As technology evolves, so does the vocabulary used to describe the various roles, practices, and disciplines within the field. “Platform Engineering vs DevOps”, two terms that often get intertwined. While they share many similarities and even overlap in several areas, they are distinct disciplines with unique scopes, objectives, and methodologies. In this post, we’ll unpack these differences and clarify what sets Platform Engineering apart from DevOps.
Definitions: Setting the Stage
What is Platform Engineering?
Platform Engineering is the science and art of creating robust, scalable, and flexible software architectures. We have complete article about What is Platform Engineering? But let’s refer to one of early definitions as we go back to it: Luca Galante has defined Platform Engineering as “the discipline of designing and building toolchains and workflows that enable self-service capabilities for software engineering organizations in the cloud-native era.” The emphasis here is on enabling self-service capabilities and optimizing for the cloud-native landscape.
What is DevOps?
DevOps, on the other hand, is more about the cultural and professional movement that stresses communication, collaboration, integration, and automation among software developers and IT operations to improve the speed and quality of delivering software.
The Confusion: Fancy Terminology or Distinct Discipline?
Luca Galante’s Definition
Given Luca Galante’s focus on toolchains, workflows, and self-service capabilities, it’s easy to mistake Platform Engineering as just another buzzword for DevOps. However, the nuance lies in the objective of “enabling self-service capabilities for software engineering organizations,” which suggests a broader scope that goes beyond DevOps practices.
Paul Delory’s Perspective
Similarly, Paul Delory, a Research VP at Gartner, once stated, “from the ashes of DevOps rises the platform engineer,” adding fuel to the confusion. This phrase suggests an evolutionary aspect where Platform Engineering emerges as an advanced form of DevOps, rather than a mere replacement or rebranding.
Martin Fowler’s Take
Martin Fowler famously proclaimed, “DevOps Is Dead! Long Live Platform Engineering” in a 2018 blog post (it is no longer available online). In this post, Fowler argued that the term DevOps had become too broad and diluted to be useful. The focus had shifted away from the core aim of bridging the divide between development and operations. Fowler advocated for a new, more focused discipline to tackle the infrastructure and tools that directly support software delivery. According to him, the term ‘DevOps’ had evolved into an umbrella term that failed to capture the nuances of modern software delivery and infrastructure management. In his view, Platform Engineering is that refined, more concentrated discipline, offering a specialized focus on enabling scalable and reliable software delivery ecosystems.
This trifecta of perspectives from Galante, Delory, and Fowler offers a compelling argument for recognizing platform engineering as a distinct discipline, one that goes beyond the operations-focused scope of DevOps to include strategic planning, robust architecture, and cross-functional collaboration.
When Platform Engineering Addresses DevOps Practices
Platform engineering not only fully adopts DevOps practices but also refines and expands upon them, aiming to create more seamless, reliable, and robust software delivery cycles. Here’s how:
A Consistent Foundation for Software Delivery
Platform engineering goes beyond providing mere tools. It designs, builds, and maintains an ecosystem where those tools can function optimally. This sets a stable stage for software engineers to build, deploy, and manage applications, ensuring the trinity of scalability, reliability, and security is inherent from the ground up.
The Art of Automation
The discipline of platform engineering takes automation to the next level. Automated pipelines for building, testing, and deploying software are a fundamental part of this, reinforcing not just speed but also the efficiency and reliability of the entire software delivery process.
Monitoring and Observability
While DevOps emphasizes the need for monitoring, platform engineering adds a layer of sophistication by focusing on observability. Through collecting and analyzing data, platform engineers can dive deep into software behavior and infrastructure performance, providing actionable insights for quick problem resolution.
Breaking Down Silos
One of the cornerstones of DevOps is fostering collaboration between the development and operations teams. Platform engineering strengthens this bond by implementing tools and practices that facilitate even more efficient communication and coordination. The result? Faster and more reliable software delivery.
- Infrastructure as Code (IaC): By utilizing IaC, platform engineering not only automates the provisioning and configuration of infrastructure but also makes it consistently replicable and reliable.
- Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD): These DevOps practices find their ultimate expression in platform engineering, where they are integrated seamlessly into workflows to enhance the speed, efficiency, and reliability of software delivery.
- DevOps Culture: Platform engineering serves as a catalyst in cultivating a DevOps culture. By fostering collaboration and dismantling barriers between development and operations, it achieves what DevOps aspires to but at a magnified level of effectiveness.
By adopting and enhancing these DevOps practices, platform engineering serves as the spinal cord of modern software delivery. It takes the principles that DevOps introduced and evolves them into a more structured, robust, and efficient discipline. For organizations looking to fully embrace DevOps, platform engineering offers the pathway to faster, more secure, and infinitely more reliable software delivery cycles.
The Paradigm Shift: From Operational to Strategic
Another critical aspect that sets Platform Engineering apart is the shift from an operational perspective to a more strategic one. While DevOps focuses on breaking down silos between developers and operations to streamline processes, Platform Engineering is concerned with building a robust ecosystem that accelerates the development process while ensuring scalability, reliability, and security.
This strategic focus means that Platform Engineers are not only involved in the day-to-day activities but are also instrumental in decision-making processes regarding technology choices, architecture design, and long-term roadmaps.
DevOps encourages collaboration between operations and development. Platform Engineering takes this a step further by fostering a culture of cross-functional collaboration that includes not only Dev and Ops but also other stakeholders like security experts, data scientists, and business analysts. This holistic approach ensures that the platform is built and managed with a comprehensive understanding of its impact across the organization.
Scalability and Future-Proofing
A key attribute of Platform Engineering is its focus on creating solutions that are not just functional but are also scalable and future-proof. This involves practices like containerization, orchestration, and microservices architecture, often built with the flexibility to adapt to emerging technologies and methodologies. The goal is to create a platform that can evolve with the organization’s needs, rather than requiring frequent overhauls or migrations.
The Final Word
So, is Platform Engineering just a “fancy term” for DevOps? The answer is no. While the two share similarities and can often complement each other, Platform Engineering goes beyond by incorporating strategic planning, cross-functional collaboration, and a focus on scalability and future-proofing.
Both disciplines have their own unique strengths and are suited to different organizational needs and structures. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right approach for your team, or even better, integrate the two for a more comprehensive solution.
Thank you for reading “Platform Engineering vs DevOps: Unpacking the Distinctions.” For more insights into the world of Platform Engineering, stay tuned to our blog or reach out to us at PlatformEngr.com.