Lessons from the field: Why you need a platform engineering practice (…and how to build it)

BrandPost By VMware Tanzu Vanguards
Oct 02, 20236 mins
DevopsSoftware Deployment

Adopting platform engineering will better serve customers and provide invaluable support to their development teams.

Credit: iStock/valentinrussanov

Platform engineering is a sociotechnical discipline that has gained tremendous attention in the last year in response to the need for organizations to accelerate cloud native app development and management. Platform engineering focuses on the internal application of development and the creation of so-called ‘Golden Pathways’ in engineering and development, saving time and creating more space for creativity. As the field has expanded, questions have risen about what platform engineering means for the industry, for DevOps, and whether platform engineering will become the new standard.

Members of VMware’s Tanzu Vanguard community, each of whom are expert practitioners at leading companies across different industries, provided their perspectives on platform engineering and what it means for companies and developer teams. Their insights help answer these questions and pose new angles for companies to consider when evaluating platform engineering.

Why platform engineering?

The benefits of platform engineering depend on the size and capabilities of organizations, says Juergen Sussner, Lead Cloud Platform Engineer at DATEV eG. Platform engineering teams are more beneficial to larger enterprises as they serve to catalyze DevOps teams on their cloud-native journey. They help reduce cognitive load while accelerating software delivery. In essence, platform teams and platform engineering as a practice help DevOps teams focus on creating real business value and providing Golden Paths to enhance the overall developer experience.

Golden Paths are informed, well-defined, task-specific, and supported paths for creating software. Golden Paths offers an application-centric approach for building and deploying software that typically incorporates cloud-native technologies including Kubernetes, CI/CD, DevOps, and DevSecOps. Building with a Golden Path enables organizations to build better software, with higher quality and greater control. As a result, many platform teams deliver a more than 50 percent improvement in developer onboarding speed by eliminating friction and uncertainty.

Platform engineering also helps reduce bureaucracy, a key benefit for larger enterprises. Davy van de Laar, IT Consultant at ITQ, shares that with a good platform in a large monolithic environment, individuals can develop apps and then bring the apps onto the platform in a matter of days. Whereas traditional apps can take months.

Platform engineering and engineers can also accelerate and help to grow organizations faster by introducing a self-service capability into the DevOps world, further automating and enhancing the CI/CD pipelines. David Prows, Vice President of IT Services at Beacon Credit Union states that this decreases the time to market, which is critical for organizations in today’s landscape. Additionally, Platform engineers can offload unwanted jobs around infrastructure and Kubernetes deployment, management, and lifecycles.

Christian Strijbos, Head of Competence Center at SVA System Vertrieb Alexander GmbH, sums up this sentiment, noting that, “platform engineering can help to provide a robust and stable way to a modernization journey for customers moving from legacy apps to modern applications”

Putting platform engineering into practice

With larger organizations, the process generally works as such: common problems need to be addressed, and with that, standard guidelines are set up. In the beginning, organizations may use a document outlining databases or specific languages to use. Still, as the model evolves, more of a platform will be developed. Sussner shares that platforms offer development teams easy ways to use paths to create applications. The paths can be adjusted to a company’s needs and goals. The process requires thought, customization, and training. moving from which start from

For the technology, Pawel Piotrowski, Senior Composite Engineer at S&T Poland shares that teams need a flexible toolset that provides the ability to tailor solutions based on the needs of specific development processes while also keeping it generic enough to fully support the complete automation of the platform preparation process. The toolset should be based on open, well-known components, with a high level of customization available. Unfortunately, this will not work for all use cases but if an organization is able to make the paths work for 90% of cases, individual solutions only need to be found for one out of ten projects. To help with efficiency, a good common practice is to abstract a problem into a platform every time there is a common problem, creating a common library.

Overall, it is clear why platform engineering has developed and become increasingly popular: it creates reusable tools and provides self-service capabilities. Developers can work faster and quickly tie into other systems and services while also making processes and apps more consistent, efficient, and predictable. Tools such as VMware Tanzu Mission Control and Tanzu Service Mesh can also help teams simplify the management of Kubernetes infrastructure and streamline connectivity and security for modern applications.

Making platform engineering successful

The ultimate goal of platform engineering is to bring software to the customer faster. It is important to understand that the journey is a continuous learning process.

It’s important to note that platform engineering is a mindset that requires a cultural shift. Without teams working together and continuously improving the platform, the platform will not become as efficient and useful as it can be. Platform engineering teams need to understand the business and processes of the company, team, and end users for whom they are creating the platform, observes David Prows, Vice President of IT Services at Beacon Credit Union. This can only be done by collaborating by removing silo thinking and setting clear goals for the platform.

As more enterprises adopt platform engineering, they will be able to better service customers and support their development teams. Others who do not adopt platform engineering will struggle to stay competitive as their counterparts become increasingly efficient, creative, and innovative. 

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