The Evolution of Platform Engineering: Past, Present, and Future

December 11, 2023
The Evolution of Platform Engineering Past, Present, and Future

In this post, we delve into the history of platform engineering, examining how it has evolved and what the future might hold. We will explore the transition from traditional IT infrastructure to modern platform engineering practices, and predict future trends and technologies in this space.

The early days of software development

In the past, development and operations teams often operated in separate silos with their own goals, processes, and priorities. Development teams focused on writing code and delivering new features, while operations teams were responsible for infrastructure management, deployment, and maintenance. This created a fragmented and inefficient workflow, known as the “throw over the fence” approach. Its main drawbacks are:

  1. Communication gaps can lead to misunderstanding, delays, and increased chances of errors.
  2. Slow feedback loops hamper the ability to iterate and improve the software based on real-world usage, resulting in missed opportunities for optimization and efficiency improvements.
  3. The handoff between development and operations teams introduces additional risks and bottlenecks, which can lead to delays, errors during deployment, and increased operational risks.
  4. Inefficient debugging and troubleshooting when issues arise in production. This can result in prolonged downtime, frustrated users, and increased pressure on both teams.
  5. Clear ownership and accountability for the entire software lifecycle may be lacking, leading to finger-pointing and a culture of blame during said issues.

Overall, this approach creates barriers between development and operations teams, hindering their ability to deliver high-quality software promptly. Recognizing the need for a more streamlined approach, industry leaders began to explore new ways of delivering software faster, more frequently, and with higher quality. Enter DevOps, a culture destined to bring in fast delivery of software through collaboration between development and operations.

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The DevOps culture

DevOps, which stands for development and operations, is a cultural movement that promotes collaboration, communication, and shared responsibility between these traditionally separate teams. The role of the DevOps engineer emerged to facilitate this collaboration. DevOps engineers are multidisciplinary professionals who possess a combination of development and operations skills. They act as catalysts, working closely with both development and operations teams to drive change, foster communication, and implement tools and practices that enable efficient collaboration.

DevOps engineers bring expertise in areas such as automation, infrastructure management, CI/CD pipelines, and configuration management. They employ a range of tools to support efficient delivery across various stages of the software lifecycle:

  • Source code management: tools like Git, Bitbucket, and GitHub are used for version control, branch management, and collaboration among development teams.
  • Continuous integration and build: Jenkins, CircleCI, and GitLab CI/CD are popular choices for automating the build process, running tests, and integrating code changes from multiple developers.
  • Configuration management and infrastructure provisioning: tools such as Ansible, Chef, Puppet, and Terraform enable automation, configuration management, and infrastructure provisioning in a repeatable and declarative manner.
  • Containerization: Docker and container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes allow for packaging applications and their dependencies into containers, enabling portability, scalability, and efficient resource utilization.
  • Deployment and release management: Kubernetes, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Cloud Run, and others facilitate deploying applications to various environments, managing releases, and handling rollbacks.
  • Monitoring and observability: tools such as Prometheus, Grafana, and ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) enable monitoring and collecting metrics, logs, and events for performance analysis, debugging, and troubleshooting.
  • Collaboration and communication: for example, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Atlassian Jira facilitate effective team communication, issue tracking, and project management.

(Copyright https://www.civo.com/blog/platform-engineering-vs-devops)

It is a lot of complexity to manage. Now, think of an organization with multiple development teams, each one using different solutions for their (common) needs. Does it sound chaotic? Cue the internal developer platform, the next step in the streamlining process.

The rise of platform engineering

When each team has to manage its environment, it leads to inconsistencies, inefficiencies, and a lack of standardization. This, plus the need for agility, scalability, and faster time-to-market gave rise to the concept of platform engineering.

Platform engineering is an extension of the DevOps culture that focuses specifically on creating a solid foundation for development environments. Platform engineers work to build and maintain a robust internal developer platform (IDP) that provides developers with standardized, self-service environments for their work. Its main advantages are:

  • Simplified application configuration management. IDPs are in charge of all internal or external resources related to an application, so app configuration becomes more manageable.
  • The dev team isn’t reliant on DevOps. They can handle deployments and environments independently using pre-built platform settings and processes.
  • An IDP encourages innovation and creativity on internal configurations since it minimizes load and lead time and increases productivity and visibility.
  • IDPs help you introduce faster release cycles for applications, resulting in a shorter time-to-market.
  • Clients receive their products faster and at a lesser cost; also, their feedback is listened to and acted upon in a shorter time, resulting in products that are more adjusted to their desires.
  • The organization can centrally manage all the services under one roof. It becomes easy for the team to debug the failures and errors coming from the application.

An internal developer platform constitutes a strong foundation for software development, enabling teams to deliver high-quality applications with speed and confidence. It is no wonder that many organizations have started recognizing the value of centralizing and standardizing their development environments to enable more efficient software delivery. Platform engineering landed on Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Software Engineering in 2022, was featured on Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2023, and has a rapidly growing community of 15k practitioners and enthusiasts around the world. PlatformCon, the first-ever platform engineering conference by and for platform engineers, got over 22k attendees in its second year. This is just the beginning of platform engineering.

What does the future hold?

Looking into the future, we can predict some exciting trends and technologies in the platform engineering space. Experts from Civo recently conducted a study through their community to reveal further insights into this progression from DevOps to platform engineering. They conclude that the future “will likely involve greater automation, increased AI and machine learning use, further adoption of cloud-native technologies, and an ongoing focus on security.”

They identified a few key emerging trends that stand out:

  • GitOps: it takes DevOps best practices and applies them to infrastructure automation. By implementing GitOps, IDPs can provide a declarative approach to automation and help maintain consistency across environments. In a future where hybrid and multi-cloud environments will become more prevalent, organizations will need platform engineering practices that can seamlessly manage and orchestrate applications across these diverse environments.
  • AI and machine learning: AI/ML-powered platforms can analyze vast amounts of data to optimize resource allocation, predict failures, and automate decision-making processes. This will lead to more intelligent and self-healing platforms, further enhancing efficiency and reliability.
  • DevSecOps: It aims to embed security in every part of the development process, ensuring fast, safe code delivery, and reducing security vulnerabilities in the application lifecycle. Integrating security practices into the DevOps model will be crucial for reducing vulnerabilities and ensuring the reliability of applications.
  • Serverless platforms: they abstract away the underlying infrastructure, allowing developers to focus solely on writing code. This trend will continue to gain momentum, offering even greater scalability, cost optimization, and developer productivity.

Conclusion

From traditional IT infrastructure to modern practices centered around automation, containerization, and CI/CD, platform engineering has brought efficiency, scalability, and standardization to the development process. Looking ahead, trends like serverless computing, AI/ML integration, and GitOps/DevSecOps will shape the future of platform engineering, further optimizing software delivery and enabling organizations to stay ahead in the fast-paced technological landscape.

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