One of the most prevalent misconceptions surrounding platform engineering is the notion that the team’s ultimate success results in creating a single tool with a polished user interface filled with clickable buttons and visually appealing dashboards. This perspective, while not entirely baseless, is a narrow view of the vast potential that platform engineering offers.
By focusing solely on the aesthetic and immediate usability of a user interface, organizations might only scratch the surface of the potential benefits. True platform engineering goes beyond just a user-friendly interface; It’s about optimizing workflows, enhancing collaboration, and driving efficiency. When implemented correctly, the return on investment from platform engineering is substantial, far surpassing the limited gains from a shiny UI. This article delves into the focuses and goals of the discipline and what you stand to gain.
How Platform Engineering Can Help Overcome The Onboarding Maze
Imagine being a new developer in a company. You’re directed to a confusing wiki and scattered, poorly documented internal workflows and repositories. After wasting a week, you find out that colleagues are just copying code from one task into another, often leaving remnants of past work in their new projects. When you’re finally ready to test your code on infrastructure, you either wait until the operations team can deploy the necessary resources for you, or you attempt to grapple with this yourself, unsure if you’re meeting company standards. The learning curve is steep even if you gain access to tools like Terraform or Kubernetes. How can you deploy efficiently without extensive knowledge or risking errors?
Along Comes Platform Engineering
Platform engineering is designed to empower developers within an organization by allowing them to independently address their infrastructure requirements. This includes capabilities like deploying, operating, monitoring, and templating all available services within the enterprise. At its core, the discipline emphasizes clarity and understanding of the interconnections between services, their documentation, and the teams responsible for them. To achieve this, platform engineers craft an abstraction layer called an Internal Development Platform (IDP). This platform is intended to be user-friendly, enabling developers to interact with it without needing an in-depth understanding of the underlying infrastructure.
The significance of this abstraction cannot be overstated. Infrastructure, by its nature, is intricate and multifaceted. While certain developers may be adept at using tools like Kubernetes and Terraform, requiring them to simultaneously code an application and handle complex infrastructure tasks can scatter their attention, increase cognitive overload, and hinder their overall efficiency.
Along those same lines, without a standardized approach, there’s a risk that teams might adopt varied methods, even if they are proficient in both coding and infrastructure. This can lead to inconsistencies and inefficiencies. A well-defined platform team and an optimized and efficient Internal Development Platform (IDP) address these issues by offering a unified and standardized approach, transforming potential chaos into a streamlined, cohesive system.
Key Principles of Platform Engineering
Specific tenets can vary based on organization and industry trends, but the following list can be considered some of the more universally recognized principles for good platform engineering:
- Create the product that people want to use:
- Listen to your developers. Meet with them and understand their needs.
- Incorporate a CLI.
- Ensure it’s a product – assign a product manager who can also receive feedback and own the extensibility of the tool.
- Implement standardization for processes, tools, and technologies to ensure consistency, interoperability, and easier maintenance.
- Prioritizes security at every layer of the platform, from infrastructure to application, ensuring data protection, compliance, and easier maintenance.
- Incorporate comprehensive monitoring that offers insights through logging, metrics, and service interconnections or directs you to where you can find this information.
- Regularly update and refine the platform based on feedback, technical advancements, and organizational feedback.
- Users should feel empowered to set up approved infrastructure within your specified organizational boundaries, ensuring it remains consistent with the declared configuration.
We’ve delved into the essential elements that drive a successful platform engineering team, but imagine a tool that integrates all these principles, offering teams a unified dashboard ensuring seamless collaboration, consistency, and efficiency. Enter Internal Development Platforms.
What is an Internal Development Platform?
An internal developer platform offers automated, self-service tools for developers, streamlining and standardizing software methodologies, infrastructure, environments, and operational processes. IDPs equip developers with a cohesive suite of tools tailored for efficient development, eliminating the need to constantly devise new solutions for recurring challenges. The culmination of months, and sometimes years, of work from a platform team leads to the creation of the IDP, which, in turn, provides development teams with a standardized toolkit as a foundation for the streamlining of their prerequisites needed to move their work along, which they can then extend as needed.
You may observe that the above definition doesn’t pinpoint the use of any specific tool. An IDP is a fusion of various tools and technologies. The selection of these tools can differ based on the company and technology stack already in use. Essentially, the choice hinges on the specific use case and the unique requirements of the organization seeking to implement the IDP.
Creating the Platform
Here’s how the process ideally works: Platform engineers engage with potential users, such as developers, to understand their needs and challenges. Based on this feedback, they choose appropriate tools and workflows. This approach shapes the features of the platform, aiming to establish streamlined pathways and minimize the cognitive overhead for developers.
Top-tier IDPs operate with a product manager, viewing the IDP as its own distinct product. The initial requirements are typically clear-cut, focusing on fundamental functions and core capabilities. After establishing these basics, the product manager identifies and prioritizes the subsequent enhancements for the platform team to implement.
Key Components of an Internal Development Platform
As is the case with platform teams, IDPs have their own set of components and principles that they should adhere to. Here’s a list of some of the most important ones:
- Workflow Automation Tools: These tools streamline the development process by automating repetitive tasks, ensuring developers can focus on coding rather than manual processes. Integrating this into an IDP leads to faster and more consistent software delivery cycles.
- Infrastructure Tools: Essential for setting up, configuring, and maintaining the underlying infrastructure, these tools allow developers to provision resources efficiently and ensure that applications have the necessary environment needed to run. By incorporating these into an IDP, developers can self-serve their infrastructure needs without needing deep domain expertise.
- Deployment Tools: Deployment tools facilitate the smooth transition of code from development to production. Think CI/CD tools that automate changes, updates, and patches of software onto the infrastructure that’s been built. This helps developers deploy their applications consistently, reducing deployment-related issues and accelerating release times.
- Security and Compliance Standards: Ensuring that applications adhere to security protocols and benchmarks is crucial. By embedding these standards within the IDP, platform engineers provide developers with automated checks and balances, ensuring the software remains secure and compliant throughout its lifecycle.
- Testing Capabilities: Robust testing tools within an IDP allow developers to validate their code’s functionality, performance, and security. For platform engineers, providing integrated testing tools means ensuring that software is of high quality and free from critical bugs before it reaches production.
Many of the components of a well-built IDP have a natural synergy with the key principles of a platform engineering team, making it natural for platform teams to not only be responsible for the creation of the IDP but also leverage it themselves for their day-to-day tasks.
Is An Internal Developer Platform Right For You?
While any team involved in application deployment can leverage an IDP, its adoption requires support from key stakeholders, including business leaders, developers, and operations teams. Hence, larger enterprises and teams often derive the most benefit from it.
The entities that get the most value from developing and using an IDP are large, well-organized companies and organizations within the technology, financial services, and government sectors. Large corporations often have intricate workflows, multiple teams, and a vast array of projects running concurrently. An IDP will streamline these processes and ensure consistency across the board. In the technology sector, the rapid pace of innovation and the need for continuous integration and deployment make IDPs invaluable for maintaining a competitive edge. Financial services organizations deal with a vast amount of sensitive data, complex transactions, and regulatory compliance. An IDP can help standardize security protocols, ensure data integrity, and simplify compliance processes. Government entities, on the other hand, face the challenge of managing large-scale projects, often with limited resources. An IDP can optimize resource allocation, improve inter-departmental collaboration, and ensure projects are completed efficiently and within stipulated timelines.
At this point, it should be easy to see the benefits that an organization can obtain by deploying an Internal Development Platform. Platform engineering teams that own the IDP not only make their own lives easier, but they significantly improve the productivity of the entire organization. However, the design and implementation of an IDP must be tailored to your organization’s unique requirements to minimize operational overhead, enhance developer experience, and expedite product delivery. Without a strategic focus on the essential facets of your IDP, there’s a risk of squandering valuable time and exacerbating existing challenges.
Along those same lines, a good IDP cannot be created without a well-run platform team. Embarking on the journey of creating such a tool may be a fool’s errand if organizations don’t put time and energy into understanding the importance of platform engineering and what these teams bring to an organization. By doing so, they not only ensure the successful deployment of the IDP but also position themselves to harness the full spectrum of benefits that platform engineering offers, driving growth, innovation, and competitive advantage within their respective industries.
OpsCanvas’ primary focus is on simplifying cloud deployments by automating the creation of Infrastructure as Code (IaC). Our mission is to accelerate the deployment time for cloud-native applications while addressing the issue of scarce technical resources. By automating the deployment process and incorporating built-in best practices, OpsCanvas eliminates the need for specialized IaC expertise.
To find out more information about OpsCanvas, visit our website here.