The use of platform engineering to enable self-service capabilities for cloud-native software engineering is helping organizations better realize the benefits of DevOps to reach new levels of maturity.
These were among the results of a Puppet by Perforce report on the approach, which revealed platform engineering is having a positive impact on system reliability, developer productivity, and delivery speed.
Survey respondents also cited improvements in workflow standards as a chief benefit of platform engineering, with 42% of respondents reporting speed of development has improved "a great deal."
Platform teams continuously develop, build, maintain, and support the underlying infrastructure to build self-service solutions and deliver shared infrastructure platforms to the internal users responsible, typically software developers and engineers.
David Sandilands, senior solutions architect at Puppet, said platform teams must adopt a product mindset, ensuring that they have feedback loops with their users and that they're building systems that solve the problems their users face.
"Platform engineering's focus on self-service and APIs ensures that developers are empowered to work toward their own development goals," he said. "They are not limited by having to rely on other teams to prioritize their requests for the likes of infrastructure, deploying code, or performing tasks via workflows."
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Sandilands pointed to the near universal agreement that platform engineering is helping organizations better realize the benefits of DevOps (94%) and that the adoption of platform engineering is a step in the right direction (93%).
"It's rare to see this level of agreement on an approach at early stages of adoption," he said. "There is normally skepticism for something that can just be used as a buzzword like DevOps and agile experience."
Sandilands explained that a platform team needs to have development, operations, product management, and product marketing experts.
The key skill sets for a successful platform team, according to the report, include strong communication skills (61%) and problem-solving expertise (60%), followed by the ability to foster collaboration across cross-functional teams (54%).
"Ultimately, platform teams should be staffed and run by people with the right mix of skills and understanding of the business in which they operate," Sandilands said.
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The temptation to hire external expertise and use contracts/professional services to deliver platforms quickly could hurt the long-term supportability of the platform and miss a major opportunity to upskill the workforce, he said.
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"Organizations who experience high levels of silos, manual processes, and a lack of self-service will have groups of individuals with a strong desire to break down silos and foster greater cooperation in their organization but who lack the means and the forum to do so," Sandilands said.
From his perspective, there is an opportunity to make sure the implementation of platforms is a grassroots movement supported by senior leadership, with any extra technical skills developed by mentoring supported by consultants and leadership.
Sandilands said one of the key approaches to a successful transition is to ensure the platform has a product manager/owner — one of the most common failure patterns for large organizations implementing platforms is to implement them via project management rather than product management.
"The product manager ensures the platform is evangelized to key stakeholders and customers and makes sure that the platform is managed as a product with a focus on delivering customer needs," he explained.
Using Platform Engineering to Further the DevOps Journey
There are a few converging things happening that are opening folks up to platform engineering, including the fact that large organizations are struggling to further their DevOps journey, Sandilands said.
"They are under a lot of pressure to pick the right tools and create the right workflows for success," he said. "DevOps is not just about the tools, but also the structure to accomplish success."
There's also more pressure to match the self-service nature of the public cloud, and there's a certain level of expectations on how internal teams should consume infrastructure and perform tasks.
"Because of these converging factors, I think now is the time we are going to see more platform engineering growth and confidence — when done right — because you are hitting a stall with DevOps at scale, and folks are looking for that self-service offering that is extremely user-friendly," Sandilands said.
About the authorNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.