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Build vs. Buy an Internal Developer Platform

What is an Internal Developer Platform (IDP)?

An Internal Developer PLatform (IDP) is part of a new generation of tools that streamline your internal development process to relieve pressure from ops. Think of it like Heroku on top of the tech and tools you use today. IDPs compartmentalize the complexity involved in DevOps. They create a standardized developer workflow on top of all infrastructure and tools which allows developers self-serve and prevents scripting hell caused by unstructured and free-floating scripts. 

Why not build it yourself? 

We recently talked to Paolo Garri (Director of Technology at German broadcaster Sport1) about his decision to build an IDP from scratch and what it cost. The answer as to why was (as with most of the early innovators you’re asking) obvious: there wasn’t anything out there and the pressure on ops caused by unstructured scripts and being bugged by application developers was so painful it needed to be solved.

The Sport1 platform took around six months to get to version one. During that time, five DevOps team members worked on this full-time. Today the IDP requires around one full time employee (FTE) for maintaining the integrations and baseline-templates and around 0.5 FTE for feature enhancements. This brings the total cost of a self-built IDP to roughly 252,000 USD based on the calculation shown below:

Cost of Version 1 Cost
5 FTEs for 6 months (incl. auxiliary costs) 420,000 USD
Maintenance
1 FTE (incl. auxiliary costs) 168,000 USD
Feature enhancements
0.5 FTEs (incl. auxiliary costs) 84,000 USD
AVG 5-year cost per annum (total cost of ownership) 252,000 USD


This is the total cost of ownership for a team of 25 application developers. We’ve observed that the number of developers allocated to building and more importantly maintaining Internal Developer Platforms increases roughly linearly with the number of total developers and services they build. The platform team at Zalando counts 104 FTEs, the one at Github 40 FTEs.

This is a huge amount of money relative to the total spend. Additionally, you need suitably skilled people to dedicate their entire work focus to building an IDP. As there is no “cookbook” on how to build an IDP, we found from our evaluation of 23 teams that built IDPs, only 9 actually were still in use 6 months after version 1 was released. That’s less than half!

If you compare this with teams that build their IDP with Humanitec, their Net promoter score of the product 6 months after introduction exceeds 95%.

Why not buy it?

The first thing you will notice when you start looking for IDPs that you can buy is that there aren’t many. Even worse, the few options you might find will force you to change your internal delivery setup significantly. We at Humanitec are different from all these solutions. Humanitec still lets you build your own IDP but it takes care of the uncomfortable ground-work such as integrations, UI/API, and CLI. With Humanitec, time to the first version of your IDP is around one week. Onboarding your teams to a feature-rich environment is a fraction of time of that of an in-house version. The cost of maintaining an IDP built with Humanitec is around 20% of the self-built version. All in all, the total cost of ownership of an IDP built with Humanitec is anywhere between 20%-30% of a self-built option. 

What is the impact of an Internal Developer Platform?

The impact of IDPs can be categorized into two effects:1.) The maintainability of your setup, reducing the total involvement of ops per developer significantly; and 2.) The productivity of your team. Take a look at the impact of Internal Developer Platforms.

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