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How to Win at Platform Engineering

What DevOps team leaders can do to establish a successful platform engineering practice.

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James WalkerSoftware Engineer
How to Win at Platform Engineering

Platform engineering is the process of building internal tools and systems developers can use to increase software delivery throughput. A prebuilt platform of useful components, services and processes enhances development speed and efficiency while simultaneously reducing the risk that errors or inconsistencies will occur.

Adopting platform engineering enables an improvement in development agility, but it can be challenging to transition from existing DevOps techniques. You’ll encounter complexities not just in your technical choices, but also on the people side. Change management is often challenging, and when you’re changing the tools developers work with, you can expect resistance unless you set everyone up for success in advance. In this article, you'll discover what you can do to support your dev teams and increase buy-in, which will help pave the way to platform engineering success.

More guidance on platform engineering:

Platform Engineering Is a Progression from DevOps

Platform engineering is a next step for high-performing DevOps teams that want to unlock even greater speed, agility, and standardization. It automates key parts of the software delivery lifecycle within self-service frameworks that give devs access to the tools they need when they need them. The platform's components are maintained by dedicated engineers tasked with supporting developer requirements and continually improving the platform to include new optimizations, workflows, and processes.

Even in organizations with mature DevOps implementations, creating a new environment or deploying a change can require several manual steps, such as creating a deployment plan, initiating the rollout, executing tests and then monitoring for issues that occur. Platform engineering teams provide automated solutions for these tasks. Leaders can also reliably enforce security and compliance guardrails because all dev activity occurs through the centralized platform using a consistent set of tools.

Teams that adopt platform engineering also benefit from better collaboration and communication. They can contribute components back to the platform so neighboring teams can easily test deployments and verify compatibility with their own services. This can allow issues to be found and fixed faster.

Ensuring a Successful Shift to Platform Engineering

Transitioning from traditional DevOps to platform engineering is a significant step, even after leaders have positioned themselves to facilitate the change. Carefully planning your platform and how it'll affect your teams allows you to uncover possible issues early on, giving you more opportunities to design mitigations. Here are some best practices to follow.

Build Cross-Functional Teams

There are a few differences between platform engineering teams and regular product development teams. First among these is the unique audience that platform teams target: other developers in your organization. This means platform teams and product teams should work closely with each other so that the platform can solve real engineering challenges.

Cross-functional teams that combine individuals from several disciplines can produce the most helpful effects on your delivery process. For example, developers, operators, security experts and product managers could all provide feedback that informs the design of your internal platforms. This makes it more likely that the platform properly supports the way your teams work as well as the technical requirements of the products you build.

Prioritize Automation

Automation and standardization are some of the main priorities for platform engineering to achieve. Although automation has always been part of DevOps, its remit there has generally been limited to how code changes are integrated and deployed.

Platform engineering extends the scope of automation to include all tasks undertaken by developers. This includes the provisioning of new projects and environments, in addition to mechanisms that enable self-service access to required infrastructure, observability data, and testing processes.

Developers want to be able to focus on moving forward with meaningful new work. Having to run complex manual procedures or wait for responses from different teams results in bottlenecks that harm your throughput, which can still happen if your platform engineering transition isn't oriented around real developer pain points. Automating the most impactful areas of your workflows as your platform engineering starting point means you'll be more likely to realize positive results.

Embrace a Platform-First Mindset

One of the main reasons platform engineering initiatives fail is because the platforms go unused. Your investment in creating the platform can also be subverted by teams that continue to build their own tools independently of those included in the platform. This causes toolchain dilution and can introduce threats when developers select unauthorized services or vendors.

Adopt a platform-first mindset throughout your organization to keep devs using the platform. Developers need to accept it as the single place where all work is done, even when they might have already created their own tooling.

If changes to tools or processes are required, then devs should use clearly defined communication channels to request that the platform team implement their requirements. Having the platform team build the new improvements means they'll be accessible to other teams too, preserving consistency across your organization's workflows.

Devs are unlikely to embrace a platform if they're unable to observe the value it creates, so make sure each team's unique needs are accommodated. Comprehensive, ready-to-use options for automation and self-service access make it less likely that specific teams will want to reach for their own solutions instead.

When introducing the platform, explain why the approach has been adopted and how it will deliver broader improvements to your products and processes—such as by reducing build times, applying consistent security protections, and stopping more errors from reaching production. Developers might not be directly exposed to all these effects, but they'll be reassured that any changes they must make to their processes are contributing to the overall speed and quality of software delivery.

Choose a Global Infrastructure Provider with the Right Tooling

The success or failure of platform engineering can come down to the components that underpin the platform itself. You need access to the right infrastructure and tooling to reliably host your platform with stable performance. Your platform must be scalable to meet your current and future development requirements. Otherwise, you could find yourself unexpectedly limited by the platform as you add new products, tools and teams.

Choosing an open infrastructure provider with a global presence and flexible resource provisioning options guarantees your platform will be able to properly support your developers well into the future. A dedicated cloud solution like Equinix’s can work well for platform engineering because you can provision your own bare metal compute, storage and network on demand via an API—but with the same level of configuration control as you have in your own data center. It allows you to connect directly to other cloud services, network providers and on-premises environments as well, ensuring your platform can interact with all your resources.

Actions Leaders Can Take to Support the Adoption of Platform Engineering

Platform engineering is a progression from traditional DevOps, but this doesn't mean that adoption is always easy. Creating a platform has a high upfront cost because you must make an initial investment in your platform teams and technologies. If you want developers to use the platform, leaders need to actively support its adoption.

Invest in the Right Platform Tools and Technologies

Choosing the right tools and technologies is key to successful platform adoption. Favoring tools that devs already use is the best way to gain buy-in. When this isn't possible due to platform, security, or compliance issues, try to engage with devs to select alternatives that can still solve their problems.

Platform engineering is similar to product engineering, but with your devs as your customers. It's essential to build to their requirements.

Encourage Collaboration Between Teams

Leaders should encourage teams to embrace collaboration and use cross-functional working methods. Although this has always been integral to the DevOps philosophy, platform engineering makes it easier to achieve in practice. Centralized platforms help you disseminate information and coordinate developer access to different processes.

Promote Internal Developer Platforms

Promoting your developer platforms informs devs of the benefits available and how to use them. Devs can't take advantage of features they don't know about, so it's important to widely communicate new platform capabilities and updates. Try to go beyond describing "what" is possible in the platform—explaining *why* certain processes have been added makes it more likely that developers adopt them instead of their own implementations. Easily accessible, high-quality, user-friendly training material will go a long way here as well.

Conclusion

Platform engineering reinforces DevOps principles through the use of automated self-service frameworks that support developers in their daily work. Dev teams can increase their efficiency by relying on the platform to achieve previously time-consuming tasks, while leaders can gain certainty that the correct security and compliance policies are being enforced.

Transitioning to platform engineering demands strong leadership to ensure your platform is universally adopted across your organization. Promoting the platform, providing training and ensuring it's designed around actual developer needs are the best ways to foster acceptance. Platforms must also be technically robust enough to support your dev activities; having to wait for slow or unstable processes to complete could mean your platform hinders throughput.

You improve your platform performance by choosing a global infrastructure provider that offers flexibility to match your workloads. Equinix provides scalable dedicated cloud resources with multicloud and hybrid cloud options and a rich set of integrations letting you optimize your platform's deployment strategy.

Published on

04 April 2024

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