Google is famous for its search engine, but the company is about so much more. It explores new technologies and develops products of the future like driverless cars or elevators in space. Many people use Google products every day, so the company likely knows one thing or two about successful application development.
Google is also a pioneer in a growing movement called Site Reliability Engineering (SRE). The primary goal of SRE is to end the battle between operations and development. The movement encourages product accountability, innovation, and reliability - without the whole hallway drama that sometimes happens in development companies.
What exactly is Google’s SRE? What advantages does it deliver to companies when it’s brought in as a service? Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about SRE and how its implementation could benefit your company.
This article was first published in 2021 and updated on May 18th, 2022.
What is the Site Reliability Engineering definition?
Site Reliability Engineering (abbreviated to SRE) is a set of practices and guidelines used to apply the software engineering approach to IT operations. Instead of a System Admin dealing with physical machines, a Site Reliability Engineer uses code to manage systems, no matter how big they are. In an attempt to create scalable and dependable software systems, SRE teams use software solutions to improve system resilience, system management, system design, and automate operations tasks.
As mentioned before, this approach was first proposed by Google. The book “Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems” written by a team of Google employees, is still considered a must-read among SRE experts. In 2004, engineer Ben Treynor Sloss founded the first site reliability team. Today, SRE is considered to be a mature and prominent practice across the IT industry. In the words of Google engineers themselves: “SRE is what you get when you treat operations as if it’s a software problem.”
The goal of this approach is to protect, support, and develop both software and systems behind it. In other words, the Site Reliability Engineering methodology promotes balancing the importance of releasing new features and ensuring reliability for end-users. To achieve these goals, SRE teams usually build upon standardization and automation. Site Reliability Engineering is commonly believed to be most valuable when used to create cloud-native, scalable software systems with a focus on reliability.
The Site Reliability Engineering model is mostly concerned with tasks that traditionally were within the scope of IT operations engineers, who often had to resolve them manually. With the SRE approach, these tasks, including problem-solving and production system management, became subjects to automation. The approach is also closely related to DevOps, and some specialists consider SRE to be just a specific instance of practicing DevOps.
Roles and responsibilities in Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)
An SRE engineer usually has some background in software development and additional experience in IT operations. System administrators and IT operations support experts often become site reliability engineers as well.
Automation is the backbone of what SRE engineers do. They use it to manage how the code is deployed, configured, and monitored. Site Reliability Engineers are also responsible for changes in system management, availability, emergency response, and capacity management of all the services in production.
Such automation decreases the workload for both development and operations teams. With SRE support, developers can focus on programming, and operations engineers don’t have to perform repeatable, manual tasks that often.
What technologies are used to support SRE?
SRE practices take advantage of automation solutions that help to streamline operational tasks and standardize them across the entire application lifecycle. This is the reason why so many SRE teams turn to cloud-native development styles and solutions. One example is the use of containers that support a unified environment for development, delivery, integration, and automation.
The difference between SRE and DevOps
When it comes to SRE vs. DevOps, there’s a lot of overlap. DevOps is defined as a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops). It is used to quicken the life cycle of development, improve software quality, and support its continuous delivery. Because of that, some experts consider SRE to be a specific implementation of DevOps.
Similarly to DevOps, SRE focuses on bringing IT operations and software development together and improving the delivery speed. Both models draw ideas from Agile methodology and prioritize the company culture and communication. The main difference is that the SRE approach places Site Reliability Engineers inside the development team to remove possible communication issues. It’s also important to note that DevOps's main focus is to create a fast and efficient development pipeline, whereas SRE focuses on balancing site reliability and speedy implementation of new code.
What is managed SRE or SRE as a service?
The SRE approach to cloud infrastructure management and software development prioritizes automating the environment to align with the principles the development teams use when writing code. For example, all infrastructure settings are described in a text file stored and versioned on GitHub. There’s no better embodiment for Infrastructure as Code (IaC) than this.
Managed SRE or SRE as a Service is delivered by expert IT companies with SRE and DevOps experts on board. These specialists are usually the cream of the crop when it comes to cloud-native technologies. Not every company out there has an IT department that includes DevOps engineers - not to mention virtuosos who can personally bridge the gap between software development and IT operations teams. That’s why many enterprises turn to specialized SRE consultants and ask them to deliver Site Reliability Engineering services when needed.
Key benefits of SRE as a Service
Instant access to high-quality SRE expertise and experience. Usually, providers who deliver SRE as a Service have lots of experience with software products of different sizes. The consultants are well aware of all common issues, equipped to tackle harder challenges, and will support your internal teams in any capacity.
High availability and SRE best practices. An external Site Reliability Engineering team can step in to optimize your product or service as well as its underlying infrastructure. The idea is to enable your development team to respond promptly and cost-effectively to any changes in demand. Managed SRE services ensure the high availability of all your digital products and services, which boosts the end-user experience.
Quick detection and removal of bottlenecks. Late discovery of an operational or structural bottleneck usually generates high and unexpected costs. This is where SRE engineers can help. By hiring a domain expert, you can be sure that such bottlenecks are identified and removed early on.
Reliability assessment service. Introducing SRE services to your company is often a part of the bigger digital transformation journey. Software Reliability Engineers are usually brought in as early as possible to assess SRE maturity - the extent to which the enterprise infrastructure, platforms, and applications are in line with SRE best practices. Their goal is to estimate which optimization efforts to prioritize, recommend how to address the onboarding and offboarding of internal and external stakeholders, and define server management and user roles to control the access to resources and services.
Dependable system architecture and design. With their diverse skills and years of experience in reliability engineering, external providers of SRE as a Service will recommend the best-in-class solutions to help your business jump on the autonomous scaling bandwagon and achieve higher availability. Additionally, an external SRE team can ensure that your platform is designed and implemented in alignment with the Continuous Integration model.
Reliable optimization. Managed SRE services providers are well-equipped to resolve reliability issues related to application, performance, databases, and infrastructure. SRE teams can support you in migrating on-premises workloads to the cloud, identifying and addressing existing defects in cloud architectures, and automating manual tasks to save operational time.
Site Reliability Engineering best practices
Tight coupling of code and infrastructure
The SRE model brings the entire software development, deployment, and monitoring lifecycle together and offers 24/7 availability for its customers. In an ideal scenario, SRE’s role is to become cross-functional practice where developers are involved in releasing and monitoring the very software they write.
Nonstop monitoring and real-time updates
One of the greatest benefits of SRE is accelerated product updates and monitoring. For example, SRE engineers can build a solution that automatically sends product updates without any downtime. The system supports developer productivity and releases software in rapid cycles. A team can quickly release a new update and roll it back as easily if any issue arises.
SRE teams are capable of monitoring a large number of systems and automated processes. Experienced teams build operational excellence over several years of fine-tuning their processes to help companies handle the dynamic changes in their industries.
Managed SRE service providers usually take IT security very seriously. SRE experts follow best practices and guidelines for IT security operations and undergo regular audits to ensure compatibility with local standards and regulations. Most SRE as a Service teams go through relevant certification processes to ensure their clients are getting world-class security. Some provide commercial security intrusion tools and perform continuous scans to ensure no error or misconfiguration happens without their knowledge.
Conclusion: why should you invest in the Site Reliability Engineering model?
Disconnection between your development and operations teams can result in miscommunication issues, a slower pace of new releases, and longer downtime when unexpected issues arise. Combination of operations and development knowledge that SRE professionals offer bridges the gap between teams, allowing for better communication and faster problem-solving. That’s why most modern software solutions, especially those already using cloud services, can benefit greatly from hiring a Site Reliability Engineer or even a whole SRE team.
Are you looking for SRE as a service? Maxima Consulting is helping companies of all sizes with their IT security, infrastructure & operations, and development needs since 1993. Contact us to learn more about the advantages of managed SRE services.