Marrying Service Reliability Engineering (SRE) and DevOps

SRE (Service Reliability Engineering) and DevOps are terms used to describe different methodologies in software development and operations management, respectively. While they do overlap in some ways, they are distinct in that SRE focuses more on the reliability of services provided.

In contrast, DevOps focuses more on the collaboration between development and operations teams. That said, there are certainly benefits to bringing these two methodologies together to improve the efficiency of your development team’s workflow overall. The important thing is to integrate them so that both parties work well together, not to force fit the methodologies. 

What is SRE?

Service Reliability Engineering (SRE) is an approach to engineering for service reliability that Google pioneered. SRE methodology focuses on providing service reliability and availability through engineering best practices. These practices are designed to minimize downtime, increase scalability, eliminate single points of failure while at the same time maintaining simplicity in functional design. The goal of SRE is to provide services at all times. If failures occur, then they should be expected. When failures occur, they must be documented and addressed to avoid similar issues in future software development iterations. 

SRE ensures that development teams consider efficiency, up time, and general usability factors. 

SRE principles

SRE puts clear responsibility in deploying services into production on both sides of the partnership—development and operations share operational responsibility by default. Some SRE principles are:

  • Foster cross-functional self-organizing teams: A SRE practice starts with small groups formed around features and skills. Self-selection plays a significant role here: choose people who want to work together based on shared values rather than experience or skill set alone. 
  • Multi-tenancy is preferable: Adopt a multi-tenant architecture for your infrastructure when possible. Doing so allows you to cut hardware costs dramatically and ensures cloud providers can quickly scale up or down resources for your instances. 
  • Be alert; there will be outages: SRE doesn’t mean never experiencing an outage again—it means making them infrequent and learning how to recover when they do happen. 
  • Everything must be monitored: SRE focuses on real-time alerting via metrics and alerts. Each metric helps identify an issue with your infrastructure, so it’s essential to monitor everything and make that data available in a central dashboard accessible to all team members. From there, you can set up alerts for your metrics, so you’ll get notified if things go off-kilter. 

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a cultural movement that fuses software developers and IT operations. Developers work with IT operations to build, test, deploy, and monitor their code. This collaboration produces higher quality code delivered faster than it would be otherwise. While some development enterprises consider DevOps a set of tools or methodologies, it is a culture change that results in better working methods, not just improved workflows or software tools. 

At its core, DevOps is about releasing updates more often and having quicker feedback loops through automated testing and monitoring. It’s not only about continuous integration and continuous delivery but also real-time communication between development teams. 

DevOps key pillars

  • Fail fast: Learning from errors rather than attempting to avoid all failures is the purpose of DevOps. When it comes to DevOps, it’s all about finding ways to reduce risk and avoid repeating errors.
  • No silos: There is a belief that a lack of communication and information exchange across teams might hurt production. Breaking down barriers between teams or departments and encouraging communication and cooperation for better development pipelines are crucial aspects of DevOps.
  • Gradual change: The goal of DevOps is to release small, incremental changes to production more often rather than making massive changes all at once.
  • Automation: By using automation, DevOps can release updates more quickly and save countless hours of labor.
  • Metrics: It is essential to monitor each update to see whether it has the desired effect. DevOps must leverage data and analytics to measure the success of their activities, such as implementing automation.

Read next: DevOps: Understanding Continuous Integration & Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)

Differences Between DevOps and SRE

Both SRE and DevOps are highly technical methodologies with similar goals, but there are differences between them. 

DevOpsSRE
Encourages automationEmphasizes a strict quality assurance
Stresses communicationFocuses on accountability and standardization
Developers take responsibility for quality assurance, while testers only ensure code follows standards set by administratorsIt’s more typical for testers to work closely with developers and perform their independent tests once requirements have been met (by dev) 
Mainly involves operational efficiencyIncludes architectural issues like database design and server architecture
Deployments are nearly automatic in a DevOps implementation since all test cases pass before deploymentsDeployments aren’t as automated under an SRE model since multiple teams need to approve before moving into production mode

Similarities Between DevOps and SRE

Both methodologies encourage close collaboration between operations and development teams. They also emphasize shared responsibility for creating, improving, maintaining, and monitoring enterprise systems. Here are five similarities between SRE and DevOps: 

  • Proactive monitoring & response: Both SRE and DevOps favor automated processes that take an active approach to identify potential issues before they have time to become serious problems. 
  • Encouraging automation over re-work: For example, if something goes wrong with your app after deployment, neither methodology favors manually fixing it; instead, developers are encouraged to automate any recovery process so that similar problems don’t occur again. 
  • Finding and fixing flaws before release: Regardless of whether you use automation (DevOps) or live testing/monitoring/discovery methods (SRE), both methodologies help ensure there will be fewer bugs for users to run into once code has been released. 
  • Intra-team communication: When you compare DevOps and SRE together, communication within teams is another similarity worth mentioning. Internal documentation, meetings, etc., all help make sure everyone on a team stays abreast of what’s going on with software releases. 
  • Multifaceted focus: Achieving success through either DevOps or SRE requires participation from various departments—not just IT, but finance, marketing, sales, and more.

Also read: Best DevOps Tools & Software

Can Both Methodologies Coexist?

Since both SRE and DevOps help development teams improve their efficiency and stability, they can work together. In general, when a process can use two methods in tandem, there will be benefits; since both processes involve improving existing systems. And if done well, SRE and DevOps can work together to form a powerful code-quality/infrastructure-quality combination. Working together, SRE and DevOps are better in terms of: 

Efficiency

A single team creates a cohesive product development pipeline rather than an unconnected collection of individuals working towards a common goal. Each has expertise in specific areas—product design or application management—which allows them to work effectively together. 

Communication 

Whether teams communicate over Slack or traditional methods like email or face-to-face discussions, eliminating disconnects between departments saves time, energy, and resources. 

Predictability  

As with communication, using a streamlined approach means both your end users and developers have consistency regarding production issues or new features; developers can seamlessly implement changes within existing parameters without worrying about them interfering with each other. 

Over-all process integration  

Each methodology contains specific process characteristics but not others; working as one integrated whole allows for shared strengths and minimizes deficiencies. Healthier ecosystems. Most DevOps professionals recommend against siloing by tool type or even by language, advocating instead for a well-oiled machine containing various tools to meet modern business needs best. By adopting that same mentality as you consider integrating these methods into your company culture, you’ll find healthier developers and improved operations overall. 

Together, SRE and DevOps are Better

Do you know how they say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? When it comes to SRE and DevOps, that’s especially true. These two complementary methodologies allow for smoother communication, more effective collaboration, and a better functioning system. 

To get the most out of your symbiotic relationship between DevOps and SRE, you need to go about approaching it carefully. When viewed in a vacuum, each of these methodologies has pros and cons. Each provides value as a standalone methodology, but sometimes, when both are put together into one cohesive solution, you get a more appealing and enhanced approach to delivering technology to your users that is far better than either is on its own. 

Read next: Scaling DevOps: Best Practices

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (educate + entertain) his reader about business, technology, growth, and everything in-between. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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