Site Reliability Engineering: A New Standard to Transform Cloud Operations

  • Media: Express Computer
  • Spokesperson: Pallab Chatterjee

Much like how electric vehicles have transformed the automotive sector, Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) has similar potential to disrupt DevSecOps.

The purpose of SRE is to drive strategic alignment between software development and IT operations teams. The end-state is a transformed approach to IT operations management and DevSecOps. By adhering to best-practice SRE principles, organizations can reduce service downtime while enhancing system performance, efficiency, and reliability.

Since SRE is a rapidly evolving practice, it’s important to collaborate with technology experts who possess a proven track record and in-depth knowledge.

An SRE service provider can support organizations with:
• Automation of manual tasks
• Efficient problem resolution
• Proactive system optimization
• Reliability-focused design
• Knowledge sharing
• Maximizing benefits of SRE

In this article, we explore challenges in cloud operations (CloudOps), key site reliability engineering adoption challenges, and how an SRE service provider can help establish better IT operational practices.

What are the Prevalent Challenges with Cloud Operations?
Cloud operations, or CloudOps, is an operating model where most, if not all, business services operate in the cloud. These services operate on public multi-tenant or private single-tenant cloud IT infrastructure.

The scope of maintenance depends on the choice of cloud infrastructure service:
• Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
• Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
• Serverless or Function-as-a-Service.

Given the high-velocity nature of the cloud enviornment, change is constant. Each change has the potential to compromise system reliability, scalability, performance, and security.

Just think of a SaaS company churning out new features week after week, deploying software updates that increase the complexity of system maintenance or drive-up computational requirements.

In this context, Organizations face several prevalent challenges in Cloud Operations:
• Data Security and Privacy: Ensuring data security and regulatory compliance in the cloud environment while maintaining data privacy, can be challenging.
• Data Sovereignty Regulations: Complying with data sovereignty regulations when moving data to the cloud.
• Complexity of Multi-Cloud Environments: Managing multiple cloud providers, with their diverse services and configurations, as well as OS and security patches, adds complexity. This makes ensuring reliability and consistency in data governance a challenge.
• Scalability and Resource Management: Dynamically scaling resources to meet fluctuating demands while optimizing costs can be complex, necessitating accurate resource allocation and auto-scaling strategies.
• Service Dependencies: Microservices introduce intricate service dependencies. Monitoring these interactions is key to preventing cascading failures.
• Monitoring and Observability: Continuously tracking various system metrics, maintaining optimal performance, proactively detecting anomalies, and providing valuable insights into the internal state of the system.
• Performance Optimization: Identifying and rectifying performance bottlenecks and latency issues across distributed systems can be challenging, impacting user experience and system reliability.
• Incident Response and Automation: Detecting and responding to incidents, automating remediation, and managing incident fatigue can be challenging in distributed systems.
• Lack of Resources/Expertise: Addressing the shortage of skilled professionals who understand how to manage and optimize cloud services.

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is the Antidote to Instability: Why Aren’t More Enterprises Using it? Despite these CloudOps challenges, many organizations face hurdles in planning and integrating site reliability engineering (SRE) into their practices.

SRE Adoption Requires a Culture Shift
The biggest hurdle to SRE adoption is the culture shift that is needed to ensure that it is successful.

In an environment where development and IT operations teams operate in silos, a collaborative culture is often absent. Research shows that approximately 25% of Stack Overflow developers encounter difficulties in accessing relevant knowledge due to these silos.

Additionally, IT professionals may lack a comprehensive understanding of SRE principles, or the necessary skills for Agile development. Stakeholders may be reluctant to restructure teams or altering existing workflows.

Another consideration is technical debt. Accumulated technical debt can hinder system scalability and efficiency. This is a primary source of demotivation and high turnover rates among software developers.

Not Knowing How to Measure SRE Benefits and Utilize Tools
To ensure a successful SRE implementation, it’s crucial to leverage a diverse set of monitoring and observability tools effectively, empowering you to gather valuable data for measuring SRE’s impact. In the light of the GitLab DevSecOps 2022 survey’s insights, where 69% of developers express their eagerness to streamline toolchains for smoother development experiences. You can create a balanced tool ecosystem to monitor key metrics and quantify the benefits of SRE.

To make the most of SRE, it’s essentials to define clear metrics and KPIs to monitor SRE success:
• Service level indicators (SLI) metrics to gauge factors such as uptime and latency
• Service level objectives (SLO) based on user experience (UX) and business requirements to serve as benchmarks for reliability and performance.
• Error budgets to quantify acceptable levels of systems failures or performance deviations before they breach Service Level Agreements (SLA)

Follow-up questions: How can you automate monitoring process to gain actionable insights guiding your approach? Which tools will you use within both software development and operations teams respectively?

Reliance on External SRE Providers Due to Internal Skills Gaps
Many organizations leverage SRE consultants due to widespread skills gaps. For example, 85% of the SRE Pulse Report respondents cited skills shortages as a barrier to SRE adoption.

SRE is not just a people-problem, it’s a structural problem. Some businesses simply hire SRE-skilled staff to augment their workforce without tackling underlying cultural and technical challenges.

Does Your Enterprise Need Site Reliability Engineering? Yes!
SRE is an essential practice for modern service providers operating in high-velocity development environments. Its primary objective is to ensure the sustained stability and reliability of system by integrating a philosophy of “incident avoidance” into various aspects of release management, software development, and quality assurance workflows.

One of the notable strengths of SRE lies in its synergy with ITIL-based incident management practices. Here’s how these two approaches complement each other:
• SRE plays a pivotal role in incident prevention and detection. It employs proactive measures such as continuous monitoring, incident resolution, automation, and post-incident analysis to prevent similar incidents in the future. SRE’s change management and continuous improvement practices ensure system changes are carefully planned, tested, and monitored to minimize the risk of introducing incidents and enhances system reliability.
• On the other hand, ITIL provides a structured framework for incident detection and resolution. ITIL’s incident resolution process includes responsibility assignment, escalation procedures, approaches to incident investigation and post-incident analysis. ITIL also includes a robust change management process to prevent unintended consequences and service disruption due to changes, alongside continual service improvement (CSI).
• What’s crucial to note is that SRE and ITIL share a common service-oriented approach, and SRE incorporates engineering practices that seamlessly complement the broader service management principles outlined in ITIL.

In summary, the fusion of SRE with ITIL sets you on a path towards operational excellence. This journey often culminates in the adoption of Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC), where infrastructure management and provisioning occur through automated code-driven process, replacing error-prone manual procedures.

Achieve Operational Excellence with a SRE Service Provider
Being mindful of widespread skills shortages, most organizations can benefit from external service providers for SRE implementation. External SRE providers have experience with multiple clients and have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

External SRE consultants can assist you in the following ways:
• Establishing an SRE program
• Cultivate a culture based on SRE principles and cross-team collaboration
• Discovering and adopting SRE best practices based on their prior experience, saving you time otherwise spend on trial and error
• Creating metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor SRE success
• Outsourcing part or all your site reliability engineering workloads

Service providers will be an incredibly valuable partner in your SRE adoption journey. Here are a few high-level benefits:
• Access to on-demand experts in SRE best practices and strategy
• A wealth of experience with various cloud-native tools, software, and technologies
• A deep understanding of common and complex SRE challenges, along with effective solutions
• A solid grasp of the requirements for delivering an exceptional user experience (UX)
• A proven track record of building dependable system architectures and designs, incorporating continuous integration for scalability and flexibility
• Expertise in migrating and optimizing on-premises workloads to cloud.
• Ability to identify and remediate defects in cloud architecture design
• Proficiency in automating repetitive manual tasks as workflows, thereby saving operational time and bringing you closer to realizing Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC)

Nonetheless, proponents should exercise caution before outsourcing SRE entirely, as a lack of understanding and control over tools and technologies could lead to potential mismanagement or knowledge gaps when transitioning back to insourcing.