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Platform Engineering Helps Tackle Infrastructure And Complexity Challenges


Guest: Rob Hirschfeld (LinkedIn)
Company: RackN (Twitter)

RackN helps customers make reliable automation and builds end-to-end workflows for customers exposing the complexity so that it can be managed in a repeatable way as a shared resource across teams. In this episode of TFiR: T3M, Swapnil Bhartiya is joined by Rob Hirschfeld, CEO and Co-founder of RackN, to talk about the paradigm shift toward platform engineering and the potential benefits it can bring. Hirschfeld discusses how vendors are approaching the shift and how they can help take some of the burdens of complexity off enterprises’ shoulders.

Who is driving the momentum toward platform engineering?

  • Platform engineering is being driven by internal efforts to rationalize the internal infrastructure platforms.
  • While there has been a push for development teams to be more productive, infrastructure, complexity, and controlling costs are challenging. Enterprises are looking for ways to tackle these difficulties.
  • Vendors are looking for ways to offset some of these complexities for enterprises, such as with self-service portals.

Definition of platform engineering:

  • Enterprises are creating self-service environments for their app development teams, while also trying to create products that developers need for self-service.
  • There is a drive within enterprises to consolidate and centralize control over how the infrastructure behind these efforts is managed, and how they build and rationalize consolidated control over the different incoming infrastructure requests.
  • Platform engineering has planted the seed for trying to define the relationship between app development teams and the back-end infrastructure in a productized way.

What is developer experience?

  • Developers need their tools and interfaces to hide a lot of the complexity, for instance, when doing GitOps and want to interact through a simple dev portal. Therefore, it needs to be self-service, simplified, and streamlined.
  • Platform engineers cannot service the infrastructure differently for each app developer team: however, dictating that they have to use their portal to do their work equally does not work well.
  • As opposed to DevOps, platform engineering recognizes that developer and operations experience is separate and it is important to respect some boundaries based on recognizing their different needs.

How are vendors approaching this paradigm shift?

  • Many vendors are focusing on the developer portal as a platform engineering solution, with very lightweight interfaces back into the infrastructure and perhaps the ability to run Terraform; however, they are not really operations tools, but developer tools.
  • Fewer vendors are focusing on the operations interactions due to complexity. However, RackN helps customers make reliable automation and builds end-to-end workflows for customers exposing the complexity so that it can be managed in a repeatable way.

Challenges smaller customers are facing compared to larger ones:

  • Big teams are experiencing the same problems as smaller teams; however, small teams tend to have one development effort and whichever team is doing infrastructure the best will likely become the platform team or their platform may become the standard platform.
  • Bigger companies tend to have more top-down management and can be more siloed. It can be challenging as app development teams may need to give up some control and autonomy on the infrastructure side as part of the platform engineering drive.

The impact layoffs are having on the platform engineering approach:

  • There is a drive in companies to be more efficient with using people’s time and talents and automating things in a more consistent way across teams.
  • For companies looking to scale back the resource utilization in people and consumption of cloud and infrastructure, they may look to move automation engineers back into a centralized function.
  • It is not necessarily a case of losing people but rather not hiring engineers, which will be difficult to find the right talent and hire for. Instead, using platform engineering to take on the skill sets to tackle the automation complexity, turning it into something that is repeatable across multiple app development teams and a shared resource.
  • Platform engineering offers a consistent way to secure and manage infrastructure, by taking the automation that is successful in one team and using it across the organization. That makes it easier to maintain, and fix, in a uniform way across teams.

Advice for companies looking at platform engineering:

  • This is a formal function that needs to be viewed from an operations perspective, then from a product management perspective.
  • Many companies have had platform engineering efforts for years but perhaps had competing efforts within an organization which led to it being unsuccessful. An increased focus needs to be placed on controlling and managing how those functions work.
  • Look to the market for support, such as RackN which can take a lot of the infrastructure API burden off people by providing a uniform API that makes it easier to consume. Also, consider ways to migrate people into a more consistent, standardized front-end system.

This summary was written by Emily Nicholls.

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