Boost developer productivity and accelerate time to market with platform engineering
Platform engineering is a rapidly growing discipline within software development focused on building the tools and infrastructure that developers use every day to code, test, deploy, and manage applications efficiently.
Platform engineering is a dynamic toolbox of patterns and practices crafted to modernize enterprise software delivery. It’s about understanding your developers’ needs, identifying inefficiencies, and implementing targeted solutions that streamline workflows and boost productivity.
The excitement around platform engineering stems from its potential for transforming software development. It’s not just about building tools, it’s about reshaping the entire development landscape, making it faster, smoother, and more rewarding for everyone involved.
According to Gartner, “By 2026, 80% of large software engineering organizations will establish platform engineering teams as internal providers of reusable services, components, and tools for application delivery. Platform engineering will ultimately solve the central problem of cooperation between software developers and operators.”
What is platform engineering?
Platform engineering is a collection of practices and patterns focused on building and maintaining internal developer platforms (IDPs). IDPs bridge the gap between developers and the underlying infrastructure, providing self-service tools and resources to streamline their work.
What is an internal developer platform?
An Internal Developer Platform (IDP) is essentially the engine room powering modern software development within an organization. It’s a self-service platform built by platform engineers for developers to give them access to the tools and resources they need to develop, test, deploy, and manage applications efficiently and autonomously.
Think of platform engineering as a developer’s one-stop shop, providing:
- Pre-configured environments: Developers can quickly spin up standardized development, staging, and production environments without needing to manually configure infrastructure.
- Self-service tooling: Access to tools for code building, testing, monitoring, and deployment, all readily available and ready to use.
- Automated workflows: Pipelines for tasks like code builds, deployments, and infrastructure provisioning, minimizing manual effort and errors.
- Standardized processes: Consistent development and deployment practices across the organization, leading to higher quality and reliability.
- Security and governance: Integrated security measures and controls to ensure secure development practices and compliance.
How does platform engineering work?
Platform engineers analyze developers’ needs and pain points, finding areas where automation and standardization can improve efficiency. They design the internal developer platform (IDP) architecture, choosing the right tools and technologies based on organizational requirements. Security and governance considerations are included in the design of the platform from the beginning, ensuring secure development practices and compliance.
Platform engineers develop and deploy the IDP components, using infrastructure as code (IaC) tools to automate provisioning and configuration. Containerization platforms are used to create standardized and portable development environments. Continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines are implemented to automate code builds, testing, and deployments, minimizing manual intervention.
Platform engineers watch the IDP’s performance and health, ensuring everything runs smoothly and addressing any issues right away. They gather feedback from developers and continuously adjust the platform, adding new features and improving existing ones based on usage data and evolving needs. Security updates and vulnerability patching are applied proactively to keep the platform environment secure.
Platform engineers collaborate closely with developers, supplying training and support on using the IDP effectively. They communicate the value proposition of the platform to stakeholders, showing how it improves software development and developer productivity.
Sharing best practices and promoting a culture of automation within the organization are crucial for platform engineering’s success.
What is platform engineering used for?
Platform engineering influences multiple aspects of the software development lifecycle from empowering developers to boosting business goals.
Platform engineering empowers developers by improving the development experience. Self-service tools and automated workflows free developers from tedious tasks, allowing them to focus on core coding and feature building. Standardized environments and readily available resources create a smoother and more efficient development experience for developers. Streamlined development and deployment processes enable quicker releases and iterations.
Optimizing development processes
Platform engineering improves development processes through standardization, reduced complexity, and better agility and scalability. Consistent tools, workflows, and infrastructure across teams lead to more reliable and predictable development outcomes. Automation reduces manual efforts and simplifies infrastructure management, lowering operational overhead. The platform can easily adapt to changing needs and accommodate growing teams, fostering dynamic development practices.
Enhancing Software Quality
Platform engineering enhances software quality with a focus on security, fewer errors through increased automation, and improved data visibility. Automated testing and deployment pipelines minimize human errors, leading to more robust and reliable software. Integrated security measures and controls within the platform ensure secure development practices and compliance. Monitoring and logging tools supply deeper insights into application performance and potential issues and enable proactive troubleshooting.
Boosting Business Goals
Platform engineering helps businesses reach their goals by reducing costs, creating a competitive advantage, and creating an innovation-friendly environment. Automation and streamlined processes lower operational expenses, saving resources, and maximizing ROI. Efficient and modern development practices enable businesses to stay ahead in the digital landscape. Increased developer productivity and rapid time to market lead to quicker delivery of business value.
Platform engineering serves as a powerful catalyst for optimizing software development, resulting in happier developers, improved software quality, and the achievement of business objectives.
What are the benefits of platform engineering?
Platform engineering offers several benefits and advantages to developers and organizations.
Platform engineering reduces the number of repetitive tasks developers perform every day through automation and self-service tools. This allows developers to focus on creative coding and building awesome features. Giving developers autonomy and control over their tools and workflows boosts job satisfaction and fosters a more engaged and productive workforce.
Streamlined development and deployment processes like CI/CD pipelines accelerate the journey from code to production, enabling developers to push updates and innovations to users quicker.
Standardized environments and readily available resources create a consistent and predictable development experience, reducing headaches and frustration.
Platform engineering reduces operational costs, streamlines resource allocation, and reduces the burden of infrastructure management and deployment tasks on operations teams through automation.
Standardized tools and consistent workflows across teams lead to fewer errors, more reliable software, and happier users.
Faster development cycles and quicker releases accelerate time-to-market, giving organizations a competitive edge in the digital race.
Automating manual tasks and streamlining processes often result in significant cost savings for organizations, maximizing the return on investment in platform engineering initiatives.
Beyond these core benefits, platform engineering fosters a culture of collaboration and communication between developers and operations teams, breaking down silos and aligning everyone towards shared goals.
However, platform engineering isn’t a magic bullet. Implementing it effectively requires careful planning, investment in tools and expertise, and often, a shift in organizational culture.
What are potential drawbacks of platform engineering?
Like any powerful tool, platform engineering comes with a set of potential drawbacks that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Investment and Overhead
Initial investment and overhead can be prohibitive. Implementing a robust platform requires upfront investment in tools, technology, and training for both platform engineers and developers. Maintaining and evolving the platform adds to the ongoing operational costs.
Complexity and Management
Designing and managing a complex platform can be challenging, requiring skilled platform engineers and ongoing optimization efforts. Overly intricate platforms can become cumbersome for developers to navigate and use effectively.
Vendor Lock-in and Choice Constraints
Dependence on specific tools and technologies can lead to vendor lock-in, making it difficult and expensive to switch platforms in the future. The platform might not seamlessly integrate with existing tools and infrastructure, requiring additional effort for compatibility.
Potential Resistance to Change
Developers and other teams accustomed to traditional workflows might resist adopting the new platform and its functionalities. Effective change management and training are crucial to overcome resistance and ensure successful platform adoption.
Over-automation and Developer Autonomy
Excessive automation can hinder developer creativity and problem-solving skills, potentially leading to a “cookie-cutter” approach to development. Finding the right balance between automation and developer autonomy is key to ensure efficiency without stifling innovation.
Security Risks and Governance Challenges
A centralized platform presents a larger attack surface for potential security vulnerabilities. Robust security measures and clear governance policies are essential to mitigate risks and ensure responsible platform usage.
Which tools and technologies are used in platform engineering?
A platform engineer employs diverse and powerful tools and technologies, each playing a role in building and maintaining efficient internal developer platforms (IDPs).
Here’s a breakdown of some key categories and popular tools:
Infrastructure as Code (IaC)
- Terraform: Automates infrastructure provisioning and configuration across various cloud platforms.
- Ansible: Manages configuration of servers and applications with playbooks and modules.
- CloudFormation: AWS-specific IaC tool for provisioning and managing cloud resources.
Containerization and Orchestration
- Docker: Packages applications in lightweight containers for isolation and portability.
- Kubernetes: Orchestrates container deployments and manages containerized applications at scale.
- Nomad: Open-source platform for orchestrating containerized applications and microservices.
- Containerd: Industry-standard runtime environment for managing container lifecycles.
Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)
- Jenkins: Popular open-source CI/CD pipeline tool for automating builds, tests, and deployments.
- GitLab CI/CD: Integrated into GitLab platform for automated pipelines triggered by code changes.
- CircleCI: Cloud-based CI/CD platform offering scalability and flexibility.
- Spinnaker: Open-source continuous delivery platform for multi-cloud deployments.
API Management and Security
- Kong: Open-source API gateway for managing and securing APIs.
- Tyk: API gateway platform offering features like rate limiting and authentication.
- Azure API Management: Microsoft Azure service for managing and securing APIs on the Azure platform.
- Auth0: Secure authentication and authorization platform for web and mobile applications.
Monitoring and Logging
- Prometheus: Open-source monitoring system for collecting and analyzing metrics from applications and infrastructure.
- Grafana: Tool for visualizing and analyzing metrics collected by Prometheus and other sources.
- Elasticsearch: Open-source search and analytics engine for log data.
- Kibana: Visualization tool for exploring and analyzing data stored in Elasticsearch.
- Git: Version control system for managing code and configuration files.
- Helm: Package manager for Kubernetes applications.
- Vault: Secret management platform for storing and securing sensitive data.
- Backstage: Open-source platform for building developer portals and managing developer experience.
How to choose tools for developing IDPs
Platform engineering thrives on using the right combination of tools and technologies to automate tasks, standardize processes, and empower developers. Choosing the right tools depends on several factors:
Organization size and needs: Smaller teams might prefer simpler tools, while larger organizations might need more comprehensive platforms.
Existing infrastructure and technologies: Integration with existing tools and platforms should be considered.
Platform complexity and functionalities: Tools should scale with the platform’s complexity and desired functionalities.
What are the responsibilities of a platform engineer?
A platform engineer acts as the architect, builder, and caretaker of an organization’s internal developer platform (IDP). This role requires a blend of technical knowledge, problem-solving skills, and communication abilities to design, build, and maintain the platform that empowers developers and fuels software development within an organization.
Here are a few of a platform engineer’s key responsibilities:
Design and Planning: Analyze developer needs and pain points, finding areas where automation and standardization can improve efficiency. Design the IDP architecture, choosing the right tools and technologies based on the organization’s requirements. Define security and governance policies to ensure secure development practices and compliance within the platform.
Building and Implementation: Develop and deploy the IDP components, using infrastructure as code (IaC) tools to automate infrastructure provisioning and configuration. Implement containerization platforms like Docker and Kubernetes to create standardized and portable development environments. Build and configure CI/CD pipelines to automate code builds, testing, and deployments, minimizing manual intervention. Set up API management and security tools to control access and protect sensitive data within the platform.
Operation and Maintenance: Watch the IDP’s performance and health, ensuring everything runs smoothly and addressing any issues promptly. Gather feedback from developers and continuously iterate on the platform, adding new features and improving existing ones based on usage data and evolving needs. Apply security updates and vulnerability patches proactively to maintain a secure platform environment. Document platform workflows and processes for clear understanding and easy onboarding of new users.
Collaboration and Advocacy: Train and support developers on using the IDP effectively, empowering them to take advantage of its features and functionalities. Communicate the value proposition of the platform to stakeholders, showing how it improves developer productivity and overall software development efficiency. Collaborate with other teams like operations and security to ensure the platform aligns with organizational goals and best practices. Foster a culture of automation and self-service within the organization, encouraging developers to embrace the platform’s capabilities.
Platform engineers might wear more than one hat depending on the organization’s structure and needs. They can be involved in:
- Performance optimization and troubleshooting.
- Cost management and resource allocation for the platform.
- Researching and evaluating new tools and technologies for potential integration.
- Contributing to the overall software development lifecycle by providing technical expertise and guidance.
What are the key skills needed to be a platform engineer?
A platform engineer needs a robust blend of technical prowess and soft skills to navigate the complex world of building and maintaining internal developer platforms (IDPs). The key skills necessary for an effective platform engineer include:
- Strong understanding of software development principles and best practices: This includes knowledge of programming languages, software architecture, and design patterns.
- Expertise in cloud computing and infrastructure automation: Familiarity with major cloud platforms (AWS, Azure, GCP) and IaC tools like Terraform and Ansible is crucial.
- Proficiency in containerization and orchestration: Docker and Kubernetes are essential tools for creating and managing standardized development environments.
- Understanding of CI/CD pipelines: Knowledge of tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, and CircleCI for automating builds, tests, and deployments.
- API management and security: Familiarity with API gateways like Kong and Tyk, along with secure authentication and authorization practices.
- Monitoring and logging expertise: Tools like Prometheus, Grafana, and Elasticsearch are key for tracking platform performance and health.
- Scripting skills: Bash, Python, or other scripting languages are often used for automation tasks and custom configurations.
- Excellent communication and collaboration: Platform engineers need to bridge the gap between developers and operations teams, fostering communication and collaboration.
- Problem-solving and analytical skills: Troubleshooting platform issues, improving performance, and finding creative solutions are essential daily tasks.
- Learning agility and adaptability: Staying updated with the ever-evolving landscape of tools and technologies is crucial.
- Time management and organization: Juggling multiple responsibilities and projects requires strong organizational skills.
- Attention to detail: Precision and meticulousness are crucial for ensuring the platform’s stability and security.
- Security knowledge: Understanding security best practices and common vulnerabilities is valuable for secure platform development.
- DevOps principles and methodologies: Familiarity with DevOps practices can streamline collaboration and automation efforts.
- Experience with specific tools and technologies: Expertise in tools relevant to the organization’s chosen platform stack is highly sought-after.
Successful platform engineers must have a unique blend of technical ability and soft skills. They are the architects, builders, and guardians of efficient developer platforms, driving innovation and empowering developers within organizations. If you’re passionate about technology, solving problems, and collaborating with diverse teams, then platform engineering might be the ideal career path for you.
Unlocking the Power of Teams and Accelerating Software Delivery
An IDP is a strategic investment that empowers developers, improves development processes, and fuels faster innovation within organizations. Platform engineering offers many benefits to organizations including increased productivity, faster time to market, improved software quality, lower operational costs and most importantly, happier developers.
But platform engineering isn’t a product, it’s a revolution in the process of software development. By improving the developer experience through thoughtful patterns and practices, platform engineering unleashes the power of your teams and propels your software delivery into the fast lane. To learn more about how Stefanini can help your organization transform software development, contact us today.