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Platform Engineering: A Guide for CTOs

Anjul Sahu

Anjul Sahu


In the ever-evolving landscape of modern software architectures, cloud consumption models, and microservice structures, organizations are grappling with a growing array of platforms, services, integrations, tools, risks, and compliance requirements. This escalating complexity places a significant burden on engineering teams and their leaders, impeding their ability to focus on the core business value and product development.

In medium to large organizations, it's all too common to find themselves ensnared in the intricate task of platform management, diverting attention from innovation and product advancement. Recognizing this, the imperative for effective platform engineering has come to the forefront of strategic considerations.

But what exactly does platform engineering encompass? How can CTOs successfully navigate this intricate terrain? Our objective is to demystify the realm of platform engineering, equipping CTOs with the knowledge and insights required to make informed decisions that will steer their organizations toward success.

Whether you are a seasoned CTO seeking to refine your platform engineering strategy or a newcomer to this domain, this guide serves as your invaluable resource, offering guidance and expertise to help you navigate and conquer the challenges of platform engineering.

What is Platform Engineering?

Scope of Platform Engineering
Scope of Platform Engineering

Platform engineering involves designing, building, and managing the foundational infrastructure that supports software application development and deployment. It encompasses technologies, frameworks, and practices that enhance the entire software development lifecycle, from code creation to production deployment, ultimately accelerating value creation for businesses. Unlike traditional software development, platform engineering aims to establish a robust and scalable platform to accommodate multiple applications and services.

With the explosion of technologies and tooling, keeping the developers productive has been a challenge and the purpose of platform engineering is to improve developer productivity, create business value at lower cost, and keep it secured and compliant as per organizational best practices and guardrails.

According to a study conducted by Gartner, it is projected that by 2026, approximately 80% of sizeable software engineering organizations will institute platform engineering teams within their structure. These teams will serve as internal providers of reusable services, components, and tools aimed at enhancing application delivery efficiency. The overarching objective of platform engineering is to effectively address the critical challenge of fostering collaboration between software developers and operations teams.

Why is Platform Engineering Important?

Should your team and organization encounter the following challenges, it is prudent to consider evaluating the implementation of a platform engineering function to address these issues:

Platform Engineering Issues
Platform Engineering Issues
  • Escalating Complexity in Application and Infrastructure: The growing intricacy of your applications and infrastructure demands a closer look to determine if a platform engineering approach is warranted.
  • Absence of Standardization Across Fleet and Services: The lack of uniformity across your systems and services may indicate the need for a platform engineering solution.
  • **Inconsistent Environments, Configuration Drift, and Inadequate Security Policy Enforcement:**If you observe inconsistent environments, configuration discrepancies, and difficulties in enforcing security policies, platform engineering can provide a potential remedy.
  • Limited Visibility into Costs and Engineering Productivity: The inability to gain clear insights into costs and engineering productivity should prompt an evaluation of platform engineering as a potential solution.
  • Teams Grappling with High Cognitive Load: If your teams are burdened with excessive cognitive load, it may be a sign that a platform engineering function can alleviate these challenges.
  • Insufficient Collaboration and Inter-Service Visibility: A lack of collaboration and inadequate visibility between services can be addressed through the implementation of platform engineering practices.

Platform engineering enables organizations to deliver software applications faster, more reliably, and at scale. With a standardized and automated platform, developers focus on writing code and delivering value to the business. Hence, they don’t have to spend time on infrastructure setup and maintenance. A great platform engineering strategy improves collaboration and efficiency across development teams. This is because everyone can work from a common set of tools and practices.

Bringing Discipline in the Chaos

Shift from complex platforms to more streamlined abstraction

In recent years, there has been a shift from complex Kubernetes platforms to more streamlined abstractions. While Kubernetes provides a powerful orchestration framework for container management, it still needs to be improved to set up and operate.

Many organizations are now adopting higher-level abstractions, such as platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions such as Fly.io and Render, or something internal platform teams build on top of Kubernetes. Such solutions provide a simplified interface for managing applications and infrastructure. These abstractions allow developers to focus on writing code and deploying applications, without worrying about the infrastructure complexities.

Golden Path

A key concept in platform engineering is the "Golden Path." The Golden Path refers to the set of tools, practices, and workflows that developers should follow to build and deploy applications. By defining a clear and standardized path, organizations can ensure consistency, reliability, and security across their software delivery process.

The Golden Path includes best practices for version control, continuous integration and deployment, testing, and monitoring.

Compliance

Organizations need to ensure that their platform meets regulatory requirements and industry standards. By incorporating compliance, you can mitigate risks and ensure that the organization operates within legal boundaries.

This involves implementing security controls, encryption mechanisms, access management, and auditing capabilities.

Focus on DevEx

The goal of DevEx is to provide developers with a seamless and productive experience when working with the platform. This includes easy onboarding, clear documentation, self-service capabilities, and streamlined workflows.

By improving DevEx, organizations can attract and retain top talent, increase developer productivity, and ultimately deliver better software products.

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Benefits of Platform Engineering

Implementing a platform engineering approach can bring several benefits to organizations. Let's explore some of the key advantages:

Providing Better Experience to Developers

With a well-designed and standardized platform, organizations can improve the experience of developers. The focus remains on writing code and delivering value to the business, rather than on infrastructure setup and maintenance. This increases job satisfaction and enhances productivity and software quality.

Increased Agility and Faster Go-to-market

Platform engineering enables quicker delivery of software applications reliably. Abstracting the complexities of infrastructure management results in shorter development cycles, faster time-to-market, and the ability to respond quickly to changing market demands.

Reduced Operational Cost

With infrastructure provisioning automation, deployment, and management, organizations reduce operational overhead costs.

With a streamlined and standardized platform, you need fewer resources to manage and maintain the infrastructure, which saves costs.

Improved Security and Compliance

Platform engineering enforces security and compliance best practices. With integrated security tooling into the platform, developers follow secure coding practices, access controls, and data protection measures.

This effectively reduces security breaches and ensures compliance with industry regulations.

Promotes Innovation

A well-designed platform engineering strategy promotes innovation within organizations. With the necessary resources and support, organizations can foster experimentation and creativity. This leads to new ideas, features, and products that drive business growth.

Better Onboarding

Platform engineering ensures smoother onboarding processes for new developers. Clear documentation, self-service capabilities, and standardized workflows reduce the learning curve for new developers. Additionally, they can start contributing quickly. This leads to faster ramp-up times and increased team productivity.

Service Catalog

Platform engineering provides a centralized view of services through a service catalog. This catalog acts as a repository of available services, tools, and resources that developers can leverage in their applications.

With a centralized catalog, organizations promote reusability and reduce effort duplication and development process simplification.

Implementing Platform Engineering

To drive success in platform engineering, you need to take a calculated approach according to your specific organization and team needs. Following are the prescriptive pointers you should give thought to.

Platform-as-a-Product

Think of your internal platform like a product and its purpose is to cater best to the stakeholders such as dev, SREs, and managers. You should also consider having a product manager responsible for managing it. Manuel Pais, the author of Team Topologies has given a nice talk about it.

Pickup the Right Tooling

Choosing the right tools and technology is crucial to generating value out of platform engineering implementations. Evaluate options and select tools that are aligned with the organization's needs, priorities, and long-term goals. Consider factors such as scalability, security, integration capabilities, ease of use, and community support. With informed tooling choices, you can lay a solid foundation for the platform and ensure its long-term success.

Focus on Automation and Self-Service

Automation and self-service capabilities are essential in platform engineering. Prioritize automating repetitive and manual tasks including infrastructure provisioning and deployment, to improve efficiency and reduce human errors.

Additionally, empowers the developers to self-manage the service provisioning while abstracting the underlying infrastructure. Empower them to work independently and accelerate the development process to achieve the maximum ROI.

Focus on Increasing Dev Experience

Developer experience, or DevEx, should be a top priority for the CTO or engineering leadership. Invest in tools, processes, and practices to enhance the developer experience. This way, you can attract and retain top talent, increase productivity, and drive innovation.

An example of DevEx capabilities in platform engineering would be an introduction of developer portals which provide the capability to bootstrap service using standard templates, a service catalog, documentation, and information in a centralized portal. The developer focuses on their features and code rather than focusing on operational aspects. However, providing a simplified view of the underlying infrastructure is always useful.

Engage the Experts

Bringing in experts in platform engineering can streamline the implementation process, reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes, and accelerate your organization's ability to leverage the benefits of a well-structured platform. However, it's essential to conduct a thorough analysis of your organization's specific needs and circumstances to determine whether experts are necessary and in what capacity. It is always recommended to collaborate with Developers and users of the platform when implementing the platform as a product.

Landscape

Platform Engineering Landscape
Platform Engineering Landscape. Credits Next47

Next47 team has done a good job categorizing various platform engineering products, frameworks, and tools that can aid in building a solid platform. In our upcoming posts, we will talk about some of them in more detail. Stay tuned and subscribe to our blog.

Common Challenges in Platform Engineering and How to Overcome Them

While platform engineering offers numerous benefits, organizations may encounter challenges during its implementation. Let's explore some common challenges and strategies to overcome them.

Complexity

Platform engineering can be complex when dealing with multiple applications, services, and infrastructure components. The complexity can arise from integration challenges, scalability requirements, and different programming languages and frameworks.

To overcome complexity, organizations should invest in appropriate tooling, automation, and documentation. Additionally, collaboration and knowledge-sharing can break down silos and enable cross-functional teams to work together.

Change Management

Due to significant changes in the internal processes, tooling, and the way developers way interact with the platform, build, and release software, resistance to change is obvious. Organizations should involve key stakeholders, communicate the benefits of the platform engineering, and provide training and support during the transition.

It is essential to continuously monitor and gather feedback from developers to identify areas for improvement and address any concerns. The platform is a product that continuously evolves as per the requirements of its users and organization policies.

Culture

Culture plays a vital role in the success of platform engineering. Organizations need to foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and continuous learning. Promote open communication, recognize and reward achievements, and provide opportunities for professional growth. With a positive and supportive culture, you can create an environment where platform engineering can thrive.

Conclusion

With this article, our goal is to share an insight into why Platform engineering is an important cultural shift that can help organizations. In our experience, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for this because every platform is different, and every team’s need is different. Take this as a reference and engage us to discuss more about how we can help your team navigate this journey. We also encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter as we will be sharing a series of articles on this topic.

Book a meeting with Anjul, CEO, CloudRaft to discuss how Platform engineering can help your organization.

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