The demand for solutions in the software development industry is at an all-time high. That is why innovative solutions are transforming the software development environment for the better. And one of these innovations is the employment of site reliability engineering. Find out what it is, what it does for your team, and the best practices to work its magic.
The era of technological advancements continues to thrive. With this, the demand for cutting-edge software becomes a necessity rather than just an addition for businesses. Thus, to beat siloed workflows and lack of project visibility, DevOps comes into the spotlight.
However, DevOps teams do not have a dedicated person to manage systems and refine site reliability and service performance. So this is how site reliability engineering (SRE) fills the gap in the development environment.
Are you ready to jump in? Let’s start discussing SRE—its benefits, best practices, and the role of a site reliability engineer.
Defining Site Reliability Engineering
Site reliability engineering incorporates the principles of software engineering to resolve system administration issues. Its main goal is to create highly available, scalable, and efficient software systems. Thus, many consider it to be a bridge between operations and development processes.
The term SRE was born in 2003 at the Google headquarters. It began when Ben Treynor Sloss was running a production team involving seven engineers. According to Treynor’s interview with Niall Murphy, SRE is defined as taking charge of operations tasks using engineering principles. He also mentioned that its practices are based on the ideology that engineers can facilitate automation as a substitute for manual work.
Now, to achieve its goal, site reliability engineering takes advantage of automation and CICD. It also shares numerous principles with DevOps since both disciplines involve a culture of automation, metrics, and constant collaboration. But if this is the case, how do software development teams draw the line between the domains?
SRE vs. DevOps: What’s The Main Difference?
As mentioned in Google’s SRE book, many consider it as an implementation of DevOps. But the former has a more specific approach and with additional idiosyncracies.
SRE focuses on the “how” rather than the “what.” A site reliability engineer looks for automated and efficient solutions to the workflow using engineering principles. Moreover, the engineer ensures that software functionality is always running smoothly and available to users.
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A Day in the Life Of A Site Reliability Engineer
A site reliability engineer divides the day into two parts. One part tackles operations tasks, like managing escalated incidents or manual issue intervention. The second part delves into development tasks, like adding new features or automating processes. Here’s a breakdown of the typical responsibilities that a site reliability engineer carries.
Build software to reinforce operations and other teams
A site reliability engineer proactively builds and implements developments to help IT and support teams. It can be in the form of creating a better alert system to code changes during production. Or, it can simply be adjusting and monitoring the overall health of the system. Moreover, the engineer can build a homegrown tool to pinpoint system weaknesses and aid in incident management.
Fix support escalations and other issues
An SRE team helps fix escalation cases raised by support. However, as the SRE operations mature, your system will become more reliable and stable. It leads to lesser incidents during production and lower support escalation cases.
Optimize on-call processes within the environment
With great knowledge comes great responsibility. So site reliability engineers sometimes take on-call responsibilities. But the SRE team can automate the process and add context to the alerts. It can also lead to enhanced collaboration between operations and developers. Lastly, it can refine the real-time response process from on-call responders.
Prepare documentation for historical knowledge
Site reliability engineers are involved in both staging and production. Therefore, they gain a lot of historical data throughout time. So the SRE team can prepare, share, and update tools, documentation, and runbooks as reference for potential incidents.
Conduct a post-incident audit
To know what works and what doesn’t, the engineer can conduct a thorough post-incident audit. Also, the SRE team needs to make sure the review is correct, truthful, and accurate. The team has to ensure that there is also proper documentation and the issue resolution is implemented well.
Benefits of SRE in Software Development
In the context of business, the value of system reliability greatly influences the bottom line. On the other hand, it elevates the reputation of software developers while handling any project. But other than that, what are the specific benefits that site reliability engineering brings to the table?
Observation on service health is a given
SRE teams have a deep understanding of the system. Therefore, they can create metrics and trace across non-identical services to observe the overall system health. And when incidents occur, on-call responders can easily trace the issue and implement solutions since observability already exists.
The gap between developers and operations shrinks
As site reliability engineering supports the culture of DevOps, engineers serve as liaisons between developers and operations. Engineers support each team in improving communication and automation.
The centralized command center can be modernized
Remember that SRE dabbles with automation, machine learning, and extensive system knowledge. So the team can modernize the network operations center (NOC), which sorts all alerts and incidents into the system. Therefore, an improved on-call structure and alert workflow create a better incident management cycle.
Best Practices for Site Reliability Engineering
Mastering site reliability engineering takes time. It also requires constant study and system exploration. So to help refine your strategy, here are some SRE practices that you can take note of.
Deconstruct changes in a holistic approach
The SRE team needs to understand the dependencies of every element thoroughly. So every time there are changes, they can evaluate their impact on the whole system and your operations. More importantly, engineers must weigh short-term and long-term effects with gains properly.
Build up skills regularly
A successful SRE implementation depends on the skills of the engineers. That is why constant system study and skills development is a must. It also means getting hard-to-access expertise on board the team. Remember that a software development environment and operations are dynamic. If you don’t continuously learn ways to improve, the SRE team cannot make developments accordingly.
Automate as many tasks as much as possible
During the early stages of your SRE operations, plan the automation for every manual task possible. The team should also build tools and processes from a perspective that aids future automation and other developments. The goal is to make everything run efficiently with lesser errors and redundancies.
Learn from mistakes and failures
Encourage a positive attitude when it comes to failure. Instead of dwelling on the negative, committing mistakes and failing can be a learning experience. That is why when you discuss postmortems, avoid pointing fingers at who is to blame. Instead, discuss and review incidents objectively to further address the improvement of overall performance and system reliability.
Define objectives from an end-user perspective
Before you can offer high-quality service, you need a good grasp of your user’s needs and wants. One way to do so is focusing on defining service-level objectives like an end-user. When your SLOs are client-focused, every development in the system is relevant and appreciated.
Constant changes and trends revolve around the software development and IT industry. That is why site reliability engineering plays a vital position in innovative solutions. As the technology matures and teams evolve in adapting the advancements, the principles of SRE make a big difference.
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Site Reliability Engineering Facts To Help You Win is written by Meryl Lyn Roa for fullscale.io