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What is platform engineering?

Platform engineering enables development teams to deliver a frictionless, self-service developer experience with minimum overhead. Learn the importance of platform engineers and more.

With growing multicloud complexity and the need for organization-wide scalability, self-service and automation capabilities have become increasingly essential for developer productivity. In response to this shift, platform engineering is growing in popularity. Many consider it an effective solution for improving efficiency and overall satisfaction for developers across a variety of organizations and industries.

Platform engineering is a practice that outlines how development teams build internal platforms to create self-service capabilities for software engineering teams. The result is a cloud-native approach to software delivery.

The practice of platform engineering has evolved alongside the increasing complexity of cloud environments. A platform encompasses a set of tools, services, and infrastructure that enables developers to build, test, and deploy software applications. Platform engineers design and implement these platforms, as well as ensure their security, scalability, and reliability.

This blog will cover the importance of platform engineering, the role of a platform engineer, and where the practice is heading in the future.

Why is platform engineering important?

With platform engineering, a development team can deliver a frictionless, self-service developer experience and provide maximum value with minimum overhead. Some of the primary advantages that the discipline provides include the following:

Accelerated software development

Platform engineering offers resources that foster efficiency, such as reusable components. These components are specific, predefined resources, such as libraries and templates, that are made available to all developers using the platform. Other aspects of the discipline — such as infrastructure as code, automation, and standardization — reduce extraneous manual processes to increase developer productivity.

Increased security

Secure coding practices are built into internal developer platforms (IDPs) from their inception. These practices include working with secrets management, key management, and vulnerability management; penetration testing; OWASP; and vulnerability remediation. Platform engineering can automate many of these functions, making it easier to maintain a strong organizational security posture.

Reduced operational complexity

The self-service portals inherent to platform engineering greatly simplify operational processes. With these portals, developers do not need to rely on or coordinate with other teams that may not have the bandwidth to properly assist them. In turn, this reduced complexity fosters greater developer satisfaction and leads to less employee burnout.

Consistency in development processes

Platform-engineered, self-service portals involve standardized practices, which help to maintain consistency throughout the entire software delivery process. Centralized development practices, security protocols, and operational procedures make this consistency possible. In turn, consistency reduces errors, mean time to resolution, and silos, resulting in improved software quality and performance overall.

Scaling capabilities

Platform engineering offers scalability through its standardization and consistency. As a digital ecosystem expands, development teams must keep up with its evolution. The flexible and scalable nature of IDPs allows developers to seamlessly adapt and respond to these infrastructure changes.

“Platform engineering is increasingly becoming the focal point for organizations seeking to advance the maturity of their DevOps automation practices,” says Anita Schreiner, vice president of delivery at Dynatrace, in the 2023 DevOps Automation Pulse report. “This shift is accompanied by a rise in technical debt and coordination efforts among teams. Without a central and integrated platform, scaling automation to drive further impact becomes an insurmountable challenge.”

In response to these increasing demands, the report found that a staggering 54% of organizations are investing in platforms to enable easier integration of tools and collaboration between teams involved in automation projects.

DevOps and the platform engineer role

In the world of DevOps, the role of platform engineers is relatively new. To better comprehend the function of this role, one must first understand how the discipline relates to DevOps as a whole.

DevOps methodology encourages collaboration between development and operations teams. To aid this teamwork, platform engineers offer DevOps teams a centralized platform for their tools and workflows. To some extent, the two practices complement each other. Like DevOps, successful platform engineering requires collaboration between development, security, and operations teams.

But beyond simply fostering collaboration, the central purpose of the discipline is to support DevOps teams with tools, platforms, and workflows for effective software development. This realization has led to an increased organizational use of microservices to shift away from traditional product teams in favor of teams that apply platform engineering principles.

Platform engineering cannot stand alone, however. DevOps teams are still required because each application may require a unique DevOps pipeline. Platform teams provide the centralized infrastructure and tooling so DevOps teams may build their own pipelines independent of other teams.

The future of platform engineering

Platform engineering is at an evolutionary point as it matures alongside other DevOps practices. Overall, the future of the discipline entails working with product managers, designing based on internal development team requirements, and simplifying the DevOps process.

Platform engineers will see their purpose as creating infrastructure (as a product) to better understand the software delivery cycle’s requirements. Their metric of success will relate to how easily developers can self-service their requirements and own their code in production.

Gartner predicts that, by 2026, “80% of software engineering organizations will establish platform teams as internal providers of reusable services, components, and tools for application delivery.” This stat forecasts that, as a result of platform engineering and its widespread adoption, communication between software developers and operations teams will improve.

To dive deeper into scaling DevOps and working with platform engineering, check out the on-demand webinar, “Successfully scaling DevOps.”