenue. Scalability is an essential consideration as well. If your business is expanding rapidly, you must ensure that your website or application can handle increased traffic without crashing. Evaluating your roadmap and scalability requirements can help you determine if your current system can support future growth.
Checkpoint 2: Time to market
Next, consider your time to market. The operations team needs to be able to deliver new releases quickly and efficiently to meet customer needs. This includes both development and rollout time. If your system has a slow time to market, it can lead to delays in meeting customer needs and loss of business.
Checkpoint 3: Security and compliance
Security issues are critical concerns for all companies that store customer data. Compliance with regulations is necessary to avoid penalties and ensure that your customer’s data is secure. Keeping your system protected requires constant attention and regular security updates, making it paramount to have a fast-paced system that can keep up with potential cyber threats.
Checkpoint 4: Cost
The final checkpoint is cost. Running an outdated infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming, as it requires manual work to maintain. Evaluating the cost of your current system and comparing it to newer infrastructure options can help you determine if it’s a good time to upgrade.
Although the examples above can make Site Reliability Engineering look like a required step forward when it comes to organizational IT infrastructure, it’s essential to thoroughly evaluate your company’s needs and requirements before implementing it. Described checkpoints are a good starting point, but many companies may need some additional assistance from subject matter experts to create an actionable implementation strategy.
At Maxima Consulting, we’ve supported organizations of all sizes in their digital evolution since 1993. Contact us for professional advice and access to a global network of outstanding SRE professionals.