The Magic behind SRE
Posted March 16, 2022
Written by Terry May, Xpanxion Technical Writer
What happens when you ask a software engineer to design an operations team?
Automation and a whole lot of Site Reliability Engineering.
Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) bridges the gap between software development and IT operations teams. Specifically, SRE employs software engineering to automate IT operations tasks. These are routine tasks that would otherwise be executed manually by systems administrators (sysadmins), such as analyzing logs, performance tuning, applying patches, testing production environments, and responding to incidents.
SRE is all about using software code to automate the administration of large IT operations systems to gain scalability, predictability, reliability, and sustainability. The concept was introduced by Google, who succinctly defined the term:
“SRE is what happens when you ask a software engineer to design an operations team."
The Nature of SRE
To be clear, SRE is both a process and a professional skill that requires a unique combination of experience in software development and IT operations. SRE aligns closely with DevOps principles - a modern way to deliver high-quality apps faster by automating the software delivery lifecycle. Like DevOps, SRE makes a business more agile, gives development and operations teams more shared responsibility, and forces cross-team collaboration. As a result, SRE can play a crucial role in DevOps success because it accelerates software delivery while minimizing IT risks.
The nature of SRE can also eliminate much of the normal discord between development teams who want to continually release new or updated software and operations teams who don't want to release any software without confidently knowing it won't cause operational issues or outages.
An organization can reap many benefits across its development pipeline with an SRE approach, particularly as these large systems extend or migrate to the cloud.
SRE is all about metrics (mostly)
However, before any organization adopts an SRE approach, it's important to understand some key terms and metrics behind site reliability engineering and how it can impact the performance of your business. These metrics establish benchmarks that define application reliability. They are the true magic behind SRE.
- Service level indicators (SLIs): The measurement of the service level provided by the system and how it impacts the user experience, such as availability (uptime), latency, or accuracy. For example, your SLIs could be set to determine whether expected data is returned and how long it took the data to process.
- Service level objectives (SLOs): SLOs are performance threshold measured for an SLI over a specified period of time. This is the bar against which the SLI is measured to determine if performance meets expectations. SLOs link SRE value directly to business outcomes that drive reliability and good customer experiences.
- Error budgets: Since 100% availability is an unrealistic standard, error budgets define the maximum number of times a system can fail or underperform without exceeding the contractual terms of the SLA (Service Level Agreement) with the business’ service provider. Error budgets are critical because they also help development teams and operations teams:
enhance the stability and performance of the service
Just like DevOps, the nature of SRE drives innovation
In addition to supporting DevOps success, SRE teams greatly benefit both IT operations and software development teams. SRE not only steers profound reliability to systems in production but it also helps IT, support, and development teams reduce the time spent on support escalations.
The aim of both SRE and DevOps is to improve the end-to-end lifecycle of an IT ecosystem. The application lifecycle is handled through DevOps, while the operations lifecycle is handled through SRE.
SRE continues to gain momentum among IT organizations.
According to the Upskilling 2021: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report, 47% of survey respondents (up from 28% in 2020) say SRE is a ‘must-have’ process and framework skillset. This rapid uptake can be credited to SRE’s ability to greatly improve the reliability of high-scale operations systems through automation and continuous integration and delivery. As a result, by reducing time spent on support escalations, SRE teams can devote more time to building new features and services ... which, in turn, gives them more time to innovate.
At Xpanxion, we combine our deep expertise in SRE with Agile and DevOps best practices to help clients prepare for the future of rapid automation in both application development and IT operations. Read our success stories to learn how we’ve helped our clients (large and small) make the important shift toward advanced automation so they can remain competitive and prosper.
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