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Posted April 20, 2023

What is SRE (Site Reliability Engineering), and How to Use It

Read this guide to learn how site reliability helps development teams accelerate reliable software delivery.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) uses software to automate tasks historically carried out by operations teams, including managing systems, solving problems, and completing operations tasks. SRE is especially valuable when creating standardized, scalable, and reliable software systems, helping teams find an ideal balance between releasing new features and maintaining site reliability for users. Constantly evolving, it is a principle that promotes a culture of innovation, communication, and problem solving while reducing the risk of software failure.

Site Reliability Engineering

The term was coined by Ben Treynor Sloss of Google, arising from discussions about the conflicts between operations and development teams, and it’s important to note that SRE can mean both the practice of site reliability engineering and a team member who is a site reliability engineer.

SRE focuses on automation, reducing duplication and redundancy of effort, and providing feedback loops for measuring operations through consistent, repeatable processes. An SRE team can be used for change management, application monitoring, emergency response, and site reliability.

SRE teams use service-level agreement (SLA) metrics to monitor service level indicators (SLIs) like uptime, latency, availability, error rate, and system throughput. They also monitor an error budget to create workable windows for new launches.

In short, SRE practices allow development teams to focus on feature development by removing some of the burdens of maintaining service and scalability commitments.

What Does a Site Reliability Engineer Do?

Site relatability engineers are IT professionals who use automation tools to monitor and observe software reliability in the production environment (AWS). The position is especially popular with former system administrators, software developers, and operation engineers. The ideal SRE is a proactive problem solver with an investigative nature, experience finding problems in software, and confident coding skills. No matter their background, a good SRE must embody the elements of both development and operations team members.

  • Operations – performing tasks like emergency incident response, change management, IT infrastructure management, and increasing team efficiency through automated tasks; SRE teams should spend no more than 50% of their time on operations work

  • System support – work closely with the development team while they create new features and stabilize production systems, provide support for issues escalation, and share documentation with customer support to help resolve ticket issues

  • Process optimization – Manage post-incident review sessions, conduct surveys, and document software problems/solutions to help improve the software development lifecycle; create policies and procedures that ensure optimal site operation

  • Automation – identify repeat problems and create automated solutions; build software to automate programmatic tasks

DevOps vs. Site Reliability Engineering

You may be thinking that, so far, SRE sounds very similar to development operations (DevOps). It's true that they’re closely related. The difference? SRE is the practical implementation of DevOps that creates the solutions needed to make DevOps teams successful. Using SRE helps DevOps teams efficiently balance speed and stability during software update releases.

Where DevOps is about speedy product or application development, SRE is focused on error-free implementation, using operations data and software engineering to accelerate reliable software delivery by automating tasks and minimizing IT risk. SRE maintains reliability by using continuous, automated testing to reduce the probability of failure.

Both DevOps and site reliability engineering focus on team culture and relationships, and work to connect development and operations teams to deliver services faster.

Why to Use Site Reliability Engineering?

By employing site reliability engineers, the overall health of a site becomes better, freeing up more resources to develop and launch new features. Particularly, SREs can realize benefits like:

  • Improved collaboration – The use of SRE improves the collaborative relationship between operations and development teams, allowing the former to maintain seamless service delivery and the latter the opportunity needed to quickly make and release features or fix bugs.

  • Better customer experience – Reducing errors in the software development and release lifecycle makes for an improved customer experience that is less likely to be impacted by site errors.

  • More efficient operations planning – SRE is focused on identifying inefficiencies and opportunities for automation, reducing manual management needs and resource waste.

  • Improving security and reducing risk – SRE identifies security issues early so they can be addressed before they become a larger problem.

  • Increase deployment timing – automation allows for a more efficient process, which can help pave the way for more deployments.

When considering the use of site reliability engineering practices specific to mobile app development, several more benefits emerge.

  • Executing the right tests at the right time – Consistent, intelligent automation allows teams to spend more time on innovation and less time testing per release.

  • Faster resolution of issues with depth of information – Identify the root cause of issues faster and fully understand application behavior with test assets like video recordings, test results, system logs, network traffic capture, device vitals, crash/error stack trace, and more.

  • Cover the entire breadth of mobile use cases – Gain wider testing coverage earlier in the pipeline with easily scalable mobile emulators and simulators.

  • Confidence and experimentation in production – The expanded testing toolkit adds error reporting and monitoring so development teams can quickly identify and remediate bugs in production.

  • Risk visibility and management across the SDLC – Provide an additional layer of visibility into the root cause of application failure through error monitoring and reporting.

  • Integrated and faster feedback loops – Create consistent feedback loops and improve team productivity by integrating bug identification into existing workflows and routing errors to programmers with meaningful context.

Site Reliability Engineer Tools and Technology

There are a variety of tools used by site reliability engineers to manage monitoring and incident response responsibilities. These include:

  • Monitoring and analytics tools – use application performance monitoring (APM) tools to view performance metrics, collect and analyze data, and sift through large amounts of data

  • Container orchestrator – automate the deployment, management, scaling, and networking of containers

  • On-call management tools – use on-call tools to help reduce the team burden of working on-call; they can schedule rotations, share calendars, and send alerts

  • Incident response tools – set up preventative measures that protect systems against failure by both detecting and responding to incidents as they occur

  • Configuration management tools – track changes to applications and infrastructure, automate deployments and updates, and monitor for unauthorized changes

  • Real-time communication – coordinate with team members through secure messaging tools like Slack, Telegram, and Microsoft Teams

SRE Best Practices

While 100% perfection in site reliability is an unlikely outcome, creating teams with skilled talent, making sure that the team has the tools it needs, and maintaining best practices in the process can help us get close. To help SRE teams provide the best support possible, consider these best practices:

  • Approach change management with a cross-team mindset, allowing for the 360-degree analysis of problems and solutions, and consider the consequences on a large scale before taking action.

  • Define and measure service level objectives (SLOs) in terms of what an end user needs and wants.

  • Set and utilize error budgets that create a data-driven mechanism for assessing launch risk.

  • Practice blameless postmortems that are focused on technology and process, and create clear postmortem documents based on pre-determined templates.

  • Develop automation to eliminate all possible manual tasks and ensure your team is supported in spending the time needed to create these solutions.

  • Practice capacity planning through regular load testing and accurate provisioning to help plan for organic growth and forecast demand.

  • Ensure SRE documentation is part of your engineer’s job description, creating documents like runbooks/playbooks, product readiness reviews, and service overviews.

  • Get comfortable asking management for buy-in and budgeting for tools that ensure system reliability.

Get Started with SRE

In today’s market, quality and velocity are no longer an either/or option – you must deploy faster and with fewer mistakes. Mobile apps play a vital role in brand perception, so it’s more important than ever to ensure the reliability of continuous application development.

When different teams all participate in testing – from engineering to product management to design and support – it can create a complex bottleneck that prevents speedy and reliable software development. And with agile development’s flexible, incremental style, more testing occurs at each step. Many systems lack a holistic strategy to maximize efficiency by bringing isolated testing tools and results together. This is where a continuous testing platform like Sauce Labs can help development teams better manage application risk, so they can release quickly and responsibly throughout the software development lifecycle.

Apr 20, 2023
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