Is 2021 the Year of the Internal Developer Platform?
As organizations shift from monoliths to microservices, teams need ways to maximize efficiency and reduce pain points with changes in configuration and function of teams.
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The last decade has seen massive shifts in software engineering tools, processes, roles, and teams as developers seek to streamline and automate processes to improve the speed of software releases and facilitate continuous delivery. Teams (especially those scaling up) are looking for ways to boost productivity but prevent an influx of burnout, technical debt, and organizational instability. As many organizations shift from monoliths to microservices, teams are looking for ways to maximize efficiency and reduce pain points. One way forward, especially as organizations scale is to change the configuration and function of teams.
Seminal texts such as Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais’ Team Topologies offer a ‘how to’ in organizational design and team interaction, especially for software development teams. But it’s not only about improving team configuration for optimal value but also the tools used by these teams.
Since 2012, DevOps company Puppet has co-authored an annual State of DevOps report, surveying developers on their DevOps practices and providing actionable guidance. It offers a look at the characteristics inherent in successful teams and the evolution of new trends in the DevOps space. One practice that has emerged that differentiates high-performing teams from the rest is internal developer platforms.
Internal Developer Platforms Gain Mainstream Acceptance
Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs) are becoming a critical tool in DevOps success. Companies such as Google, Netflix, Github, Twitter, Yelp and Amazon have built their own IDPs, providing tangible benefits as the companies, and their product offerings, evolve.
The 2020 State of DevOps annual report of over 2,400 participants showed a strong correlation between high DevOps evolution and high use of internal platforms. It found that 63% of respondents said their company has at least one self-service internal developer platform (IDP), with almost a third of respondents having 25 to 50% of developers using an internal platform.
The IDP trend continued in 2021 with researchers finding that highly evolved firms make heavier use of internal platforms for their engineers, enabling developers to access:
Authentication (62 percent)
Container orchestration (60 percent)
Service-to-service authentication (53 percent)
Tracing and observability (49 percent)
Logging request (47 percent) services via self-service
Not every platform team is automatically successful, but the successful ones treat their platform as a product. They strive to create a compelling value proposition for application teams that is easier and more cost-effective than building their own solutions.
What Is the Business Value of Self-Service Developer platforms?
Deliver product features at a higher pace
Evan Bottcher, head of engineering at ThoughtWorks asserts that the key benefit of IDPs is to "deliver product features at a higher pace, with reduced coordination.” Internal platforms reduce bottlenecks and increase efficiency, resulting in improved velocity.
Less waiting on Ops
IDPs aim to improve the developer workflow and internal development processes. They use tools that integrate and typically include a dedicated platform team that is distinct from the operations team. Evan characterizes self-service access as a key component of an internal developer platform on that “the platform must provide services that do not require tickets to be raised and work to be assigned.” This is achieved through self-service provisioning, configuration, management, and operation and means that the platform team is able to work with fewer delays.
Reduced manual work
The shift to continuous delivery has created the need for new structures. IDPs offer a way to minimize repetitive tasks, automation of immediate testing and deployments of new code, and consistency and clarity of developer workflows. Nigel Kirsten suggests that one of the most compelling advantages of an internal developer workflow is a reduction in developers' manual workload.
Time for more important projects
Self-service DevOps facilitates greater speeds in new feature deployment, shorter feedback loops, aligned tooling, and increased labor capacity. By automating on-demand operations, team members are freed up to innovate on new projects and better manage both planned and unplanned interruptions.
Greater deployment frequency
Research by Humanitec found that by using an IDP, teams that deployed 1.5 times a week increased their deployment frequency to 6 times a week (which is a 4x increase). Teams that deployed on average once a month increased by just over 4x to once a week. Increased deployment frequency can result in faster release cycles and quicker product to market.
Technology moves fast, and software is constantly evolving. As companies mature and scale in size, they need to be agile enough to create solutions that serve their current needs but are malleable enough to be reconfigured, redesigned and continuously improved upon to respond to new threats and opportunities in software development and deployment. Internal Developer Platforms can be designed for many scenarios and for those investing in DevOps, offer tangible benefits for teams and, ultimately the organization.
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