Site Reliability Engineering implementation guide
SRE, or Site Reliability Engineering, is increasingly important in today’s IT, especially regarding cloud computing and virtualization. In essence, SRE is when a company applies the principles of software engineering to the management of IT infrastructure and operations. The scope of SRE involves everything from automating processes to building monitoring and alerting systems that help prevent downtime and other issues.
But how does it fit into a broader organizational IT strategy? Read further to explore some of the key challenges to implementing Site Reliability Engineering, a step-by-step guide on how to do it, and advice on evaluating the implementation’s success.
When to implement Site Reliability Engineering?
Site Reliability Engineering is a must-have for organizations that want to create a highly reliable and scalable system that is fully automated. Implementing SRE requires a mindset change, a management-level push, and choosing the right toolset, as well as company-wide training on SRE best practices. The decision to implement SRE should be based on a thorough analysis, the training strategy should be in place, and the ROI should be visible within the first year. Read the list below to know when your company is ready to implement SRE.
1. Return On Investment (ROI) Estimation
Implementing SRE should lead to a return on investment within the first year. The total cost of ownership can be reduced by at least 30%, and the time to market can be improved up to five times. Organizations like Google, Airbnb, and digital banks rarely experience downtime because they have already automated everything, and their SRE practices are rigid and all-encompassing. To make sure your SRE implementation meets the industry standards, consider partnering with the subject matter experts early and utilize their expertise when building your strategy.
2. Thorough Analysis
Before Site Reliability Engineering can be implemented, your organization should perform a thorough analysis of the investment. Focus on creating a detailed technological implementation plan and establishing how much it will cost to implement SRE across the board. You need to know how exactly implementing SRE will impact your systems and your bottom line. Consult your partners to explore your options for training, staffing, and managing the infrastructure, and tweak your plan until you’re satisfied with the projected results.
3. Training strategy
To implement SRE, organizations need to introduce the right toolsets and train their teams on the new approach’s best practices. Fortunately, cloud providers offer all the necessary tools to build SRE, but it’s up to the company to customize their toolsets to suit their organization-specific requirements. Along with the training on tools and best practices, management and employees should also receive coaching to understand why the change is happening and learn how to think about infrastructure and operations to facilitate the Site Reliability Engineering approach.
Top reasons to implement SRE
Site Reliability Engineering is a critical component of modern software development, and organizations that adopt SRE practices are better equipped to handle the complexities of today’s digital landscape. But SRE also involves major changes to the existing processes and infrastructure of a business, making it impossible to implement without the support of top-level management. How to get this support? Read further to discover the top benefits you can use to make your company’s leadership aware of how SRE helps organizations around the world.
Site Reliability Engineering is characterized by a move away from manual intervention towards automation. In traditional operations teams, employees are expected to be hands-on and actively utilize various tools to address issues. In the SRE world, most activities should be automated, or at least automated over time.
To achieve this, Site Reliability Engineers meet on a monthly or weekly basis to review past incidents and identify areas to automate next. Consequently, this culture shift continually reduces downtime as bots work faster than manual interventions can happen. It also lowers the number of human-made errors.
One of the fundamental benefits of SRE is that it helps to overcome the human factor in system failures. The more organizations automate their processes, the fewer human-made errors they will experience. For example, Site Reliability Engineers can create a robust pipeline to automate the whole process of releasing software. With such automation, a new version is deployed and tested upon a push of a button, and it can be reversed just as effortlessly, resulting in little downtime and improved time-to-market.
Streamlined incident management
Incident management is another paramount aspect of SRE practices. With a robust incident management system in place, organizations can easily determine the severity of any incident and make better decisions on what is the most appropriate action to be taken. Companies can use tools like ServiceNow or Jira to report on incidents and manage them while maintaining visibility and accountability. With automation, incident management tools can be integrated with communication tools like Slack or Teams to further streamline the incident resolution process.
For example, our communication channels are constantly monitored by a Zapier bot that can see if someone is responding to a submitted incident and escalate to a phone call if no one is. The bot knows whom to call after the first 15 minutes of inaction, whom to call 15 minutes later, and whom to call next until it reaches the top. In our organization, I’m the last person in that chain, so if nobody responds, the bot will finally call me. Fortunately, I didn’t get any such calls last year, so I can be sure that our teams are doing a good job.
Better alert management
With tools like PagerDuty and OpsGenie, companies that embraced SRE can define and manage their alerts in great detail. Such alert systems will always notify the appropriate team members when a relevant incident occurs and automatically escalate when preconfigured conditions are met. With cross-platform integrations, improved visibility, and crisis management solutions, various types of notifications go where they should and when they should, ensuring an appropriate response to any incident and limiting unnecessary interruptions. For example, your cybersecurity experts will get notifications about a potential security breach, and they won’t be bugged by an availability issue resulting from a bug.
Security shifted left
A shift-left approach to security is one of the most effective ways to improve the overall security of your software. It is a proactive practice that saves time and resources in the long run by considering security from the very start of the development process. Check out my previous article on how SRE is used to prioritize security.
Key challenges of implementing SRE
Even if your operations and development teams already want to pursue SRE and leverage the software-defined infrastructure to automate processes, implementing SRE is still not an easy task. Read further to explore some of the challenges you may run into when trying to introduce Site Reliability Engineering to your organization.
1. Getting the leadership on board
In companies that are used to traditional IT processes, it may be difficult to convince the management to invest in new tools and methods, particularly if they don't understand the benefits of Site Reliability Engineering.
In such a situation, the first step should be to gain a good understanding of the industry landscape and how much your competition has already saved since implementing SRE. A fact-based comparison will help the leadership to comprehend the benefits and put together a sound implementation strategy.
Educating the management and getting sufficient funding and priority is crucial, especially when multiple teams are involved. Resistance can be a significant problem, and minimizing it early helps the SRE team achieve the results quickly.
2. Overcoming the resistance to change
The next big challenge when implementing SRE is often the need for a mindset shift. In traditional IT, there are processes in place, and people may feel comfortable with the way things are done. Enforcing SRE requires a management-level push resulting from an understanding that SRE is a contemporary must-have. However, it’s also substantial to raise awareness about the importance of SRE, automation, and the benefits such a change can bring across all levels of the organization. Like in the case of every successful digital transformation, this is only possible by focusing on communication.
3. Choosing the right tools
Another key consideration when implementing SRE is the need to bring in the right tools. This can involve everything from monitoring and alerting tools to automation and deployment pipelines. SRE helps to make the IT infrastructure look like an appliance, where the middle pieces are built to make it easy for developers and users to interact with. Cloud providers offer many of the necessary tools for SRE, but it is up to the organization to leverage these tools effectively.
4. Providing effective training
Of course, implementing SRE is not just about tools and technology. It's also necessary to provide training on SRE best practices. Companies should learn by examining other businesses that have already successfully implemented SRE and utilizing many resources available online, including articles, case studies, and training courses. Sometimes, setting your IT teams up to speed on SRE and start reaping its benefits will demand additional expert support.
5. Finding experts
With Python being a popular language for SRE automation and compatible with many tools, such as Ansible and Terraform, hiring a Site Reliability Engineer is easier than finding a COBOL expert, but it is still not that easy. Consider working with a recruiting partner to quickly find the right people with the necessary skills and expertise to set up and maintain the SRE system.
6. Following the process
Following a software development process is an essential element of SRE that ensures the infrastructure is reliable, scalable, and maintainable. This includes having a source control system for SRE, which means that all code goes through Git so that it can be verified, restored, and easily managed.
Taking a step-by-step approach during the implementation is also essential. Begin by establishing a well-designed pipeline and follow with improving observability and alert management. Do not try to do too much too quickly, as it can lead to confusion and mistakes!
A roadmap to implementing SRE
Now you know why your organization should implement Site Reliability Engineering, when it is ready to do it, and what challenges to expect along the way. It’s time to examine the roadmap of getting you to the destination. Read further for a step-by-step guide to implementing SRE across your organization.
Step 1: Define your goals
Before you start working on implementing SRE in your organization, you should make a thorough list of goals and objectives you want to achieve. SRE is useful whether you want to reduce downtime, save money, or improve software quality, but you need to know your priorities before you decide to proceed. Without such a list, you will be unable to assess the level of success of the SRE implementation.
Step 2: Get the management support
Pursuing Site Reliability Engineering requires a significant investment of time and resources. Therefore, it is essential to get support from the top management first. Without their buy-in, implementing SRE will be very challenging, if not impossible. Leadership endorsement is crucial to secure the resources necessary to make the changes required for SRE.
Step 3: Find a suitable partner
While it is possible to train your existing team to implement SRE, it usually takes a lot of time and effort. Finding the right partner who can augment your IT team’s capabilities quickly or even implement SRE for you is considerably more efficient. With several SRE implementation partners available in the market, choosing the right one is critical.
Ideally, look for a partner who has experience in SRE implementation projects within your industry. Such a partner should also be familiar with your technology stack and with automating the type of applications your business uses. Prior experience with the cloud provider your business will use for SRE is also desirable.
Step 4: Identify the right tools
There are numerous SRE tools available. They can help you automate many of the processes required for SRE and make it easier to manage large-scale systems. But these solutions are not “one-size-fits-all,” and choosing the right ones is crucial to the success of your SRE implementation. Work with your SRE implementation partner to identify the tools that will work best for the unique needs of your organization.
Step 5: Determine what applications to migrate
Once you have identified the right tools, determine what applications you want to migrate first. Look for the ones that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Usually, you want to start with the software that is most critical to your organization and/or application that will benefit the most from running on an SRE environment.
Step 6: Communicate with all stakeholders
Communicate with all stakeholders involved in the migration process, including the development team. Ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands the benefits of SRE. It is essential to make sure everyone is up to speed before going any further.
Step 7: Roll out the new system
Before rolling out the new system, it is recommended to set up a parallel environment. Running the new system side by side with the existing one allows you to test it thoroughly before switching completely to a new solution. It also ensures that you don't unnecessarily interfere with any of your existing processes.
Step 8: Incorporate migration aspects
Most SRE tools have migration aspects, such as data migration, A/B testing, and application migration, built into them. Incorporate these aspects into your SRE process to make the migration process smoother.
Step 9: Maintain and optimize
Once you have successfully migrated your applications to the SRE environment, it is necessary to maintain the new system. Regular monitoring and testing are needed to ensure that the system remains reliable. It is also important to continue communicating with all stakeholders to ensure that everyone is always on the same page.
Maintaining SRE is a game of optimization in which you’re never “done.” As you improve visibility, you see ways to optimize further. SRE can be customized to meet your company’s unique requirements.
Spreading SRE practice across the whole organization
Overcoming resistance to change is a common challenge that organizations face when trying to implement Site Reliability Engineering, as it requires a significant cultural shift and can be met with skepticism from stakeholders and employees. So how to address that distrust and successfully spread the SRE mindset across your organization?
The best option is to create an open forum to demonstrate the success of SRE practices. Such a forum can include webinars, an internal blog, and case studies of successful SRE implementations in other teams. Giving people the opportunity to talk about SRE and share their thoughts and fears is crucial. By being open about hopes and challenges, as well as successes and issues, you will build trust and credibility.
It's important to celebrate successes and what SRE practitioners call "popsicle moments." These are moments when SRE practices result in significant improvements, such as preventing downtime or reducing time to market. By sharing such moments across the organization, you help people see the genuine benefits that SRE brings to your company. Those who see the benefits of SRE practices in action often become enthusiastic adopters and advocates.
However, sharing failures is equally important. The forum should be a place where feedback can be shared and improvements can be suggested. It is essential to continuously evaluate and improve your SRE practice to ensure you meet the needs of the organization. Such an evaluation demonstrates that SRE practices are not perfect and that a continuous effort to improve and optimize them is needed and valuable. By being transparent about challenges and disappointments, you build confidence in the process and demonstrate a commitment to adapting SRE to the organization’s unique requirements.
Listening to developers and other stakeholders and taking their needs as requirements will let you customize your Site Reliability Engineering solution to suit the organization better. Doing so will also help in overcoming the resistance to change and building a culture of collaboration and innovation.
How to evaluate an SRE implementation?
The formula to determine the success criteria for SRE implementation is quite simple. First, go back to the list of goals and objectives established at the beginning of the project. Then, assign the value to each item on the list.
With SRE in place, you should be able to measure the number of deployments and releases made month-to-month, as well as uptime and resource utilization, through a dashboard that tracks the performance of the system. There is also a lot of public data on resource utilization across most industries. Compare your results with other companies in your industry to gain a clear picture of the efficiency gains.
Whether your goal is to reduce downtime, save money, or improve the overall quality of your service, SRE can help you achieve these objectives and provide a better experience for your customers, but implementing it is a complex process. Only by measuring your success with the right metrics you can ensure that you’re making progress toward your goals.
Regardless of your specific goals, make sure you consider the factors listed below.
After implementing SRE, you should see a reduction in the amount of resources you need to allocate to your system. This can include reducing the number of CPU machines you’re using, as well as improving resource utilization. SRE-enabled efficiency should, in turn, result in significant cost savings over time.
Resource saturation is the percentage of available resources being actively utilized. Resource utilization should be efficient, ideally achieving 50-80%. By achieving higher efficiency, companies can reduce waste and save costs on their monthly bills with cloud providers.
One of the most important metrics for measuring the success of SRE is uptime. It measures how reliable your system is and how often it becomes unavailable for users. Properly implemented SRE is auto-healing, which helps maintain uptime and reduce downtime, so your availability should be high and exceed the industry median. Even if an application is not stable, auto-healing can help maintain the availability of a service to customers by automatically fixing issues. One can say that SRE works like an invisible bandaid.
By automating certain processes and using probes to identify and auto-heal issues, you can ensure that your customers are getting reliable service, even if there are still issues with your application or infrastructure.
Ensure a successful SRE implementation by working with experts
At the end of the day, implementing Site Reliability Engineering is all about improving the reliability and performance of IT infrastructure and operations. By applying the principles of software engineering to IT management, organizations achieve greater efficiency, reduce downtime, and improve customer experience and overall business outcomes.
Whether your company is a startup or a large enterprise, implementing SRE should be part of your IT strategy. With the tips outlined in this article, you’re well-equipped to make sound choices. However, success is never guaranteed, and the experience is often what makes all the difference. Contact us today for wide SRE expertise and tailored solutions.