In the high-velocity world of IT, development work is being completed faster than ever. With best practices like Agile and DevOps, alongside strides in technology and communication, becoming far more widespread, developers are getting more done – and client expectations are rising.
Unfortunately, the drive for faster releases has left other elements of IT management struggling to catch up. Operations team members still need to ensure that code is suitably stable for end-users, but as development continues speeding along and release dates loom, this can create a tight bottleneck. Stakeholders may be tempted to release code without properly screening it, while operations staff may insist on delaying releases even at the expense of customers and clients.
As important as speed might be in competitive industries, investing too much importance in it can create a false economy. Organizations that provide IT-powered products and services must also prioritize reliability: ensuring that end-results fulfill user expectations in terms of quality, accessibility, security, and so on. This requires the removal of silos separating different teams and stakeholders, so that the resulting culture can focus on balancing the priorities and critical tasks found across development and operations pipelines.
‘Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)’ is a practice that enables an enhanced approach to meeting reliability requirements for services and products. Much like DevOps, SRE has developers and software engineers devote more time and resources towards tasks traditionally given to operations teams. This ‘shift-left’ mindset helps to drive clarity and efficiency, making reliability a far more achievable goal even within contemporary fast-paced IT environments.
Still, while SRE has been around for a number of years (and has an origin at none other than Google as a claim to fame), it hardly speaks for itself in the same way as more widely-used methods. Many businesses are still unaware of the advantages of site reliability engineering, not only in terms of IT performance metrics, but also revenue generation.
With that in mind, here are the most prominent benefits of investing in site reliability engineering!
Enhanced metrics reporting
One of the biggest benefits offered by site reliability engineers is clarity. They utilize pertinent metrics relating to bugs, efficiency, productivity, general service health, and more. They can also translate these measurements in terms of their impact on more tangible elements, such as the average length of downtime and its relation to lost revenue.
With this level of clear-mindedness, a site reliability engineer can highlight areas for improvement at multiple stages of a development and operations pipeline, whether for the sake of optimizing efficiency, removing vulnerabilities, or anything else. This information can also be relevant to other departments, such as Marketing, Sales, and Support. SRE specialists will also observe the relationship between different teams, departments, and services for the sake of increasing communication and collaboration.
It also goes without saying that these engineers are quite capable of demonstrating the tangible benefits of their own practices. This can be via technical staff or stakeholder-oriented language, depending on the background and priorities of their audience.
Removing issues and bugs before they can hurt end-users
When too much focus is placed on development speed, bugs and vulnerabilities can often go undetected. If operations staff fail to locate them during production, they may need to be repaired after the point of release, which can cause significant delays and even downtime. This, in turn, leaves end-users dissatisfied, while developers will find themselves having to devote more time to fixing problems rather than creating new code.
Nor are these bugs insignificant. With too lax an attitude, a business can end up releasing services or products with issues in payment, security, support, or even general usability!
Luckily, site reliability engineers work proactively. Their performance metrics, combined with their high-level perspective, enables them to find and fix issues during production with a great degree of accuracy. This is a much more efficient approach than traditional operations, which can often see teams left racing to assess code just prior to the point of release. They will also ensure that there are set practices for tasks like incident responses, cross-departmental collaboration, and so on, to make sure other teams can support them efficiently.
More time for creating value
Having a more efficient system for finding and resolving errors can free up a great deal of time for development staff, giving them the freedom to focus on creating new features and improvements. At the same time, operations teams will have more space to drive configuration, testing, and upkeep. In other words, site reliability engineers can ensure that skilled IT staff have fewer distractions from creating value and driving productivity.
The holistic awareness encouraged by SRE can also enable members of staff to increase the value of their work in terms of quality as well as quantity. For example, with developers becoming more aware of how issues are created during their stage of the pipeline, they can take steps to resolve them in advance. This, in turn, means less work for operations teams further down the line. This perspective can also greatly improve collaboration, with different teams and departments discussing priorities and objectives on far more equal footing.
Ongoing cultural improvement
An important element of site reliability engineering is that it offers continuous solutions for optimizing the reliability of services, products, and the teams behind them.
Site reliability engineers will search for areas of improvement as part of an ongoing process. This requires a holistic level of awareness that can drive benefits across multiple teams, departments, and services, even those with greatly different processes and priorities. At the same time, engineers can also incorporate future developments into their considerations, such as new applications or enhanced best practices.
Modernize and automate operations
With both a holistic perspective and a strong awareness of modern tools and best practices, site reliability engineers can revolutionize operations departments. While an SRE specialist can highlight issues fairly easily, they will not necessarily be the one to fix them. Instead, they will work to understand the systems they are working with and, with a combination of automation and machine learning, create a process where specific alerts are automatically sent to whoever is best suited to solving them.
Over time, this can greatly reduce the mean amount of time for finding, highlighting, and repairing bugs and other problems. Everyone will have a clear idea of who is responsible for different types of issues, and teams will be able to take action as quickly as possible. Perhaps more importantly, an SRE practitioner will also be able to stress exactly how issues will impact end-users, ensuring that an appropriate level of prioritization is given to repair work.
Clarify and meet customer expectations
Unlike DevOps, SRE is ultimately focused on optimizing customer and client experiences. SRE work is framed in this way, with clear targets being set for meeting customer expectations.
There are many elements to this, with some of the most important being:
- Service Level Agreement (SLA) – A promise set by the service provider that sets a threshold for the performance of a service in terms of reliability, availability, speed, and so on. This is visible to end-users, who will react negatively when the threshold is not met
- Service Level Objectives (SLOs) – Goals that the service provider wants to meet in terms of service performance. These are visible internally, for use by the provider
- Service Level Indicator (SLI) – Metrics utilized in order to measure the progress of the service provider in satisfying the SLO
That is not to say that SRE practitioners can do the impossible. An SLO will not define targets in a way that expects services to be available 100% of the time. There will always be the possibility of unforeseen errors, while in other cases downtime may be unavoidable for the sake of engineering significant updates. However, having thresholds to meet, along with SLIs to help judge performance across departments, will create a level of clarity that will make it far easier to satisfy clients.
With more reliable and functional products and services, a company is sure to boost its reputation, attracting more clients over time. Combined with the savings caused by the heightened levels of efficiency and productivity we discussed earlier on, this will lead to significant improvements in terms of ROIs.
Studying Site Reliability Engineering online
While it may not be as well known as DevOps, site reliability engineering is quickly becoming a more widespread and valued practice. Google isn’t the only global business taking advantage of it, and set SRE frameworks are making it easier for developers, operations staff, and even business-oriented managers to learn about what kind of benefits it offers.
Studying site reliability engineering online can be an excellent way to improve your career prospects. Strong knowledge of SRE tools, practices, and benefits can equip you to take on more responsibilities in your organization, as well as higher-tier positions. It can also greatly complement other training and qualifications, such as DevOps Foundation or DevOps Leader.
If you want to find out more about the benefits of SRE, what the framework can do, or how to sell SRE training to your business, be sure to visit the Good e-Learning website. You can also visit our Site Reliability Engineering Foundation (SREF) course page for a free trial.