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What Is Platform Engineering and Why Is It Important Now?

Gartner expects platform engineering to a key driving force for 80% of software engineering organizations by 2026. In fact, the consulting giant included platform engineering as a key technology under the “optimized technologist delivery” theme in its 2022 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Surely, platform engineering is on its way to becoming a ‘mainstream’ engineering discipline. But why is it relevant now? What does it even mean? Is it just a buzzword, or does it refer to a concrete practice? Finally, what does it mean for the role of platforms going forward? Let’s find out.

What Is Platform Engineering?

Platform engineering refers to the development of Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs) or engineering platforms that developers, data scientists, or end users can use to speed up application delivery. Essentially, IDPs act as a self-service operational layer between users and the backend services powering the platform. The idea is to modernize application development and realize intended business outcomes at speed. 

Who takes care of these engineering platforms? Product teams. These product teams look at the required platforms as “products”. They are tasked with creating IDPs that:

  • Cater to the business’s app development needs and the associated unique circumstances
  • Are packaged with capabilities that development teams can consume to drive their initiatives
  • Provide self-service capabilities to keep developers in control of what they want to achieve
  • Power automated infrastructure operations for reducing hassle and facilitating ongoing runtime innovation
  • Make use of reusable components to allow for much broader cross-departmental use

Is Platform Engineering Challenging?

It can be, as it involves:

  • Consolidating deep tech to address the businesses’ pain points and technical or operational requirements from a granular perspective
  • Managing products (platforms) according to the business needs – meaning that platform engineers need to essentially be product managers at some level
  • Documenting the self-service capabilities and the associated workflows to make continuous improvement and innovation possible

But these challenges can be warded off if a competent platform team is put in place to take care of the infrastructure. The good thing is that the end result is equally rewarding for the development teams – as they can build and bring the applications to the markets at speed and scale by leveraging the capabilities of these platforms.

How Is Platform Engineering Different from DevOps?

DevOps, albeit a modern-day operational paradigm, hosts various challenges. For one, it puts a lot of pressure on the development and operations teams. DevOps motto, “You build it, you own it”, can’t always be realized because DevOps teams are usually not equipped to address something as sophisticated as updating the configurations, adding dependencies, adding more services, etc. 

What developers ideally need is a platform team that can construct and manage an underlying platform which has all the self-service capabilities to run app development initiatives seamlessly. The big difference here is that in DevOps, all the teams need to be very close-knit. In platform engineering, however, platform engineers and developers work autonomously. The engineers do consult the developers in understanding their unique requirements to craft a platform that suffices the needs of the business. But other than that, developers can operate autonomously.

What Are the Advantages of Platform Engineering?

  • Reduced Friction

Paul Delory, VP Analyst at Gartner, says that “non-expert end users are often asked to operate an assembly of complicated arcane services.” The discipline of platform engineering has risen to get rid of this friction and address the otherwise “increasing complexity of modern software architectures.” 

  • Greater Speed

Platform engineering focuses on automating common workflows and paths. For example, developers are better equipped to automate the code delivery process, utilize automated test cases, autonomously deploy applications, etc. This way, developers are able to bring their solutions to the market much faster.

  • Improved Developer Productivity & Experience

Developers are equipped with internal tooling to help them navigate the complexity of cloud-native development and embark on the touted “shift left” journey. Having this internal tooling also enables faster interactive prototyping and continuous delivery for the customers. Ultimately, this reduces the “cognitive load” on development teams and improves their experiences.

  • Reduced Fragmentation

Developers are usually responsible for handling a host or things such as security, operations, misconfigurations, etc. All these facets require knowledge and adeptness at operating different tools and technologies. Of course, this fragmentation and inconsistency can be negated with platform engineering. Platform engineers can address the same by consolidating different services and tools – even for utterly sophisticated endeavors such as application troubleshooting. 

  • Continuous Performance Improvement

It’s not that the platforms are static. Take cloud platforms, for example. Engineers working behind the scenes invariably improve the workflows, customize the capabilities of the platform, and even add new ones. So, continuous improvement is a huge part of this discipline.

Does Your Business Need a Platform Team?

Are you working on distributed, complex development projects? Are you employing a host of tools and technologies to accommodate the same? Is it very hard to manage these tools in order to achieve the desired results? Are you unable to perform self-service operations such as fine-grained control over development environments and set up the types of platforms that the developers need? If yes, it’s time for your business to embrace the discipline of Platform Engineering. Not only will it help developers improve their productivity, but it will also help you transform your business by building the internal capabilities that you need to scale and innovate 

For more information about platform engineering and how to get it right for your needs, contact us.

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