Platform engineering and DevOps are two disciplines that optimize the software development processes. While the goal of each is to streamline product development, each has a different approach.
The DevOps practices help the product developers and operation teams to collaborate and work together. On the other hand, platform engineering creates and maintains a centralized platform where DevOps teams can access automated, self-service reusable tools and workflows.
In this article, we will learn about platform engineering and DevOps, what each approach does, and its benefits. We will also look at the differences and future of the two disciplines.
What is Platform Engineering
Platform engineering is the practice of designing, building, and maintaining the software development infrastructure to improve developers’ experience and productivity. It provides shared, self-service reusable tools that developers can access from a central location.
The platform engineers focus on creating and maintaining the underlying platforms, tools, and processes that support software development. It helps to improve the reliability and scalability of the development infrastructure, hence improving the speed of delivering software products.
In practice, development processes, technologies, and tools evolve as the product continues to grow and becomes more complex. And platform engineering ensures continuous evolvement of development processes and tools as the product grows.
These include issues such as test requirements, storage, the need to comply with regulatory standards, and more. The approach ensures what is required to meet new requirements is available in advance.
Usually, the platform engineers will design, create and manage the tools and workflows that developers require to ease their work, work more efficiently, and deliver applications faster. With self-service access, developers can utilize all the tools and capabilities freely without relying on infrastructure and operations, and other teams.
For example, developers do not have to keep on requesting approval to launch a new staging environment or start an isolated development environment. In practice, the approval process may slow things down and result in inefficient product development.
The self-service access addresses these and other issues hence allowing developers to almost instantly access a wide range of features and capabilities.
How Platform Engineering is Emerging
Platform engineering creates a set of organized groups of services, processes, tools, and other resources that software developers can use without managing them directly or needing to understand them. The discipline addresses a wide range of development needs.
As the software applications and development infrastructure evolves, it becomes more complex, with so many moving parts that most software developers cannot keep pace. In practice, developers are required to manage infrastructure, yet they do not have adequate skills or resources to manage emerging technologies.
When teams as required to handle things beyond their capacity, productivity goes down, and chances of errors increase. And platform engineering is emerging as a viable solution that can improve the developer experience and speed of delivering products. The platform provides access to custom, validated self-service, reusable tools, and workflows.
Platform engineering creates an Internal Developer Platform that software developers can use to build their products. The platform comprises all the technologies and tools bound together to create a centralized collection of self-service tools and processes.
The engineering practice relies on a wide range of tools that gives developers the freedom to choose what they want.
Once created, it forms a golden path that DevOps teams can use to build their products. It provides a self-service infrastructure where developers can create their development environment with the tools they need without waiting for approval.
Generally, platform engineering is like the DevOps next stage that can help large companies develop self-service, reusable configurations and standards which they then offer as internal products. As the step forward in DevOps, platform engineering enables the developers to easily follow the DevOps practices but may differ from one organization to the other.
Benefits of Internal Development Platforms
Platform engineering offers a wide range of benefits, and companies should not shy away from implementing it. The main benefits include:
It helps to accelerate the delivery of software applications hence enabling businesses to realize useful business value in time.
The practice provides reusable tools with self-service capabilities and automated infrastructure operations that help to improve productivity and developer experience, standard DevOps practices, and a secure and scalable development pipeline.
Accelerating software development. The resulting Internal development platforms offer automated processes and self-service infrastructure, which helps to reduce time wastage and bureaucracy and hence improve productivity.
Enhances more specialization and focus: It allows developers to concentrate on development (what they do best); in practice, the CI/CD pipeline, infrastructure, and distributed deployment are complex systems that require highly specialized skills. However, with platform engineering, developers do not need to understand the systems, and they can focus on developing software instead of trying to understand and work on the underlying infrastructure.
What is DevOps
DevOps is an approach that seeks to increase software release frequency and efficiency. It breaks down the silos between teams while promoting collaboration between them.
The software development method uses automation, continuous monitoring, integration, continuous delivery, testing, configuration management, and incident management tools and practices to support the various processes along the CI/CD pipeline.
The developers work in partnership with the operations team to decrease the build time, and help companies rapidly and frequently release new products and features.
The ultimate goal of the DevOps approach is to automate and shorten the feedback loop and software development cycle. It streamlines the software development phases, such as planning, creating, building, configuring, monitoring, and verifying.
Benefits of DevOps practices
DevOps provide a wide range of benefits. Some of these include:
Faster software and features development and deployment
Improved and stable work environment
Better product quality
Continuous delivery of software products and features
Better, reliable, and faster problem-solving techniques
Reduced software development costs
Platform Engineering vs. DevOps
Below are some of the key differences between platform engineering and DevOps.
Platform engineering builds an internal developer platform that minimizes the need for coordination.
DevOps practices aim at enhancing the coordination and collaboration between the developers and operations.
The DevOps team often chooses the tools that will help them achieve their goals.
Creates a self-service platform for DevOps tools, processes, and workflows.
A discipline that provides the DevOps teams with a scalable, centralized self-service platform for their workflows and tools.
Enhances collaboration between the development and operation teams.
An organization can only implement platform engineering after successfully deploying the DevOps environment.
Companies start with DevOps before implementing platform engineering and not vis versa
Defines the validated and proven tools and workflows the DevOps teams should use based on the developers’ needs.
Involved in the stages of development and operations lifecycle such as planning, coding, building, testing, operations, monitoring, deployment, and release of the software and features.
Works and supports the internal teams
Releases software products and features directly to customers and other external users
Does not work on business projects but creates and maintains the platform DevOps teams require to do so.
Only involved in deployment, operations, and monitoring stages of the DevOps lifecycle.
Does not work on businesses projects but creates and maintains the platform DevOps teams require to do so.
DevOps teams can take and work on business projects as they develop their software.
Popular Tools for Platform Engineering and DevOps
Usually, the combination of the tools in the internal developer platform may vary from one environment to the other.
The DevOps tools enhance collaboration, automation, and other processes that improve product quality and delivery time. The availability of tools and expertise has seen many organizations adopt DevOps. In practice, the teams use a set of tools in various combinations.
Platform Engineering emerges as DevOps matures and scales
Today, platform engineering emerges as DevOps matures and scales. The discipline looks like it is the next stage in the evolution of DevOps. Already, DevOps has almost reached its maturity stage as it continues to evolve, and platform engineering looks like it is going to be the next stage. And as it scales, there are new challenges and opportunities.
Platform engineering provides self-service, reusable processes, and tools so developers do not have to keep on building new ways to do things. Ideally, this means that they do not have to create new tools but can instead use what has been proven to work. Usually, DevOps practices follow a certain path to maturity.
The DevOps maturity model shows the entire DevOps development journey. The DevOps maturity model helps to identify three things.
Assessing the current state and abilities of DevOps practices.
Identify weak points that require improvement
Define the steps to take to achieve the target DevOps goals.
An organization can evaluate its abilities in terms of culture and strategy, automation, structure and processes, and finally on, collaboration and sharing.
Ideally, the DevOps maturity model comprises the following five transformation steps.
Initial stage: This involves separating the traditional development silos into developers and operations teams
Managed stage: Changing the mindset of the developer teams to focus on agile development practices. This stage also involves deploying the initial automation for the operations while also encouraging collaboration between the Dev and Ops teams.
Defined stage: The transformation journey starts using the defined processes and automated procedures
Measured: evaluating and continuously improving the processes and automated workflows
Optimized: The organization can now see the benefits of DevOps and also address any gaps to improve efficiency.
As DevOps matures and scales, it reaches the Measured and Optimized stages, where the organization now starts analyzing the practices and tools. This includes checking the way teams use the tools to solve the same problem. And it provides an opportunity to identify the problem areas and inefficiencies.
To optimize the systems, the organizations can now use platform engineering to create self-service reusable tools that they can serve from a central place, hence enabling teams to access and use the same tools and processes instead of creating their own.
Can Platform Engineering dominate DevOps?
Platform engineering is ideally the implementation of DevOps practices and concepts and not a replacement. Generally, the DevOps objective is to use processes, tools, and collaboration frameworks to improve software quality and development lifecycle. It uses various practices and tools to streamline development, monitoring, and management.
What platform engineering does, is take these processes, tools, and best practices and bind them together to create reusable, self-service services and tools usable by different teams across the organization.
Ideally, platform engineering enhances developer productivity by ensuring consistency and efficiency. The practice provides easy-to-use product development and development platform. The platform offers self–service reusable tools with automated infrastructure processes.
And developers can access the re-usable configurable components and services. Ideally, the platform offers benefits such as standardized production components, tools, and automated processes.
For example, if each product team wants to implement a secrets management service, there will be many different mechanisms across the organization. Instead of each team building its mechanism, platform engineering can provide the service and offer it from a central place.
And this has benefits such as having a standard product, reusability, and reduced time wastage. Consequently, this achieves repeatability, which is one of the foundational elements of the DevOps Maturity model.
Future of Platform Engineering and DevOps
The future of both platform engineering and DevOps looks bright. Already, the current implementations of platform engineering are delivering various benefits, and this will increase as the discipline evolves and matures.
Consequently, it will continue easing the work of DevOps teams, hence providing them with an opportunity to focus more on building applications instead of trying to understand the infrastructure and the production environment.
Although its primary focus is on the runtime environment, such as the infrastructure (Kubernetes, etc.), software release pipeline, and other foundations, it also provides other secondary capabilities like certificate and secrets management, chaos engineering drills, automated disaster recovery, and likely to include more as it evolves.
Some companies may opt to continue with DevOps without platform engineering. But with time, they may become uncompetitive, especially when they have several DevOps teams using different mechanisms to perform the same task.
Platform engineering supports standardizing the development lifecycle, and its use is likely to continue growing as it evolves and incorporates other areas beyond tools and processes. It will keep on changing as the processes, practices, technologies, and other parts of the discipline evolve.
To improve efficiency and product quality, organizations should consider platform engineering, which offers teams access to standard, self-service products from a centralized place. This will accelerate the development while also improving business value and revenues. Gartner predicts about 80% of companies will have established platform engineering teams by 2026.
Platform engineering is an emerging and useful discipline for enhancing software delivery processes without sacrificing security, efficiency, and quality. The engineering automates and simplifies resource provisioning and management, enabling developers to deliver quality software and features faster and deliver value to their customers.
Generally, platform engineering is an effective way to scale up and unlock the benefits of DevOps.
Amos Kingatua is an ICT consultant and technical writer who assists businesses to set up, secure, and efficiently run a wide range of in-house and virtual data centers, IT systems and networks.
Narendra Mohan Mittal
Narendra Mohan Mittal is a Senior Digital Branding Strategist and Content Editor with over 12 years of versatile experience. He holds an M-Tech (Gold Medalist) and B-Tech (Gold Medalist) in Computer Science & Engineering.