Introduction to Platform Engineering
Regardless of industry, size, and location, organizations’ interest in platform engineering quickly grows. Seen by some as the successor to DevOps and as its natural evolution by others, the approach conquers the minds of IT professionals and business leaders alike.
It’s no wonder many organizations contemplate its implementation. Platform engineering’s focus on developer experience and productivity on the one hand and its comprehensive scope on the other promise optimized workflows, integrated processes, and improved time-to-market.
After reading this article, you will:
- Understand all basic platform engineering concepts, including “internal developer platforms” and “self-service capabilities”;
- Recognize the pros and cons of the platform approach;
- Have an idea of what the platform engineering implementation process can look like;
- Know how to leverage Maxima Consulting’s comprehensive enterprise platform engineering solution, Cloud Orbit.
Why is platform engineering important?
Platform engineers are responsible for building internal developer portals, implementing workflows that enable self-service, and improving performance and observability. They work closely with software engineers and business-side stakeholders to ensure that the engineering platform satisfies the needs of internal customers and evolves over time to meet always-changing business requirements.
Platform engineering brings order to the entire lifecycle of software delivery, helps development teams to fully leverage the underlying infrastructure, and simplifies the usage of cloud platforms. As a result, platform engineering teams accelerate product teams’ delivery and enhance customer value.
Critical components of the platform engineering approach
Before exploring the benefits, challenges, and implementation methods, defining some crucial concepts is essential to understanding the phenomenon of platform engineering.
Platform engineering - an emerging discipline that combines cloud-native software engineering and operations to improve developer productivity by integrating infrastructure, security and quality assurance tasks into the application delivery lifecycle.
Platform engineers focus on designing and building toolchains crucial for the efficient management of modern software. The overall goal of platform engineering is to build stable, flexible, and secure foundations for software engineers called “internal developer platforms.”
Internal developer platform (IDP) - a single pane of glass platform used by software development teams to assemble a cloud-native production environment in minutes, streamline CI/CD pipelines, independently trigger rollbacks, and access valuable user data.
IDPs integrate a wide range of tools, workflows, and services into the development process to facilitate collaboration and ownership, enable self-service capabilities, reduce cognitive load, and consequently stimulate developers to bring more value to the organization in less time.
DevOps - an approach to software development and infrastructure management processes based on efficient internal tooling, automation, collaboration, and feedback that aims to increase developer productivity. DevOps was popularized across the tech industry in the late 2000s and initiated the way of thinking that led to the emergence of Site Reliability Engineering and platform engineering frameworks.
Site reliability engineering (SRE) - a specific implementation of DevOps that aims to bridge the gap between infrastructure and development teams. SRE introduces comprehensive automation and brings in a specific toolset that cross-functional teams utilize to facilitate collaboration, integrate testing and security into the application development process, enhance observability, streamline processes, and improve the overall dependability of modern cloud environments.
As such, site reliability engineering is fully compatible with building internal developer platforms, and successful platform teams often use its best practices in conjunction with tools and techniques specific to the platform approach. For example, Maxima Consulting’s Cloud Orbit SRE+ services are based on the premise of leveraging SRE to embrace platform engineering.
Automation - a wide array of technologies used to delegate tasks previously conducted by humans to machines. Automation is a crucial part of modern technology and an essential tool for efficient software development, as it reduces the number of human errors, speeds up processes, and frees engineering teams from repetitive manual work to facilitate focus on creative tasks. Enterprise automation refers to utilizing software solutions to optimize manual processes in companies.
CI/CD pipeline - continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines are a series of steps that need to be performed in order to release new software versions. These processes consist of both integration practices (such as merging multiple modifications into one batch change) and delivery tasks (including writing code, testing, and security considerations). Such deployment pipelines are ongoing - by the time one cycle concludes, another one is already underway.
Best practices that drive business value
Enhanced observability - platform engineering teams should strive to provide integrated dashboards to monitor existing infrastructure components easily. Insights gained this way must serve as a blueprint for optimizing any inefficiencies in order to cut unnecessary costs.
Widespread automation - reducing human involvement by automating infrastructure, operations, security, and quality assurance tasks is a win-win situation. One, algorithms can’t make mistakes caused by boredom and inattention. Two, your engineers are free to focus on tasks that need human creativity and problem-solving skills.
Shift left security - by integrating security and compliance considerations into the entire software development lifecycle, development teams avoid bottlenecks and ensure faster time-to-market.
Continuous improvement - any successful internal developer platform must be designed in a way that not only satisfies the needs of your software engineering team today but is also easily modified and improved upon in the future. All processes and workflows have to undergo systematic review and further optimization.
Benefits platform engineers provide to organizations
Streamlined cloud interactions - a typical cloud environment is far too complex and unintuitive to navigate for most developers. Platform engineering provides them with useful abstractions and tools that save time, improve performance, simplify interacting with the cloud, and facilitate satisfactory developer experience.
Improved scalability - observability dashboards provide insights into infrastructure that can be used to optimize performance and costs. With a better understanding of what factors influence traffic, platform engineers can utilize automation to enhance scaling without sacrificing the system’s speed and availability.
Efficient workflows - by introducing self-service capabilities for software engineering teams, implementing automation throughout the software delivery’s entire lifecycle, and pushing convenient communication tools, the platform engineering practice enables developers to iterate quickly, prevent bottlenecks, and reduce their cognitive load. Consequently, teams can deliver software more rapidly and focus on improving customer value.
Cost savings - most of the platform engineering best practices, including automation, continuous optimization, improving observability and visibility, and cross-functional integration, have direct or auxiliary effects on decreasing the overall technology costs.
How to build a platform team?
In the midst of a global tech talent shortage, recruiting a team of experts equipped with the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to build internal developer platforms is difficult but not impossible. Here are some tips to follow when hiring platform engineers:
- Define the team’s purpose. Think about why exactly you want to build a platform engineering team. Determine its priorities and consider how such a team will relate to other existing teams, to whom they will be accountable, and the scope of their responsibilities.
- Assess the requirements. Examine how much work the newly-founded team is expected to do in what timeframe. Set reasonable platform engineering KPIs. This will help you establish the required underlying technologies, team size, and the level of expertise candidates need to perform according to expectations.
- Formulate thorough job descriptions. Bear in mind that platform engineering expertise is scarce, and your potential candidates need good reasons to join your organization. Describe the team’s role in the organization, explain what is their mission, and show your understanding of the subject matter.
- Consider working with a recruitment partner. Take into account that you’re competing for the best talent not only with other companies in your field but also with businesses in other industries and software engineering organizations. Specialized IT recruiters usually have an edge over general recruitment departments, and tech-focused staffing agencies often have access to niche talent pools worldwide. For example, Maxima Consulting has supported its clients in fulfilling their software engineer and other tech-related recruitment needs in a variety of talent acquisition models.
- Look at other possibilities. Your organization doesn’t have to hire a platform engineering team in order to leverage the benefits of an internal developer platform. With Cloud Orbit, our comprehensive platform engineering solution, you can access platform expertise and tools as a service.
How to build an internal developer platform?
Now that you know how vital platform engineering is, its pros and cons, and how to build a platform team, it’s time to build your own internal developer platform. Follow the advice below to make sure you follow the paved roads to success.
Step 1: Define your goals
Start with identifying the goals you want to achieve with your internal developer platform. List quick wins and break down long-term projects into smaller parts. Consider advantages for business and set the priorities to make a positive impact on the entire organization. Get into the product mindset.
Step 2: Browse the platform tooling landscape
Research varied technology options available for building your internal developer platform. Read public case studies and articles by successful platform engineering team leaders, browse listicles of essential platform tools, and get acquainted with out-of-the-box toolsets (like those available in our Cloud Orbit services). Make sure your choice of tools and technologies corresponds to the distinctive needs of your organization.
Step 3: Start developing the internal platform
After communicating an unambiguous goal and choosing appropriate internal tooling, you can begin building your internal developer platform. The best way to ensure your platform is robust, scalable, and secure is to treat it like any other product. Think of the employees who will utilize the IDP as internal customers. Focus on providing them with real value. Ask for feedback frequently to get the software developers’ backing and fix common issues first to get tangible results as fast as possible.
Step 4: Test thoroughly and iterate
At this stage, involve a couple of software engineers, as their feedback is invaluable. Making sure the developer portal meets the needs of your development team while addressing business requirements and facilitating customer value requires teams to collaborate with each other and put their hearts into quality assurance. Start with handling the operational necessities, enabling developer self-service as quickly as possible, and rolling out features fast to allow prompt evaluation. Remember to take advantage of automated tests.
Step 5: Launch the internal engineering platform
With all critical features in place, you can launch the platform and start promoting it to all your development teams. Don’t get too attached to your platform yet, though. Perform thorough user research and use the development teams’ comments as a foundation for optimizing the internal developer platform.
A perfect solution for the cloud-native era
According to Gartner, platform engineering can accelerate the deployment frequency and increase the time-to-market of applications. It is safe to say the approach is here to stay. Integrating development, security, testing, and operations brings order where chaos reigned, reduces complexity, and allows developers to focus on providing more value.
Even if assembling an expert team of platform engineers can be difficult initially, organizations willing to keep pace with customer expectations should consider including a platform approach in their digital transformation strategies. Fortunately, there are more ways to enable developers to build internal platforms.
Cloud Orbit is a comprehensive platform engineering solution by Maxima Consulting. Go beyond efficiency, enable complex migration projects, optimize interactions with your cloud environment, and improve developer experience. Assess your Cloud Orbit eligibility today.