Platform Engineering 101: A Beginner's Guide

By Twain Taylor
July 05, 2023

Platform engineering is gaining significance rapidly as it enhances developer experience. Explore how it eliminates cognitive load, streamlines software development, and boosts productivity in this detailed article.

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If you ask any software development team to list their key challenges, it’d probably be something along these lines: developer experience, development velocity, and resource utilization. Although we have witnessed some transformative approaches to streamline application delivery, they have brought fundamental problems. Industry standards and approaches like DevOps and tools like Kubernetes have added to the complexity of shipping software faster. Developers are now required to understand an ever-growing toolchain and rely on IT operators for their everyday tasks - vastly increasing their cognitive load and creating organizational inefficiencies.

Developer’s Increasing Cognitive Load - Source

These challenges have forced companies to look at a better approach: platform engineering. Gartner has listed platform engineering as one of its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2023. If you’ve heard this term a lot lately, that’s not a coincidence. Let’s see what the buzz around platform engineering is all about and if it’s actually all it’s chalked up to be.

What is Platform Engineering?

Platform engineering facilitates streamlined software development through a self-service platform that enables developers to provision and manage the underlying infrastructure, tools, and services they need to run their applications. Also known as an internal developer platform, it enhances developer experience by removing the burden of managing IT operations to support and deploy applications.

In essence, through platform engineering, you provide developers with a robust and scalable platform to help developers build, test, and deploy applications faster. The end goal is to greatly improve developer experience, which naturally results in shipping software products faster.

Let’s understand exactly why platform engineering is essential to help developers build and ship applications quickly and securely.

How does Platform Engineering Work?

Platform engineering creates a predictable and secure path to production by combining all the technologies, tools, and methodologies an app needs. Typically, a platform team has three mandates:

  • Improve the developer experience by reducing tedious and manual work.
  • Give developers the freedom to choose the tools or processes they want.

  • Work on the internal developer platform as a product.

So, the platform engineering team is a product development team built for developers. They research user requirements and expectations to improve the platform continuously. Given the current landscape, a developer typically has to learn and gain experience in various concepts, including Kubernetes, infrastructure provisioning, pipelines, and configuration management. Instead of burdening developers with these tasks, platform engineering creates multiple abstraction layers or reusable templates so developers can choose the resources they want.

With an internal developer platform in place, if a developer wants a Kubernetes cluster for their application, they need not approach the operations team. They can provision these resources on their own. Ideally, the platform team will have already created a template a developer can select and use to deploy their application without delay. Reusability is a crucial aspect of a self-service platform. However, when developers have special requirements, they can contact the platform team to create a template for their unique use case.

Why is Platform Engineering Important?

Infrastructure provisioning is an essential step in taking an application from development to production. Yet, it can be a big challenge for operations teams. Catering to multiple developers simultaneously stretches the Ops team, which results in bottlenecks that slow down the deployment process. While DevOps brought developers and IT operators on the same plane, it introduced a new problem of piling requests to provide infrastructure resources. At times, developers need to take on the added workload of managing infrastructure and repositories. This is where platform engineering emerged as a boon for developers.

It is significant in eliminating the friction between developers and IT operators. The self-serve platform allows developers to use pre-defined and reusable components to run their applications. It solves both problems - for developers, it provides templates, and for operators, it relieves them from managing a flood of requests.

With companies realizing it, adopting internal developer portals is rapidly increasing. In fact, Gartner predicts that around 80% of software development organizations will build their self-service platform to boost their developer productivity.

Webinar: Six Signs You Need Platform Engineering

Watch our on-demand webinar as we delve into Platform Engineering and Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs). Learn about the signs to look out for when looking to embrace this new approach for increasing developer velocity at scale while boosting reliability and security.

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Platform Engineering with GitOps

Without a self-service portal, developers would raise a ticket requesting infrastructure resources. The request is forwarded to stakeholders for approval, after which the IT Ops team would provision the resources.

When a developer raises a ticket, three things happen:

  • It adds to the ops team’s pile of requests
  • Development halts till resources are provisioned
  • Software delivery is delayed

An internal developer platform avoids this time-consuming process by facilitating developers with ready-made resources. The ideal way to create this portal is to use the GitOps approach. You can templatize infrastructure resources through Git repos, implement guidelines to use them and allow customization to suit developer needs.

Using this model, you can implement GitOps principles to define infrastructure resources declaratively and automate them right from Git. This way, developers get access to the resources they need to deploy their applications without raising tickets. If they need further customization, teams can contact the platform team.

Platform Engineering vs. SRE: How are they Different?

Platform engineering and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) have much in common. They are both focused on improving the reliability of applications that are released. However, they take a slightly different approach to the challenge of reliability. Platform engineering aims to remove obstacles in the pipeline and improve application delivery speed, while SRE focuses on enhancing reliability in production. Let’s understand their differences in a bit more detail.

What is SRE?

SRE is the process of defining service level objectives (SLOs) to establish systems that can run applications reliably. These ultimately form a platform capable of monitoring applications, handling failures, identifying root causes, and automating incident management.

The main objective of SRE is to ensure that your application works seamlessly without disruptions by creating a reliable system. On the other hand, platform engineering enables faster application development by empowering developers through templatized infrastructure resources. Both these methodologies are critical to building reliable software faster and must work in tandem.

  1. Platform engineering enforces efficient software development by removing bottlenecks, while SRE implements principles to build reliable software.
  2. SRE limits outages or failures of your application by defining strong SLOs. Platform engineering, on the other hand, minimizes dependencies on IT operators.
  3. SRE uses tools to monitor software performance and gather metrics, while platform engineering uses tools to automate software delivery.

Benefits of Platform Engineering

The primary intention behind platform engineering is to free developers from the operational rut so that they can write code and build products faster. It is achieving significant inroads in the development community for its developer experience. Some of the benefits of platform engineering include:

  • Put your development cycle in the fast lane: with the availability of reusable infrastructure resources, developers can quickly write new features and test them by spinning up the resources on demand. This autonomy makes it easy for developers to build applications faster and motivates them to innovate.

  • Eliminate operational roadblocks: As much as DevOps promises unified software development for speed, it also introduces operational complexity. Platform engineering eliminates the choke-points of your software development lifecycle by empowering developers with self-serve capability and IT operators with free time to address developer requirements.
  • Promote an efficient work culture: Platform engineering facilitates automation, which streamlines your entire development cycle. With an internal developer portal, you can simplify the management of underlying infrastructure and development processes by implementing feedback rapidly.
  • Enable continuous evolution: Every development workflow evolves with time with the addition of new tools, processes, and technologies. However, these changes often bring the entire lifecycle to a screeching halt. With platform engineering, however, you can constantly evolve your toolchain quickly since a dedicated team optimizes the changes to suit the existing workflow.

Now that we’ve discussed platform engineering in detail, let’s take a look at a couple of available solutions that can help you implement platform engineering in your organization.

Figure: Benefits of Platform Engineering

Weave GitOps Enterprise - The Gold Standard for Platform Engineering

Weavework’s Weave GitOps Enterprise (WGE) is a GitOps platform that makes building a self-service portal for your development team easy. It allows you to create reproducible and reusable infrastructure components by defining them in YAML files. WGE also gives you a single-screen view of your entire development stack so that you identify and address any roadblocks across the software lifecycle.

Some of the key features of WGE that facilitate an internal developer platform are listed below:

  1. Workspaces & Policy-as-Code: Weave GitOps’ Enterprise Workspaces enables developers to gain autonomy and facilitates a focus on writing code without engaging in tedious back and forth with the Ops team. More importantly, it enables them to use predesigned resources to ship applications without worrying about impacting overall security.
  2. Terraform Controller: Terraform Controller lets you create reusable templates in HCL (Hashicorp Configuration Language). You can use these templates for spinning up multiple instances with different configurations. This greatly simplifies your Terraform workflows.
  3. GitOps Run: WGE’s GitOps Run feature removes the burden of creating environments for your developers by automating environment provisioning with security guardrails in place. However, your team can also customize the environment management policies just as easily.
  4. GitOps Templates: Using GitOps Templates, your developers can experience much faster deployments through pre-built and secure infrastructure templates. All they need to do is select a template and run the fields they need. The system will take care of automating YAML creation.
  5. Pipelines: WGE’s Pipelines feature helps you automate code rollout or rollback based on the conditional checkpoints you set. In addition, you also have complete visibility into your environment, like the flow of code and versions from one screen.
  6. GitOpsSets: GitOpsSets simplify infrastructure configuration across environments by creating a single definition to spin up resources across clusters. It allows teams to review their code through pull request previews.

To learn more about Weave GitOps Enterprise and its self-service platform capabilities, request a demo today.

Boost Developer Productivity with Weave GitOps Enterprise

Platform engineering is a powerful methodology that can give you an edge over your competitors. It enables you to ship applications faster, be more innovative with new features, and improve the reliability of applications. Building an internal developer platform requires dedication and commitment. It needs to be centered around developer experience, with a focus on enabling them to write better code and test autonomously.

The self-service platform must be managed continually to ensure it doesn’t become an operational challenge for either developer or the operations team. Or as Obi-Wan Kenobi says in Star Wars, ‘You have become the very thing you swore to destroy.’ Fortunately, with Weave GitOps Enterprise, you have all you need to manage your internal development platform at scale and reap the benefits of platform engineering.

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Enabling a Self-Service Developer Experience with GitOps

Introducing GitOps Run: Create secure developer environments faster than ever

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