Header background

How platform engineering and IDP observability can accelerate developer velocity

At Dynatrace Perform 2024, Dynatrace colleagues Andreas Grabner and Adam Gardner discussed how platform engineering accelerates developer velocity.

As organizations look to expand DevOps maturity, improve operational efficiency, and increase developer velocity, they are embracing platform engineering as a key driver. Indeed, recent research found that 54% of organizations are investing in platforms to enable easier integration of tools and collaboration between teams involved in automation projects.

Platform engineering creates and manages a shared infrastructure and set of tools, such as internal developer platforms (IDPs), to enable software developers to build, deploy, and operate applications more efficiently. The goal is to abstract away the underlying infrastructure’s complexities while providing a streamlined and standardized environment for development teams. As a result, teams can focus on writing code and building features rather than dealing with infrastructure nuances.

During a breakout session at the Dynatrace Perform 2024 conference, Dynatrace DevSecOps activist Andreas Grabner and staff engineer Adam Gardner demonstrated how to use observability to monitor an IDP for key performance indicators (KPIs). The pair showed how to track factors including developer velocity, platform adoption, DevOps research and assessment metrics, security, and operational costs.

Recent Dynatrace research has found that only 40% of a typical engineer’s time is spent on productive tasks, and 36% of developers resign because of a bad developer experience, Grabner noted. “If your developers are leaving the company, the IDP may have something to do with it,” he said.

Platform engineering: Build for self-service

Self-service deployment is a key attribute of platform engineering. It gives developers the means to create environments and toolsets unique to the projects they’re working on.

“[An IDP] must be a product that developers want to use because it helps them get the job done,” Grabner said. “It makes them more productive . . . and reduces the complexity of things such as reading a new app or service. They shouldn’t worry about the platform; they should just start writing code.”

Because of their versatility, teams can use IDPs for all types of software engineering projects, not just those in cloud-native scenarios. IDPs can eliminate much of the administrative minutiae that stalls development projects. Grabner gave the example of one Dynatrace banking customer who built an IDP that enables developers to provision new Azure machines or Chef policies without administrative help. “IDPs are not constrained to building microservices or a new serverless app,” Grabner noted.

Before putting an IDP in place, organizations must encourage their platform engineering teams to adopt a product mindset with feedback loops between developers and users. They should also establish milestones to ensure the built product solves a defined business problem.

Reference IDP with Dynatrace

The Dynatrace IDP encompasses platform services, delivery services, and access to observability and automation tools. The Dynatrace Operator automatically ingests all observability data from OpenTelemetry and Prometheus. Furthermore, OneAgent observes and gathers all remaining workload logs, metrics, traces, and events.

Automate deployment for faster developer velocity

Additionally, the IDP used during the session connects to the open-source Backstage developer portal platform and a library of templates stored in a GitLab repository. The templates can deploy automatically into the development environment with just a few clicks.

Argo works in a GitOps fashion to automate the deployment of files stored in Git. “Argo has an eagle eye on the Git repository,” Gardner said. “Every time something changes, it’s synced to Kubernetes.”

Backstage holds many of an organization’s critical development resources that must be treated with the same respect as business-critical data. Observability is not only about measuring performance and speed, but also about capturing granular business analytics to support data-driven decision-making. These metrics can include how many people are using the IDP, how quickly the tasks are running in the IDP, and more. “That means making it available, resilient, and secure,” Grabner said.

Intelligent monitoring is also crucial. “If you don’t monitor, you risk building a product that nobody needs,” Grabner continued.

Observability is a critical component of an IDP. It illuminates the activity of components such as Backstage, GitHub, Argo, and other tools. Service-level objectives (SLOs) are similarly important. SLOs ensure developers can accelerate their velocity and remain productive with an optimally functioning platform.

Test continuously

Synthetic testing simulates user behaviors within an application or service to pinpoint potential problems. This process is vital to an IDP’s effectiveness. An observability solution can monitor both synthetic and real-user tests to verify an application is on track.

GitLab, a source code repository and collaborative software development platform for DevOps and DevSecOps projects, is populated with a set of pre-filled templates. The combination gives developers a unique set of tools they can deploy on a self-service basis with full monitoring by Dynatrace.

“Every time [developers] pick a template in Backstage, they get their own version of the Git repository based on the template. Then, Argo deploys the app,” Grabner said. “It has worked kind of flawlessly.”

Observability at the core

How we built the IDP

“Platform engineering is about being responsible for making sure platforms are available,” Gardner said. “Dynatrace can tell us whether Argo is up and whether it’s killing GitHub with too many syncs. It lets us see events such as starts and traces in a standardized manner.” This certainty can accelerate developer velocity and improve the developer experience, resulting in better software and happier developers.

Dynatrace has made the reference IDP architecture available on GitHub for anyone to use. It includes a notebook with configuration and deployment instructions.

“It explains every single step that was involved in building the IDP, creating the configuration, and setting up Argo,” Gardner said. “You can launch a code space that starts a container that shows you everything about how an app was built and deployed.”

Curious to learn more about observability to optimize KPI success? Check out the Perform 2024 session: Observability guide to platform engineering.

Discover how unified observability unlocks platform engineering success in the free ebook: Driving DevOps and platform engineering for digital transformation.