In today's rapidly advancing technological landscape where digital solutions are the backbone of businesses across many industries, platform engineering has emerged as a pivotal discipline that bridges the gap between innovation and execution. Platform engineering revolves around the strategic design and implementation of a cohesive ecosystem of tools, frameworks, and practices that streamline the software development process. By providing developers with a set of tools and technologies, platform engineering accelerates development lifecycle, fosters a culture of collaboration between platform and development teams, and increases productivity and efficiency.
Ever since DevOps came into existence it has become the standard option that most engineering organizations use for automating development and IT operations. There is also an increasing trend of adopting practices like GitOps, container virtualization, infrastructure as code, augmented FinOps etc. The trend of adopting these practices in a modern cloud native setup increases the complexity in the developer ecosystem and leads to cognitive load on the already burdened developers in the organization.
Platform engineering is one of the biggest trends in software engineering practices today. By definition, platform engineering is a techno-cultural discipline where infrastructure or platform teams build shared tools and services which allow software developers in the organization to develop, deploy, maintain and operate cloud infrastructure in a self-service manner. Platform teams take a customer-driven mindset and treat developers as their customers. They provide self-service tooling to improve developer productivity, increase velocity and reduce errors and downtime.
Platform engineering is about the platform team building an Internal Developer Platform (IDP) to assist the developers in their day to day operations. An Internal Developer Platform typically encompasses a variety of tools that streamline and enhance the software development process within an organization. The related tools include:
The integration of these tools, among others, helps developers in the organization deliver results faster and with increased efficiency.
It’s key to note that an Internal Developer Platform and an Internal Developer Portal are not the same. You can learn more about the differences in our post on Internal Developer Platforms.
There are big distinctions between Platform Engineering and DevOps, but sometimes we can confuse the two because the former emerged somewhat from the latter. Below we go over the key differences between the two practices.
One of the main prerogatives of software engineering and platform leaders is to improve developer productivity. Below we cover how platform engineering supports various aspects of your developer organization.
The whole platform engineering notion is to provide tools and technologies for effective and efficient delivery by software developers. Platform engineering will definitely help in improving developer experience by standardizing and automating tasks in the software delivery lifecycle. It has the potential to reduce delivery friction, access friction, and cognitive friction for the developers in the organization.
Cloud computing is enhanced when platform engineering practices are present in the organization. Platform engineering practices will influence how organizations design, deploy, manage, and optimize their cloud-based infrastructures and services. Most of the work of platform engineers relates to serverless computing, automated provisioning, programmable infrastructures, Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) and more.
Platform engineering practices help support the underlying data infrastructure and help in coming up with tools for data engineers, data analysts, data scientists, and ML engineers. This involves hiring a data platform engineer whose main job is improving the user experience of a self-service data platform used by cross-functional teams.
The foundational aspect of platform engineering is automation. Automation will help the platforms developed by platform engineers to rapidly scale and support the growing user base in the organization. Automation will help with configuration management, infrastructure standardization, self-service provisioning, and a couple of other areas as well.
Artificial intelligence can be used to improve Platform engineering practice in an organization. AI can be used to monitor the performance of the platform and identify issues in real time. Chatbots and virtual assistants can be used to answer frequent questions asked by the developers about the platform. AI can be used to predict resource usage and allocate resources accordingly.
Platform engineering has a significant impact on cybersecurity by influencing how organizations design, implement, and maintain secure technology platforms and infrastructures. Platform engineers would increasingly integrate security tools in their internal developer portals to improve integrity and secure the infrastructure.
Platform engineering teams can reduce the cognitive load on developers by providing self-service tools that also improve developer experience. However, starting and scaling a platform team can be challenging as it requires a shift in mindset to a platform-as-a-product approach. It also requires executive buy-in which is very difficult considering the cost involved in such initiatives. Starting a platform engineering practice within an organization involves careful planning, clear communication, and strategic execution.
One of the very first things to be done in the organization is to identify the pain points and challenges faced by development teams in your organization. What inefficiencies or bottlenecks are they experiencing that a platform could address? Then define clear goals for the platform engineering practice. This should be done by identifying a platform owner who sets the strategic direction and roadmap. Platform owners are essentially people who have strong technical experience but who also possess business acumen. They have the right mix of understanding of the technical aspects of software delivery as well as good communication skills so they can be vocal about the benefits associated with platform teams.
Once you are done with building out a plan, present the idea of a platform engineering practice to key stakeholders and executives. Clearly articulate the benefits it will bring to the organization such as improved efficiency, reduced development costs, and faster time-to-market. Once there is buy-in from the executive team, platform owners must work with developers, architects, and other stakeholders to build a reference architecture for the platform engineering practice in the organization.
Once the budgetary allocation has been made for building a platform team, start with hiring platform engineers. Platform engineers’ main responsibility is building and managing an internal developer platform. They collaborate with developers and management to ensure that the infrastructure is reliable, scalable, and capable of handling the needs of the applications over time. Platform engineers manage, design, and implement the infrastructure to support the smooth functioning of an application. Their core responsibilities revolves around the following things:
The platform engineer's role within a platform team is multifaceted and essential for creating a stable, efficient, and developer-friendly environment that supports the organization's software development goals. Platform engineers contribute to the overall success of the organization by enabling faster, more reliable, and scalable software delivery.
The combination of a platform owner and platform engineers will help maximize value from their work and will help in building platform engineering initiatives in the organization.
Taloflow has taken an approach of identifying different use cases for platform teams and has tried to identify the product features that would be most needed for fulfilling these use cases. These product features are split across different dimensions like compliance, security, developer experience, monitoring and observability, scalability and performance, integration, infrastructure provisioning, automation and orchestration, analytics and insights, and pricing.
At Taloflow we identified seven different use cases that might be relevant for organizations starting their platform engineering journey. These are all primarily inspired by real companies and the real use cases they have.
There are many vendors within the platform engineering space. It’s a really big tent. Some of these include:
To wrap up, platform engineering is becoming a cornerstone in today's pursuit of greater developer efficiency, team collaboration, and system scalability and agility. The diversity of vendors in this space offers a rich tapestry of innovative solutions, allowing businesses to tailor their technological infrastructure to their unique needs. As you navigate the ever-evolving digital terrain, we invite you to learn more about the vendors and the use cases they suit best using our decision tool - sign up here.
Organized by Humanitec, PlatformCon is a free virtual event for the platform engineering community and its growing significance in the cloud-native era. It attracts over 22,000 attendees globally, and the 2023 version of the conference featured 169 talks over two days. PlatformCon 2024 is scheduled for June 10-14 2023.