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SRE vs. DevOps: What’s the difference?

While SRE and DevOps share some similarities, they are distinct in their focus and approach.
Site Reliability Engineers have a similar yet distinct role to the DevOps teams
Article author
Written by
Rejith Krishnan
Published on
August 2, 2023
Last updated on
June 21, 2024

While Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) and DevOps share some similarities, they are distinct in their focus and approach. With other similar concepts, like DevSecOps and GitOps, thrown in the mix, it might be challenging for entrepreneurs, business leaders, and other non-technical stakeholders to fully grasp the relationships between these popular and in-demand approaches.

In this article, I will tell you how to distinguish between SRE vs. DevOps vs. DevSecOps vs. GitOps. Then, you’ll find some advice on deciding which methodology is the best for your business.

Site Reliability Engineering vs. DevOps

Both DevOps and SRE are bring development and operations teams together, and they both demand a significant cultural and philosophical shift to take place. However, while DevOps focuses more on high-level concepts, SRE ensures particular rules and practices are followed.

Understanding DevOps movement

DevOps aims to be a holistic approach that brings the software engineering team and operations team together to streamline the software development and deployment processes.

DevOps practices emphasize collaboration and communication between these traditionally separate organizational silos, making an entire software lifecycle everyone’s responsibility. The feedback loop fostered by DevOps culture ensures that the core development team is always aware of runtime issues, enabling them to improve and optimize their code efficiently.

As a result, DevOps practices improve the deployment frequency and accelerate software delivery.

The challenge with DevOps

Despite its holistic nature, DevOps philosophies lack specificity, leading to various interpretations and challenges in implementation. One DevOps-enabled organization can adopt a very different toolset, team structure, and process than another. Sometimes, it results in inconsistencies when working with partners and difficulties in new DevOps tools adoption.

Additionally, while DevOps concerns itself with collaboration between operations engineers and developers, it does not provide explicit guidance on achieving reliable systems, cost-effectiveness, security, and time-to-market goals.

Enter the Site Reliability Engineering

On the other hand, Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) addresses these challenges by providing a specific and focused approach to achieving the desired business goals.

SRE teams work primarily to make sure your applications are resilient enough to withstand various disruptions. Their goal is to reduce system failures and maintain availability for end users. SRE ensures better time-to-market by minimizing bottlenecks and streamlining the development process.

Additionally, Site Reliability Engineers highlight the importance of security and protecting software products against threats and vulnerabilities. The SRE team seeks to optimize costs by enforcing efficient resource allocation and automating processes where applicable.

Site Reliability Engineering can be seen as a subset or a specific approach to DevOps that emphasizes specific outcomes (dependable systems, service reliability).

Automation in Site Reliability Engineering

Automation is another crucial focus in any Site Reliability Engineering team. Automation tools enable companies to execute deploying software and operations tasks efficiently. By automating repetitive tasks, organizations enable their software engineers to focus on strategic and creative endeavors like writing code.

Moreover, automating operations tasks reduces the likelihood of human error and guarantees consistent and predictable outcomes essential in continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines.

SRE vs. DevOps in a nutshell

By understanding the nuances of both DevOps and SRE approaches, businesses can choose the one that is better suited to their individual business needs and performance objectives.

  • Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) can be viewed as a subset of DevOps culture or a distinctive approach to DevOps principles.
  • While DevOps and SRE engineers share a common objective of combining and improving software development, deployment, and operations, they approach this common goal from different angles.
  • Both SRE and DevOps teams emphasize the importance of collaboration and communication between software developers and operations engineers.
  • The DevOps approach lacks the specific guidelines for achieving reliability, security, and cost-effectiveness that Site Reliability Engineering possesses.
  • SRE teams provide focused and detailed frameworks for attaining DevOps and SRE goals through the use of a variety of communication, monitoring, and automation tools.

SRE vs. DevOps vs. DecSecOps

Advantages & challenges of DevSecOps

Traditionally, security issues were handled at the end of a software development process. A software developer worked on the code and handed it over to a security expert after completing it. The security-focused QA engineer looked at the complete application to find vulnerabilities and send it back to the developer.

When modern cloud platforms enabled the development and operations teams to work together throughout the software development lifecycle to accelerate software delivery, this traditional approach to security became a bottleneck.

To improve performance and optimize the software development lifecycle, security had to be integrated into the software development process from day one to post-deployment. DevSecOps is an attempt to integrate security with development and IT operations (DevOps).

Since security is a critical aspect of all software products, it also plays a significant role in Site Reliability Engineering practices. Continuous integration of security practices can be further enhanced with automated testing and implementing tools used to monitor applications that Site Reliability Engineering promotes.

Shifting security left

Security is “shifted left” when the development teams move security from the right (the end of the software building process) to the left (the beginning of this process). With security issues considered early on, vulnerabilities in public software releases occur less frequently. Every DevOps team and SRE team should embrace this proactive security mindset.

And they do - rather than treating security as an afterthought, both Site Reliability Engineering and DevSecOps approaches encourage developers to shift security left (integrate security measures right from the start while they are coding and building software).

DevSecOps approach promotes using containers and microservices, continuous software composition analysis, and implementation of various testing methods, comprehensively reported in our previous article about DevSecOps methodology.

SRE teams promote security scanning processes during both the development and post-deployment stages. IT infrastructure templates or manifests undergo a security scanning process during all stages of the software development lifecycle to identify and address any security issues before deployment.

Site Reliability Engineers usually implement automation to monitor the infrastructure and software code after the successful deployment, detect security weaknesses, and trigger alerts when something is wrong. Sounds interesting? Read a full article about shifting security left with SRE.

Continuous Improvement

Both SRE and DevSecOps philosophies emphasize the need for continuous testing and improvement in modern-day security practices. This iterative approach allows for implementing security enhancements and ensures the system remains resilient against evolving threats.

By constantly scanning and monitoring the IT infrastructure, SRE or DevOps engineers can also promptly identify and address new security issues. Version control and communication tools facilitate IT operations teams working on issues together with a software engineer who wrote the code in question.

How the feedback culture in SRE and DevOps teams enables security?

As mentioned before, in traditional development environments, security issues are identified late in the process. Quality assurance and operations teams work on the application only after software developers conclude writing code.

This reactive approach often leads to delays and significant amounts of reworks before new software versions can securely go live. By shifting security considerations to the left, software engineers are empowered to build secure software from the project’s inception. This leads to more efficient and secure software delivery, easier maintenance, and less trouble when implementing new features in later versions.

To make that happen, SRE and DevOps teams emphasize the necessity of collaboration and early feedback. There are many software tools an organization can use to bring software engineering and operations teams closer together.

Communication channels like Slack and Microsoft Teams and ticketing systems like Jira and ServiceNow are among the most widely used tools. Coupled with some custom automation, they can be a good start.

DevOps vs. SRE vs. GitOps

The GitOps process flow

Along with DevOps and SRE’s constant evolution, new techniques and approaches emerge to enhance automation and streamline operations. One such technique is GitOps, which has gained considerable popularity within the SRE community. Simply put, GitOps is an operational framework based on SRE/DevOps best practices that focus on infrastructure automation.

The growth of cloud platforms and, consequentially, the development of software-defined infrastructure prompted DevOps experts and Site Reliability Engineers to search for the best place to store code and configuration used in infrastructure and operations teams. Leveraging Git, a distributed version control system commonly used by developers, enabled them to save everything related to operations and infrastructure in a central repository.

Automation and triggering mechanisms

To initiate any automation process, a triggering mechanism is needed. Traditionally, triggering such a process required human intervention (for example, creating and approving a ticket in one of many ticket management tools). The automation script was executed only after someone completed these tasks manually, which resulted in inefficiencies and other issues.

Triggering automation processes with GitOps

While infrastructure automation is already a key aspect of SRE, GitOps provides an explicit structure to these efforts. By storing code, configurations, and operational changes in Git repositories, teams easily integrate automation with their other SRE tools and processes.

Consequently, GitOps became a standard approach for triggering automation scripts that enables seamless coordination between developers and operations teams.

Benefits of GitOps in software engineering

By leveraging GitOps, an SRE team can effectively manage changes in infrastructure, deploy applications, and monitor operational metrics - all from a familiar and well-established platform.

  • GitOps utilizes a well-known Git system as the central hub for all operational changes.
  • This technology provides an integrated development environment with dependable version control, enabling companies to manage infrastructure as code.
  • It facilitates collaboration and increases visibility across all technology teams, as all changes are tracked and documented in the Git repository.
  • GitOps empowers businesses to maintain consistency and reproducibility in their SRE practices, ensuring that operations tasks are easy to replicate and audit.

Want to know more? Read a thorough examination of the pros and cons of GitOps.

SRE-enabled DevOps team - the synergy likelihood

Now that you know what SRE is and how a DevOps team works, you probably wonder if it is possible for an organization to implement Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), DevOps, and DevSecOps simultaneously. The short answer is: yes.

However, the simultaneous implementation of SRE, DevOps, and DevSecOps in a production environment can be confusing without a clear understanding of their respective roles and goals. While it is possible to adopt all three methodologies concurrently, businesses must navigate the potential complexities that arise from different interpretations and approaches.

Clear communication, organization-wide education, and focus on alignment with business goals are essential to leveraging the benefits of SRE, DevOps, DevSecOps, and GitOps.

SRE vs. DevOps vs. DevSecOps - the verdict

In my experience, with its unrelenting focus and specific implementation guidelines, SRE emerges as a unifying force that is well-fit to achieve the shared objectives of all these methodologies.

  • Compared to DevOps and DevSecOps, Site Reliability Engineering offers a goal-oriented approach.
  • While DevOps and DevSecOps provide conceptual frameworks without prescribing specific implementation details, SRE outlines clear goals and advocates for achieving them through automation tools.
  • SRE’s best practices are widely available, contributing to its growth in popularity and increased adoption.

When implemented correctly, SRE allows companies to achieve the goals it shares with DevOps and DevSecOps. By prioritizing reliability, time-to-market, and cost-effectiveness, SRE aligns with the principles of DevOps.

Furthermore, SRE incorporates security as a fundamental aspect from the outset, embracing the tenets of DevSecOps. Thus, SRE can easily bridge these methodologies and help enterprises meet customer expectations by balancing availability, reliability, efficiency, and security.

Convergence with Agile

The Agile philosophy of software development emphasizes rapid iteration and continuous delivery. These objectives closely align with time-to-market, one of the focal points of DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering.

Organizations can ensure prompt delivery of new features, bug fixes, and improved user experiences by implementing SRE practices. Its focus on automation enables development teams to deploy updates and respond to user feedback swiftly.

SRE’s automation capabilities can be leveraged to implement changes more efficiently, utilize A/B testing and introduce blue-green deployments to the release cycle, where new software versions are deployed in parallel environments. By gradually rolling out the new version and directing a subset of users to test it, organizations can gather valuable feedback, validate changes, and fine-tune the user experience before a full-scale rollout.

Site Reliability Engineering can also enable Agile’s iterative feedback loop by providing the development team with a solid foundation of automation and reliability that lets them focus on delivering value by iterating on their products with agility.

How can combining Agile and SRE impact business growth?

  • It enables faster time-to-market, allowing businesses to gain a competitive edge by swiftly delivering new features and enhancements.
  • The automation provided by SRE reduces manual efforts, allowing teams to focus on innovation and continuous improvement.
  • The iterative feedback loop facilitated by SRE empowers developers to optimize software products based on real-time user insights, ensuring customer satisfaction.

Working with experts improves results

SRE, DevOps, and Agile converge in their shared goals of delivering quality software rapidly and responding effectively to changing requirements. By embracing SRE principles, organizations can establish a robust automation framework, ensuring the reliability and efficiency needed to support Agile development.

However, the implementation and maintenance of Site Reliability Engineering across an enterprise is a challenging task. This is why many companies consider working with a specialized consultant who can take a site reliability engineer role right away. Such an expert can guide existing technology teams in the development of a complete SRE-enabled integrated development environment in accordance with a detailed service level agreement.

Kickstart your SRE implementation by contacting Maxima Consulting today.

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