The speed of software development velocity is increasing, and to enable this, platform engineering is emerging to evolve the DevOps practice. Interest in platform engineering is rising—so much so that Puppet emphasized platform engineering in its 2023 State of DevOps Report.
A whopping 94% of respondents agreed that platform engineering is helping their organizations better realize the benefits of DevOps. The move toward platform engineering has increased over time, bringing benefits such as increased release velocity, reliability and efficiency.
Below, we’ll highlight some of the key takeaways from the report. We’ll define what platform engineering is and highlight its benefits. We’ll also consider obstacles on the path to embracing a platform-based development culture.
Platform Engineering Supplants DevOps
DevOps has been in use for a decade or more at most institutions, maturing steadily with new automation and infrastructure abstraction. The latest evolution of DevOps is a practice known as platform engineering—51% of organizations have already adopted this practice within the last three years and 93% said it’s a step in the right direction.
Platform engineering is the discipline of designing and building self-service capabilities to minimize cognitive load for developers and to enable fast-flow software delivery.
In essence, platform engineering is the process of creating standardized, self-service infrastructure that helps developers get up and running quickly. These self-service platforms typically handle capabilities like deployment (43%), operation of infrastructure (43%), monitoring production applications (42%) and security and compliance (42%).
These shared internal platforms are maintained by a central platform team that embraces a product mindset to iterate the technology based on user feedback.
State of Platform Engineering
Platform engineering is relatively new— 27% of platform teams have formed within the last two to three years. Notably, big tech companies hopped on the bandwagon years ago, and non-tech companies are now following. Regardless, 70% believed their timing was “just right.”
The goals of a platform engineering team are numerous. According to the Puppet report, 54% said problem-solving is the top goal. This is followed by educating and empowering developer teams (47%), setting best practices (46%) and optimizing iteration (44%). A platform engineering team’s scope of work is primarily focused on automating workflows and building and managing infrastructure.
The ‘correct’ number of internal platforms is a moving target. The majority of organizations (57%) have between two and four platforms, and 30% have five or more internal self-service platforms. This demonstrates that although platform engineering is somewhat centralized, it’s also flexible to the needs of an organization.
Benefits and Hurdles
So, what are some benefits as opposed to traditional DevOps? Well, the most common benefit is improved system reliability, at 60%. This tracks, as a standardized platform could reduce human error and missteps in the development workflow. Following this benefit is improving efficiency (59%), speeding up delivery time (58%) and improving workflow and process standards (57%).
The most common driver of adoption is increasing the speed of delivery. Slight more than half of respondents (51%) said development speed has somewhat increased since the inception of the platform team, and 42% say it’s increased by “a great deal.” Other top drivers include the need to scale, free up engineering time, control infrastructure spending and avoid duplication across teams. Those with more mature adoption tend to be more satisfied with the result, indicating that results increased over time.
Of course, no new technological introduction comes without its hurdles, and platform engineering is not immune from certain pain points. For example, 34% said that cycle time is slower than expected. This might be due to nascent industry adoption and a lack of best practices.
Just under one-third (32%) also noticed resistance to platform team adoption, and 32% reported a lack of communication around changes. Organizations will likely have to increase transparency and reduce siloing to encourage productive platform adoption that satisfies the needs of various stakeholders.
According to the report, product management skills can help realize these goals. Some of the most fundamental product management skills here include strong communication skills (61%), problem-solving expertise (60%) and the ability to foster collaboration (54%). Many companies will also have to convince senior management to invest in platform engineering—nearly half agreed that senior management doesn’t yet understand its value.
Confidence around platform engineering is increasing, especially for teams with mature DevOps approaches. As a result, the practice will likely gain more traction in the coming year—71% of respondents reported their firm plans to hire people with platform engineering experience over the next 12 months.
Over the next year, organizations that adopt the practice will want to increase awareness of platform capabilities and set expectations across the organization. This will also include setting governance policies and satisfying the needs of specific developers, departments and the organization as a whole.
Above, we’ve scratched the surface of the current state of platform engineering, its benefits and its pain points. For plenty of other insights, you can pick up a copy of The State of DevOps Report 2023: Platform Engineering Edition from Puppet by Perforce here.