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What Is Platform Engineering? Demystifying the Key Concepts and Benefits
In the vast realm of technology, new buzzwords and concepts emerge constantly, captivating the attention of industry professionals and curious enthusiasts alike. One such term that has been making waves in recent years is platform engineering. But what is it specifically, and why should you be concerned?
Imagine a world where businesses can effortlessly adapt to changing market needs, scale their operations seamlessly, and deliver exceptional digital experiences to their customers. That’s precisely what platform engineering is all about. It holds the key to unlocking the true potential of technology, enabling a software engineering organization to build powerful platforms that fuel innovation, collaboration, and growth.
In this article, we’ll embark on a journey of discovery to unravel the intriguing world of platform engineering. We’ll peel back the layers and explore the fundamental principles that underpin this transformative practice. From its crucial role in driving digital transformation to its significance in meeting the ever-growing demand for streamlined, user-centric experiences, platform engineering is a force to be reckoned with.
Get to Know Platform Engineering
With current cloud-native architectures becoming more and more complicated, platform engineering has become a revolutionary subject. It addresses the need for creating and maintaining an integrated product known as an “Internal Developer Platform.” This platform serves as an abstraction layer between developers and the underlying technologies of their applications, offering flexibility and support.
A platform engineering team focuses on creating an Internal Developer Platform that streamlines and enhances the developer experience. It acts as a comprehensive solution that abstracts away the complexities of underlying technologies, allowing developers to focus on building and delivering software applications efficiently. By providing a standardized set of tools, services, and infrastructure, platform engineering enables seamless collaboration, accelerates development methodology, and enhances overall productivity.
In summary, platform engineering is a discipline that has gained momentum due to its ability to optimize the developer experience and accelerate the delivery of customer value. By building Internal Developer Platforms, software engineering organizations can unlock the potential for enhanced productivity, streamlined collaboration, and rapid innovation. As more organizations recognize the value of platform engineering, it is poised to become a standard practice in the software engineering landscape, revolutionizing the way applications are developed and deployed.
Key Components of Platform Engineering
Platform engineering is a collaborative effort that brings together select Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) and DevOps engineers, along with product managers, to address common challenges within an organization and establish seamless toolchains and workflows. The ultimate outcome of a platform team is the creation of an Internal Developer Platform, an integrated product that encompasses the operational requirements throughout the application lifecycle.
Platform engineering is built upon three key components that drive its success:
- Improved Developer Experience: The primary goal of platform engineering is to enhance the developer experience by constructing internal developer platforms. These platforms aim to reduce cognitive load, alleviate developer toil, and automate repetitive manual tasks. By streamlining workflows and providing standardized tooling, platform engineering eliminates friction and empowers developers to focus on building and delivering software applications efficiently.
- Flexibility without Abstraction: Platforms in platform engineering do not mandate a specific toolset or approach. Instead, the emphasis is on making it easy for developers to build and deliver software while retaining the useful and differentiated capabilities of the underlying core services. This approach ensures that developers have the flexibility to utilize the tools and technologies that best suit their needs while still benefitting from the platform’s overarching support and infrastructure.
- Platform as a Product: Platform engineering teams treat the platforms they create as products in their own right, tailored to enable developer self-service. They adopt a product-oriented mindset, conducting user research, creating a product roadmap, soliciting regular feedback, iterating on the platform’s features, and internally marketing the Internal Developer Platform to its customers: the developers themselves. This product-centric approach ensures that the platform meets the specific needs of its users and encourages widespread adoption across the organization.
By adopting these key components, platform teams establish a strong foundation for success. They focus on improving the developer experience, promoting flexibility without abstraction, and treating the platform as a product. This holistic approach ensures that the Internal Developer Platform not only meets the operational requirements of the organization but also aligns closely with the needs and aspirations of the software engineers who rely on it. As a result, platform engineering becomes a catalyst for increased productivity, collaboration, and innovation across the entire software development lifecycle.
Benefits of Platform Engineering
Platform engineering offers numerous benefits to software engineering organizations. Here are some key advantages:
- Enhanced Developer Productivity: Platform engineering focuses on improving the developer experience by providing standardized tools, services, and infrastructure through Internal Developer Platforms. By abstracting away the complexities of underlying technologies, developers can focus more on building and delivering software applications, leading to increased productivity and faster time-to-market.
- Streamlined Collaboration: A platform engineering team binds collaboration among development, operations, and other teams involved in the software development lifecycle. By providing a common platform, teams can work together more efficiently, share knowledge, and collaborate on projects. This leads to improved communication, reduced silos, and better coordination between teams.
- Increased Agility and Flexibility: Platform engineering embraces a flexible approach by not enforcing specific toolsets or approaches. Instead, it aims to make it easy for developers to utilize the tools and technologies that best suit their needs while providing support and standardized capabilities. This flexibility allows teams to adapt and integrate new technologies and frameworks as needed, fostering innovation and agility.
- Scalability and Resilience: Internal Developer Portals built by platform engineering teams are designed to handle scalability and resilience. By leveraging containerization and orchestration technologies, such as Docker and Kubernetes, platforms can automatically scale applications based on demand and enable self-service capabilities, ensuring high availability and efficient resource utilization. This enables organizations to handle increased workloads and provides a resilient infrastructure for their applications.
- Reduced Operational Complexity: Platform engineering simplifies the management and operations of infrastructure by automating tasks such as provisioning, configuration, and monitoring. This reduces the operational complexity for developers and operations teams, allowing them to focus on higher-value tasks rather than repetitive manual work. It also minimizes the risk of human error and improves overall system stability.
What Are Some Platform Engineering Tools?
Platform engineering, although still an emerging discipline, offers a variety of options to kickstart your journey. The choice of tools depends on the flexibility your application developers require and where you want the platform to reside.
Building your own platform is an option, but it comes with significant overhead costs. Alternatively, using an out-of-the-box IDP (Identity Provider) tool may lack the necessary flexibility to cater to your internal customers effectively. In some cases, a developer portal that enables self-service can abstract away complexity and enhance productivity. Additionally, a plethora of open-source options and CI/CD pipeline tools are available. Here’s an overview of the current platform engineering tool suite:
configure8 is a developer portal that focuses on implementing standards and best practices within the platform engineering ecosystem. It enables developers to discover, consume, and contribute to shared resources, services, and APIs. The portal promotes collaboration and ensures consistency across development teams by enforcing standardized configurations and guidelines.
Kratix is an open-source framework for implementing platforms-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions. It simplifies the process of building and managing developer platforms, providing a foundation for self-service infrastructure provisioning and application deployment. Kratix offers flexibility and extensibility, allowing teams to customize and tailor the platform to their specific needs.
Ambassador is a cloud-native developer control plane that acts as an API gateway and microservices management tool. It provides developers with a centralized point for managing and securing APIs, handling routing, and implementing policies. Ambassador simplifies the process of building and managing scalable microservices architectures.
Cycloid offers a self-service developer portal that empowers teams to manage their infrastructure and applications efficiently. It provides a user-friendly interface for deploying and managing resources, streamlining the development process. Cycloid’s portal facilitates collaboration and empowers developers to provision resources independently, reducing dependency on centralized platform engineering teams.
Port is a no-code developer portal that empowers developers to discover, explore, and utilize various services and APIs within the platform ecosystem. It provides an intuitive interface for managing integrations and accessing resources, enabling self-service development and reducing the need for manual intervention.
These tools, within the platform engineering realm, help abstract away the complexities of managing Kubernetes-based infrastructure. They provide additional capabilities, such as service discovery, load balancing, and scaling, to simplify the deployment and management of applications in Kubernetes clusters.
Key Skills and Roles in Platform Engineering Teams
Platform engineering teams are at the forefront of building and maintaining internal developer platforms, enabling efficient software development processes and empowering developers. These teams require a diverse set of skills and roles to effectively deliver and support these platforms. Let’s explore the key skills and roles in platform engineering, the collaborative nature of the field, and the career opportunities it offers.
Platform engineers must possess a combination of technical skills and expertise to design, develop, and maintain internal developer platforms. Some essential skills include:
- Strong understanding of infrastructure automation and configuration management tools like Terraform, Ansible, or Puppet.
- Proficiency in programming languages like Python, Go, or Ruby for scripting and automation tasks.
- Understanding of systems for container orchestration, such as Kubernetes, and containerization technologies, such as Docker.
- Familiarity with cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud and their associated services.
- Experience in implementing and managing CI/CD pipelines using tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, or CircleCI.
- Understanding of networking concepts, security best practices, and monitoring and observability tools.
Platform engineering offers exciting career opportunities with significant growth prospects. As organizations increasingly prioritize platform engineering practices, professionals in this field can expect to find diverse roles and responsibilities. Some potential career paths include:
- Platform Engineer: The primary role within platform engineering teams, responsible for designing, building, and maintaining internal developer platforms.
- Site Reliability Engineer (SRE): SREs focus on ensuring the reliability, availability, and performance of the platforms, working closely with platform engineers, operations teams, and developers.
- DevOps Engineer: With their expertise in automation, infrastructure management, and CI/CD pipelines, platform engineers can transition into DevOps roles, driving the adoption of DevOps practices across the organization.
- Platform Architect: Platform architects focus on designing the overall architecture and framework of the internal developer platforms, collaborating with software architects and other stakeholders to align the platforms with organizational goals.
The demand for platform engineering skills is continuously growing as organizations recognize the importance of scalable and efficient software development practices. This field offers ample opportunities for skill development, career advancement, and the chance to contribute to the success of software engineering organizations.
Organizations looking to drive innovation and success should explore and embrace platform engineering practices. By investing in internal developer platforms and assembling skilled platform engineering teams, they can unlock the potential for faster, more reliable software delivery and improved customer experiences. When seeking platform engineering resources, outsourcing partners like Orient Software can provide access to expert teams with a deep understanding of platform engineering principles and technologies, ensuring successful platform implementation and adoption.
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