Platform Engineering: Paving Golden Paths to Developer Efficiency

Tyler Au
7 minutes
March 30th. 2023
Tyler Au
7 minutes
March 30th. 2023

What is Platform Engineering?

Web3. Metaverse. NFT. Some of the biggest tech buzzwords of last year were seemingly just that - buzzwords.

While some of 2022’s biggest buzzwords became obscured from the public eye (at least in our Twitter feed), Platform Engineering is quickly becoming one of the most widely discussed and practiced disciplines in 2023. But what is Platform Engineering, and why do the people at Gartner think that in 3 years, 80% of software engineering organizations will rely on Platform Engineering?

A New Way to Make Developer Lives Easier

As described by Luca Galante, part of the product team at Humanitec, Platform Engineering is an emerging discipline in the development space and is the practice of building tools and workflows for developers in the pursuit of self-servicing capabilities. In other words, Platform Engineering helps software developers become more autonomous and capable by providing the tools and resources needed that were only ever accessible through cross-team collaboration. If you think this sounds a lot like site reliability engineering (SRE), you would be correct! The difference lies in the functionality of each concept: SRE is mainly focused on building internal tools while Platform Engineering is dedicated to ensuring that these tools work on certain infrastructures and are compiled for developers.

Platform Engineering teams make the lives of developers that much easier by providing an internal developer platform (IDP), or the sum of all the necessities of the development lifecycle that is accessible independently by developers and meets the abstraction level of said developers. Acting as internal developer portals, IDPs serve to offer internal tech and tools to developers at a moment’s notice, with the perfect Platform Engineering team bringing in these tools while simultaneously removing development obstacles. In addition, IDPs help structure and automate operation setups, allowing IDPs to streamline tasks like environment spinning and standardization. Some popular IDPs to note include Github, Jira, and Jenkins.

Companies like Meta, Google, and Netflix rely on Platform Engineering teams to constantly revamp and maintain their IDPs to better serve developer needs, with their responsibilities including platform monitoring, tech research, and infrastructure automation. Yielding a faster time to market and increased business scalability, Platform Engineering is the solution to a frictionless development process.

According to the 2023 State of Platform Engineering Report by Puppet, 93% of respondents reported that Platform Engineering was a step in the right direction for their organizations, especially when it pertains to development, operations, and security. What sets Platform Engineering apart is its consideration of developers, seeking to relinquish time and project freedom for developers instead of forcing them to go through phase after phase of review and new tool learning.

The Saving Grace For Operational Teams and DevOps

For these past few years, DevOps and the enthusiasm around it was at an all time high. Companies of every size and maturity shifted their internal structures to start practicing this modern philosophy in hopes of speeding up their development, but what actually came of DevOps?

In the 2023 State of Platform Engineering Report by Puppet, despite the wide scale adoption of DevOps practices in organizations, about 80% of these organizations remain in the middle of their adoption - with some teams experiencing success, but not organization-wide. Where did DevOps go wrong?

Image courtesy of Puppet's 2023 State of Platform Engineering Report

To start, DevOps combines practices, disciplines, and tools that seek to streamline development processes within an organization, pushing and improving products faster than before. Under a DevOps model, development and operations teams are expected to work together, using tools that automate and accelerate processes. While this model seems bulletproof, a DevOps model can fail if there is a possible resistance to organizational change, lack of standardization in tools and tech, or strained lines of communication and collaboration. For smaller organizations implementing a DevOps model, they often find themselves with missing necessary resources and talent. 

In addition, many DevOps models saw the integration of cloud native setups and the transition from monolithic architectures to microservices - shifts that many developers within an organization were overwhelmed with. Developers often found themselves being hammered by new tech and tools to learn, although the number of groundbreaking "internal innovations" was increasing, developer bandwidth was decreasing rapidly.

To understand the role of Platform Engineering in supporting DevOps, imagine a professional kitchen and its kitchen architect. DevOps is like the head chef who is responsible for creating and executing the menu, while Platform Engineering is the architect who supports the head chef by building and maintaining the kitchen infrastructure.

Just as a kitchen architect works behind the scenes to make sure the kitchen has all the necessary tools and equipment, Platform Engineering works behind the scenes to provide the necessary tools and workflows to enable developers to work efficiently and deliver high-quality software. And just as a kitchen architect allows the head chef to flex their creative freedom in their dishes by providing all the necessary equipment to make it happen, Platform Engineering frees up DevOps to focus on the creative aspects of software development. Together, DevOps and Platform Engineering create a well-oiled machine that enables software development to run smoothly and efficiently.

If DevOps needs tools, Platform Engineering is the practice that builds them. Platform Engineering seeks to lift the cognitive load on development by building and maintaining a platform that contains all the necessary tools and workflows. Instead of a developer in a traditional DevOps model being expected to master a certain tool, Platform Engineering provides structured and easy-to-use tools.

Platform Engineering: The Good and The Bad

With enthusiasm towards Platform Engineering steadily rising in 2023, many companies are looking to implement this discipline among their own ranks, hoping to evolve their current DevOps processes and innovate faster. 

Are you interested in Platform Engineering? Here are some of the things to consider before taking up this discipline:

The Good

With the help of an IDP, Platform Engineering can enable developers to work and think more autonomously, providing developers with tools and self-service workflows to best service their needs instead of having to queue in a ticketing system. Not only does this benefit the development process, but also frees the time that a senior developer would normally spend to assist a junior engineer. I know what you’re thinking: “autonomy in a complicated development process is a wildfire waiting to happen!”. Rest assured, Platform Engineering actually addresses this problem with the IDP, providing standardization and alignment in function via infrastructure, system, and application definitions. Workflows and services within an IDP are vetted by DevOps teams to ensure that they indeed work with an organization’s existing tech stack and environments and are able to mesh well with development teams.

Before Platform Engineering, developers were often shackled to the traditional form of developing; requiring certain environments to create and having to focus their attention on internal operations. With Platform Engineering, developers no longer have to spend roughly 15 hours a week on non-dev tasks, and can instead focus their time and energy on projects they actually want to develop. With reducing cognitive load for developers being one of the primary functions of Platform Engineering, developers and operators alike can vouch for the increased practice of Platform Engineering and IDP integration over the past few years. The days of long fire-fighting and even longer meetings are almost over, giving developers the freedom to innovate again.

Because Platform Engineering and IDPs remove pesky development barriers and streamline through internal automation, a dev’s workflow, companies that practice Platform Engineering can expect to reduce their time to market significantly, increase their scalability and cost efficiency, and even increase their in-house developer satisfaction. 

In totality, Platform Engineering is capable of filling in all the gaps of an unsuccessful DevOps process, making all the difference for the developers along for the ride. And from a business standpoint, Platform Engineering is able to cut massive expenses because of resource consolidation and overall shifting to a product-centric mindset.

The Bad

While we spent the majority of this blog raving about Platform Engineering, we can’t deny that there are many drawbacks to this practice. 

Platform Engineering has been around for a while now, but many companies are picking up steam of this practice and rushing to implement it. A challenge many larger companies have faced, however, was supporting a large organization with a small Platform Engineering team, as outlined in this article from InfoQ. The article states that Platform Engineering teams in large organizations have been “bogged down in responding to tickets from their application teams” often removing the cognitive load off developers, but placing it on platform engineers. While this can be true in many scenarios, by building self-serving solutions for IDPs, platform engineers will be able to reclaim their own time. 

While standardization of configurations, tools, and everything in between for the SDLC is one of the main selling points of Platform Engineering, platform engineers themselves might find it hard to regulate this. Managing tools is just the first of their worries, too. Because IDPs require user authentication and authorization, platform engineers have the challenge of ensuring the user configuration is precise. 

Like with the DevOps model, Platform Engineering provides a new set of standards and organization for development teams. While some teams may welcome this internal change with open arms, other teams treat Platform Engineering as a bell for the end of days, unaccepting of this drastic change to their workflow. Getting all teams on board and understanding the core principles of Platform Engineering and IDPs is absolutely critical in implementing Platform Engineering practices.

Emerging Trends in the Platform Engineering Space

For trends in the Platform Engineering space, Lee Ditiangkin, Principal Strategy and Business Development for IBM Automation Portfolio at IBM, believes that Platform Engineering and the community and culture around it will grow exponentially this year. With countless blogs about this practice being published and events like PlatformCon being spawned, enthusiasm around Platform Engineering is at an all time high and shows no signs of slowing down. This enthusiasm centers around Platform Engineering’s adaptability and product-centric approach, pushing many to develop around that same ethos. 

At Lyrid, we believe that Platform Engineering will create big waves in the AI/ML and data analytics spaces. The increasing usage of AI has generated the need for different test platform environments for different use-cases, such as ML training and so on. With the inflated AI usage comes the influx of incoming data, prompting the need for specialized analysis and dedicated platforms. Platform Engineering will enable rapid testing and data analysis within certain facets of AI/ML practices, letting AI teams further innovate and capitalize on the growing AI trend. Platform Engineering may also take advantage of the growing enthusiasm towards AI by integrating more AI-based tools into IDPs, further streamlining the development process altogether and allowing for more internal testing and use-cases.

Conclusion

In today’s age where the mere mention of AI can get any VC excited, we believe that Platform Engineering is more than just a buzzword. Believe it or not, many of your favorite companies are looking into or already practicing Platform Engineering behind the scenes- I know we’re thinking about it right now!

Despite some integration challenges, Platform Engineering is rearing its head to spark the evolution of DevOps, giving existing DevOps teams something to celebrate (including the incredible benefits of the practice). Its extraordinary fixation on optimizing the product itself and servicing the developers behind it is what makes Platform Engineering second to none, giving developers the opportunity to truly develop what they love. 

I know what you’re thinking, “I just spent 6 minutes reading this article about Platform Engineering, now what?”. If you’re looking into Platform Engineering, the platform at Lyrid offers beginner-friendly tooling for anyone wanting to dip their feet into this practice. Our platform lets users easily integrate Platform Engineering into their software development cycles and infrastructure, on any cloud platform and any data center. We offer things like:

  • Seamless login
  • Unified organization and discoverability of services
  • Software development kits (SDKs)
  • Tenant isolation
  • Observability

to drive down the cost of operations for our clients while increasing their efficiency. We believe that innovative tools and tech should be accessible for everyone, at a fraction of the industry cost. We hope to shed some light on the benefits of Platform Engineering and remove the barrier to entry for people to get started!

Want to get started with Platform Engineering? Learn more about our platform engineering offerings here!

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