Positioning DevOps and site reliability engineering (SRE) as one versus the other implies a level of competition between the two approaches, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As with most successful methodologies in tech, DevOps and SRE can create valuable synergies when implemented in ways that complement each other.
Let’s dive into how to forge a mutually beneficial relationship between SRE and DevOps, starting with the differences between them, the benefits and challenges of combining them, and strategies for leveraging them effectively.
The phenomenon of massively scalable cloud services launched a new era in IT – and a revolution in IT operations and system design. An intrinsic element of this sea change was the emergence of SRE, which requires transformations in both the organizational mindset and operational processes.
Defined by Benjamin Treynor after he became Google’s head of production engineering in 2003, SRE is essentially using engineers with software expertise to do work traditionally performed by operations teams. The difference between traditional Ops teams and SREs is that the latter is tasked with automating as much of the job as possible, minimising the opportunity for human error.
SREs are responsible for making production systems and services available, reliable, and resilient. They take care of performance tuning and optimization using automation and centralised tooling. They also define and maintain customer SLAs and give technical and operations assistance when SLA systems are violated. And they are responsible for creating and maintaining disaster recovery plans.
SRE approaches infrastructure and operations as a software problem, using repeatable, programmatic processes to eliminate error-prone manual tasks. The main goal of SREs is to implement and automate DevOps practices to minimize incidents and maximize reliability and scalability. SREs constantly communicate with the development team, sending frequent feedback on such performance metrics as incidents, availability, latency, efficiency, and capacity.
DevOps unifies traditional software development and operations teams according to a set of practices with the shared goal of delivering a reliable end product. By working closely together, development and operations teams speed up the rate at which they produce, test, and ship quality software.
DevOps teams are responsible for continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) pipelines as they manage and maintain the organization’s development infrastructure. Using various tools and technologies, they support automation of the build, test, and deployment processes to increase the speed and efficiency of application delivery. They also work to keep the systems they develop highly available and scalable.
Adopting DevOps involves a cultural shift that drives companies to eliminate organization silos, treat failure as part of the process, implement incremental changes, harness automation, and measure everything. DevOps makes it easier for teams to deliver business value because they can work faster and with fewer errors.
SRE works closely with DevOps, providing a set of processes, standards, and automation details for DevOps teams to monitor updates and deal with system issues as they occur — particularly in large-scale, geographically dispersed systems.
DevOps works to maintain a balance between throughput and stability, whereas SRE prioritizes reliability. Both focus on metrics, but DevOps considers elements like deployment frequency, cycle time, and change fail rates; SRE seeks to manage service level agreements (SLAs), service level objectives (SLOs), and service level indicators (SLIs) through error budgets. DevOps and SRE are undoubtedly different, but they should not be competitors.
DevOps and SRE complement each other in the broader effort to make operations run more smoothly, break down organizational silos and deliver quality software faster. In a world where user expectations are increasing exponentially and competitor offerings are constantly advancing, system failures are not tolerated, so organizations must work harder to ensure exceptional service.
That’s why it is crucial to integrate DevOps and SRE teams to work together for maximum efficiency. The ability of SREs to optimise systems to ensure that resources are always available when required provides an essential support for DevOps teams that may lack the capacity to concentrate on fulfilling user expectations.
The increasing sophistication of software environments and infrastructure is another reason DevOps teams must partner with their SRE counterparts. They can support machine learning, Kubernetes, and other complex, cloud-native technologies requiring more attention. Working together, SRE and DevOps can help minimize operational complexity by making processes more efficient, automating deployment, and enhancing system performance. This streamlining translates into lower costs, an improved user experience, and greater productivity.
DevOps and SRE are complementary methodologies that can generate valuable synergies as they work together. But their successful collaboration depends on a healthy relationship between the two teams. Application delivery is challenging, and without effective communication and cooperation between SRE and DevOps, it is difficult to maintain effective end-to-end management and incident response.
To ensure a robust relationship, SRE and DevOps must have clarity regarding their respective job duties and the areas where they should work together. The organization must also support the cultural shift that this kind of integration involves. Issues arise when boundaries and areas of overlap are not explicitly defined, the organizational culture is not open to change, or the role of automation is not understood.
The divisions between SRE and DevOps differ from company to company. Still, DevOps teams should concentrate mainly on software development and deployment, whereas SRE teams should concentrate on the ongoing operations and maintenance of software post-deployment.
SLAs are another dividing line. The SRE team’s focus is application availability and performance, whereas DevOps looks after the development and deployment process – which is generally beyond the scope of a customer SLA.
Documentation is another differentiator. Technical documentation is crucial to an SRE’s role, but this is not generally true of DevOps teams. However, this is changing as DevOps teams seek to consolidate institutional knowledge, streamline developer onboarding and save time developers may waste looking for information.
SRE and DevOps teams must collaborate in critical areas to ensure maximum productivity. One of these areas is the launch of new features and services. SRE and DevOps should work together to ensure any new release is scalable and reliable.
They should also adopt a cross-team approach to configuration management and capacity planning because configuration issues in an application can affect both teams. DevOps and SRE also have specific expertise and data required to ensure software can be scaled to meet business needs without overextending budgets.
As SRE and DevOps focus on monitoring their specific areas of responsibility, they should also partner on responding when incidents arise. This collaboration extends to root cause analysis and incident postmortems so that measures can be taken to help prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Security is another area critical to both teams, particularly as organizations have limited resources to combat ever-increasing threats from bad actors. If both DevOps and SRE teams work together to automate and secure toolchains, the organization is better equipped to deliver new features and bug fixes to its customers on a secure, ongoing basis.
Human nature is resistant to change, and integrating DevOps with SRE certainly falls into the category of significant cultural change. Some DevOps and SRE team members will not relish the prospect of working more closely together, but solid planning and strong support from leadership can make the transition smoother.
Before you embark on any efforts to alter the working relationship between DevOps and SRE, formulate a clear plan on how the change will occur and be transparent about it with all of the team members involved. Ensure the leadership team supports the integration and is visibly supportive of the effort required.
Automation is certainly key to integrating DevOps and SRE, but it’s not a magic bullet and can be overdone. Automating everything can be problematic, sometimes prompting unnecessary complexity, wasted resources, and buggy deployments. However, adding a manual step before promoting changes to a production environment can be really helpful for identifying risks after checking out the lower environments for potential problems.
Given the undeniable benefits of combining DevOps with SRE, it would be tempting to try implementing all aspects of DevOps and SRE at once. However, an incremental approach is advisable. Organizations should get the basics right first, ensuring roles are clearly defined and building up from a solid foundation.
To ensure optimal results, organizations should embrace automation. Automation is integral to DevOps and SRE, and organizations should follow their lead. It helps reduce toil and costs, improve reliability, and make it easier to adapt swiftly to changing needs.
Training is another critical area to prioritize. Successful DevOps and SRE depend on specialized skills that must be updated continuously, so organizations should maintain robust upskilling programs to keep their teams abreast of the latest best practices and technologies.
Culture is something that must be driven from the top down. Encouraging collaboration and communication between teams will help keep everyone aligned on the shared aims of DevOps and SRE.
Viewed individually, SRE and DevOps are powerful disciplines for reducing operational complexity. In most cases, harnessing their joint strength will yield exponential value and ensure that an organization’s IT infrastructure runs reliably and efficiently.
However, limited resources and a smaller workforce can make it challenging for smaller organizations to combine them. Nonetheless, even smaller companies should focus on incrementally adopting DevOps and SRE, with a view to integrating them as they grow.
Following best practices for driving collaboration between the teams will enable organizations to attain enhanced agility, scalability, and reliability, giving them a competitive edge in a digital world.
K&C is a nearshore IT outsourcing services provider based in Munich, Germany and with satellite offices in Krakow, Sofia, Baku and Sulaymaniyah as well as remote specialists located across other nearshore markets.
We offer flexible DevOps resources that scale conveniently with your project cycles, optimising your IT budget spend by giving you the reliable resources you need, when you need them without bloating costs when you don’t.