There’s an ever-increasing hype around the new discipline of platform engineering in the cloud-native industry. Many experts, including Gartner, hail it as a top strategic technology trend and platformengineering.org, the largest community for platform engineers, just crossed 10k active members a couple of weeks ago.
But why all the fuss?
Platform engineering is the discipline of designing and building Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs). According to our founder Kaspar von Grünberg,
“An Internal Developer Platform (IDP) is the sum of all the tech and tools that a platform engineering team binds together to pave golden paths for developers. IDPs lower cognitive load across the engineering organization and enable developer self-service, without abstracting away context from developers or making the underlying tech inaccessible.”
The growing interest in platform engineering reflects a desire from organizations to realize the original promise of DevOps: “You build it, you run it”. Several studies (including Puppet State of DevOps Report 2020 and 2021, Humanitec DevOps Benchmarking Study 2021, and the latest Puppet State of Platform Engineering Report) already indicate that IDPs equate to greater DevOps performance and evolution. In the latest Puppet report, for example, 59% of engineering professionals report greater productivity/efficiency as a result of platform engineering.
We wanted to dig even deeper, and for our 2023 DevOps Benchmarking Report, we measured 1053 teams based on their DORA metrics and the extent to which they follow best practices. In the study, we aimed to detect more patterns and differentiators between low and top-performing engineering organizations based on their degree of developer self-service, how teams manage configs and infrastructure, and their overall performance. Most importantly, we built a hypothesis that we set out to prove: That top performing teams would be the ones managing apps and infrastructure config in a dynamic way.
Within this blog, we’ll discuss our top four key findings, starting with the correlation between Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs) and DevOps success.
Key finding #1: Internal Developer Platforms (IDP) drive DevOps success
When asked about their current DevOps state and how tasks are managed, a huge 93.15% of top-performing teams say developer self-service is enabled by tooling like an IDP. In comparison, for most medium-performing teams (45.52%), developers are left to manage DevOps tasks on their own. These teams are overwhelmed and depend on more senior engineers within their respective team (an antipattern called “shadow ops”).
The other main proportion of medium-performing teams (42.30%) have a dedicated Ops team in place who they depend on for tasks such as spinning up new features or preview environments and provisioning infrastructure and managed services. In this scenario, developers would have to write tickets (ticket ops), resulting in delays, frustration, and a potentially sour relationship between themselves and Ops. This applies even more so for low-performing teams, 53.76% of which rely on Ops for such DevOps tasks.
In summary, our report shows that top-performing teams have an IDP in place and follow a Platform as a Product approach, combining both open-source and proprietary tooling into their platform. We also found that only low-performing teams try to build a platform entirely from scratch.
Key finding #2: Platforms drive developer self-service and developer experience (DevEx)
Using an IDP, developers in top-performing teams can execute DevOps tasks such as creating new features or PR environments (83.6%), deploy to dev and staging environments (93%), and assign resources to apps based on golden paths and a standardized approach (85%). They can also bootstrap a new app in under two hours (53%) and are able to carry out all of these tasks independently. To top it off, these teams work in a confident manner, unafraid to screw things up, and enjoy a great DevEx in the process.
By improving DevEx, top-performing organizations can free developers up to focus on solving complex problems. IDPs support this facilitating a higher degree of developer self-service, which removes reliance on Ops and helps eliminate bottlenecks caused by ticket ops. The result? A more efficient, productive delivery setup capable of reducing lead time and increasing deployment frequency.
Key finding #3: Dynamic Configuration Management powers enterprise-grade Internal Developer Platforms
Our study found that top-performing teams manage app configs in a standardized way across all apps (82%) and separate environment-specific from environment-agnostic configurations (81%). These teams use an approach known as Dynamic Configuration Management (DCM), a methodology used to structure compute workload configuration and enable the building of an enterprise-grade Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs). According to Chris Stephenson,
“ Developers create workload specifications, describing everything their workloads need to run successfully. The specification is then used to dynamically create the configuration, to deploy the workload in a specific environment. With DCM, developers do not need to define or maintain any environment-specific configuration for their workloads.”
By using an enterprise-grade IDP top performing teams show a higher degree of self-service regarding deployments to ephemeral feature or preview environments, the provisioning of infrastructure, and how to assign this infrastructure based on golden paths. DCM is also used to standardize and automate infrastructure provisioning and config management, and can help lower the risk of config drift and infrastructure sprawl.
An enterprise-grade IDP also means there’s a clear separation of concerns between developers and Ops. For developers, DCM facilitates workload-centric development. By using a single specification, workloads can be deployed, together with their resources and configuration, to all environments. While for platform engineers, DCM helps define where and how to provision workloads and resources in a standardized way.
The key benefits teams can expect from building an enterprise-grade IDP powered by DCM and standardization by design include:
- Reduced developer cognitive load thanks to the tightly scoped workload specification that’s easy to read and learn.
- Increased velocity by freeing developers up to prioritize app delivery and reducing time to provision and configure infrastructure, which therefore improves time-to-market.
- Compliance with established standards due to greater consistency and predictability across all environments and infrastructure.
Key finding #4: Platforms drive innovation and help teams meet wider business goals
There’s no doubt IDPs can drive DevOps efficiency. But it’s also important to observe how this can help the business reach its wider organization goals. Our fourth key finding centers on how the right approach to platform engineering can accelerate innovation and translate to real business value.
At a time of global economic uncertainty, the ability to drive innovation and stay competitive is more important than ever before. Perhaps your organization’s priority is digital transformation, creating new revenue streams, or responding faster to change. Business leaders must recognize the instrumental role of platform engineers in building IDPs that can help meet your organization's overarching goals. Especially since the impact IDPs can have on business performance, such as improving time to market, customer satisfaction, and release cycle time, will be key to staying ahead of the curve.
“The companies that invest in shorter innovation cycles, faster time to market, and shipping new features on time will outperform their competitors.” - Lee Ditiangkin, IBM.
With the right efforts, it’s possible to build a business case for your platform engineering initiatives, one that shows an understanding of the top priorities senior execs are concerned with and that showcases what business value a platform can offer.
The great complexity of today’s DevOps tooling landscape continues to grow. Along with it, the stress and pressure on developers to understand their complex setups and on Ops to manage and make them scalable. This is where platform engineering takes center stage, representing a separation of concerns and true specialization that frees teams up to do what they’re good at. Platform engineering sharpens the lines between developers and Ops. With the right approach, it also has the potential to repair their relationship and drive productivity–without putting the two teams back into their original silos.
If you want to learn the full results of our study, how to build a business case for IDP, or what the future holds for platform engineering, download the 2023 DevOps Benchmarking Report and discover how to take your DevOps setup and DevEx to the next level.
And don’t forget to secure your place at PlatformCon 2023, where the brightest DevOps and platform leaders will take to the virtual stage. Expect two days packed with talks on real-life use cases, blueprints, the impact of platform engineering and its culture during this free conference, born to celebrate the growing community of platform engineers.