Platform Engineering: What It Is and Why It Matters
As consumer-facing applications continue to evolve, the need for effective platform engineering becomes more important than ever. In today’s fast-paced business landscape, companies must be able to develop, deploy, and maintain their applications quickly and efficiently. Platform engineering plays a vital role in achieving these objectives, providing the tools and processes necessary for building robust, scalable, and secure platforms that can meet the needs of businesses and customers alike.
Defining Platform Engineering
Platform engineering refers to the processes and practices involved in designing, building, and maintaining the software platforms that power modern businesses. These platforms are the foundation upon which businesses can build their applications, enabling them to quickly and easily develop, deploy, and scale their products and services.
At its core, platform engineering involves the use of automation, infrastructure as code, and other modern development practices to create robust, scalable, and secure platforms. These platforms can be used by developers to build applications quickly and efficiently, by creating processes that enable developers to be able to configure and create the infrastructure programmatically. In this article, we will explore the history and evolution of platform engineering and the reasons behind its growing importance in the tech industry.
The Pain Points of the Past
Before the advent of platform engineering, software engineers had to deal with a range of challenges that hindered their productivity and slowed down the pace of software development. Traditionally, software developers had to manually manage the underlying infrastructure on which their applications ran. This involved configuring servers, deploying software, and troubleshooting issues, which were time-consuming and error-prone.
Another challenge was that the software development teams working on that infrastructure operated in silos, with limited collaboration and coordination between different teams. This led to inefficient processes, duplicated efforts, and a lack of standardization in software development practices. Due to these challenges, software releases were infrequent and time-consuming, often taking weeks or months to complete. This made it difficult for companies to keep up with the rapidly evolving market and customer demands.
The Emergence of Platform Engineering
To address these challenges, a new set of practices emerged, which we call platform engineering today. Platform engineering is a holistic approach to software development that emphasizes collaboration, automation, and standardization. It aims to provide software developers with the infrastructure and tools they need to build, deploy, and scale software applications quickly and efficiently.
Some key elements of platform engineering include:
- Collaboration: Platform engineering emphasizes collaboration between different teams involved in software development, including developers, operations, security, and product teams. This collaboration enables better coordination, faster feedback loops, and more efficient decision-making.
- Automation: To reduce manual efforts, platform engineering relies heavily on automation, including continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD), monitoring, and logging. Automation helps to accelerate software development and improve the quality of software releases.
- Role Management: Each team member should have specific access to certain parts of the platform. Where groups of people can get access to certain data, can perform certain actions on the data, or can modify certain parts of the system or source code.
- Standardization: Platform engineering promotes standardization in software development practices, including coding conventions, testing methodologies, and deployment processes. This helps to reduce errors, increase efficiency, and ensure consistency across different teams.
DevOps vs. Platform Engineering
DevOps is a related term that is often used interchangeably with platform engineering. However, there are differences between the two. DevOps is a cultural movement that emphasizes collaboration, communication, and automation between software development and operations teams. It aims to break down silos and foster a shared responsibility for software development and deployment. Platform engineering, on the other hand, is a set of practices and tools that support DevOps principles by providing the underlying infrastructure and tooling needed to automate software development and deployment.
The teams responsible for platform engineering and DevOps have unique sets of responsibilities and target audiences. DevOps teams concentrate most of their time on delivering the technical features of an application. Platform engineering teams, on the other hand, are dedicated to building and maintaining a platform. This includes identifying the needs of the development teams and other stakeholders in the organization who benefit from the platform.
Platform engineering is often implemented after a DevOps initiative has already been established. DevOps engineering follows the principle of “you build it, you run it,” which means developers must become experts in the tools they use to use them correctly. However, this added responsibility can increase their cognitive load and distract them from their core activities.
Platform engineering helps alleviate this load by providing structured toolchains and workflows, allowing developers to self-service and collaborate with consistent, reliable tools. This is crucial for avoiding confusion, frustration, and development bottlenecks resulting from too many choices.
In a way, platform engineering supports the deployment, operation, and monitoring elements of the DevOps cycle. Without the product-focused approach of platform engineering, DevOps initiatives may struggle to succeed. Similarly, platform engineering tools developed without collaboration with DevOps teams may lose focus and lead to wasted investment, developer frustration, and an unclear return on investment.
Platform engineering is a critical component of modern software development. By using automation, infrastructure as code, and other modern practices, businesses can build platforms that are fast, reliable, and scalable. This, in turn, lets developers build and deploy their apps quickly and efficiently, keeping them ahead of the competition and meeting customer needs.
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