Starting with Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) can be intimidating, but the benefits are more than worth it. Let's go over what it is and all the benefits it can bring to your organization.
SRE was developed by Google in 2003 and popularized in their 2016 book. It's a collection of practices, tools, and cultural philosophies that aims to improve the reliability of your services. SRE is focused on aligning development and operations teams on improving customer happiness. As software services become more dependent on users, reliability becomes all the more essential. Companies of all sizes are embracing SRE as a way to address this need.
SRE fuses software and operations teams, with the goal of producing reliable, resilient, and scalable systems. Benefits of this methodology include:
Getting ahead of incidents
You can never completely prevent new incidents from happening, but you can mitigate the worst effects of incidents by preparing for them. By giving you the tools to track patterns in incidents, SRE allows you to predict the most impactful or common types of incidents. Once identified, you can build resources like playbooks and run training for these types of incidents.
SRE also helps you understand the true impact of incidents. Tools like SLIs and SLOs can factor in all aspects of your customers' experience, showing how incidents impact their typical usage of the service. This allows you to align and prioritize based on customer happiness.
Analyzing and improve your DevOps process
SRE and DevOps share many of the same goals. SRE can be thought of as a method to implement the principles of DevOps. If you've implemented DevOps, you're in a great position to bridge the gap to SRE. Each SRE practice you add will be bolstered by the DevOps structures you've already built.
By tracking the progress of your incident response process for every incident, you can start to identify roadblocks and bottlenecks.
Are some types of incidents taking a long time to report?
Are some diagnostic tools consistently not delivering useful results?
Are solutions delayed when trying to deploy to production?
SRE can highlight questions like this and start giving you answers.
Learning from every incident with incident retrospectives
On top of statistics and patterns that you can gather across incidents, SRE also allows you to dive into the unique factors of each and every incident. Incident retrospectives are documents you build for each incident that tell the story of how the incident was detected, diagnosed, and solved. These documents can serve as a resource for solving future incidents. By searching for retrospectives for similar incidents via incident tags, you can get a head start on diagnosis.
Aligning teams on user happiness by understanding user experiences
It can be difficult to understand when to prioritize increasing development velocity and when to improve your service's reliability. SRE advocates the use of service level indicators and objectives to measure the health of services, which reflects the real impact of decisions and incidents of a user's journey.
The more you can understand your users' perspectives, the more you're able to prioritize their happiness in everything you do. With SRE, teams synchronize perspectives through dynamic and iterative releases while reducing silos and friction. Frequently pushing small updates in response to user needs.
Minimizing user and on-call pain through better incident response
Failure is inevitable. You can mitigate the effects of incidents and reduce their frequency, but you can't ever expect to eliminate them entirely. Improving incident response benefits your customers by reducing the downtime of services they rely on.
When something critical to them fails, you'll be able to give it the attention it deserves. By reducing the manual toil of incident response, on-call engineers have reduced stress and burnout. Once the incident is over, incident retrospectives ensure you've learned everything you can.
Empowering teams through cultural and practical changes
At the heart of the SRE cultural shift is the idea of blamelessness. When something goes wrong, rather than trying to find an individual to blame, use it as a chance to make systemic changes to improve the system. Ask questions like:
■ What manual checks could be in place to prevent this?
■ Can the deployment process require an indicator that the code has been reviewed?
■ What communication or education was lacking that led to the engineer believing that the code could be pushed?
If you can instill these cultural values, SRE best practices will develop naturally based on its cultural foundations. Blamelessness gives engineers the psychologically safe space and agency to experiment, leading to better work. Your users will also benefit from this cultural evolution.
SRE can fit into any organization's model. As your SRE practice matures, you can invest more into hiring and tooling to take your practices to the next level.
Build up your SRE practice piece by piece depending on your needs. If you struggle with fast incident response, start building runbooks. If your teams are disagreeing on priorities, align them with SLOs. Cultural changes will always benefit organizations without any major investments.
The ultimate goal of SRE, and of your organization as a whole, is happy customers. Understanding how to prioritize based on customer happiness can be difficult. How do you know when to step on the gas and deliver desired features immediately, and when to slow down on development and make sure your service is reliably delivering what customers expect? Answering this question is at the core of SRE. Error budgets are a tool that can guide you to the perfect balance of velocity and reliability. SRE's focus on good incident management keeps the impact of inevitable incidents on customer happiness as low as possible.
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