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SRE: Foster a Culture of Reliability

Posted by TH Insights Team July 26 2021

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is what modern enterprises rely on to create scalable and reliable software systems. It is essentially a software engineering approach that is adopted to alleviate problems and automate operations tasks through software. Tasks that have been performed manually by operations teams all along are now assigned to engineers and ops teams who use software and automation to perform them and manage large systems in an enterprise.

In a complex environment where sysadmins have to manage millions of machines, SRE allows the use of code for managing them. Born in Google, SRE is the brainchild of Ben Treynor who simply describes site reliability as 'what happens when a software engineer is tasked with what used to be called operations.'

As enterprises grappled to manage complex systems, DevOps showed them the way to address issues like siloed workflows, decreased collaboration, and poor visibility. But it's only when SRE came into the picture that they were actually able to induce site reliability and performance into the dynamics.

In an effort to 'keep the lights on' in changing and challenging scenarios, enterprises are adopting SRE practices to reduce the toil. Confirms Jared Ruckle, Cloud Editor at InfoQ, "SRE practices are becoming more popular as the number of critical apps moves to cloud-native; the criticality of these apps is forcing an operational change."

SRE is clearly the solution to modern-day enterprise problems when it comes to offering a sustainable, reliable performance. Luckily, you can start building SRE from scratch any time you want.

Understanding SRE and its role in reducing the toil

The power struggle between Dev and Ops teams is real. While Dev teams want to release some really cool features into the IT environment, Ops teams want to ensure they don't get in the way of other things and often end up putting the brakes on as many releases as they can. Not the kind to sit back or retreat, Dev teams continue to explore new ways of sneaking around the processes that jeopardize their plans.

SRE teams, therefore, often find themselves at the crossroads of traditional IT and software development helping enterprises find a balance between releasing new features and ensuring that they are reliable for their users.

For many, SRE is also the means the reduce toil.

The Site Reliability Engineering book defines toil as "the kind of work that tends to be manual, repetitive, automatable, tactical, devoid of enduring value, and that scales linearly as a service grows." Examples include handling quota requests, reviewing non-critical monitoring alerts, copying and pasting commands from a playbook, and all such instances that can consume a team if left unattended.

Google limits the time SRE teams spend on all operational, toil-intensive work to 50% which means at least 50% of each SRE's time is constructively spent on engineering project work that will reduce future toil and improve performance and reliability. Placing these limits ensures minimal toil and scales up the 'engineering' in Site Reliability Engineering. This helps enterprises manage services much more efficiently than a dedicated Dev team or an Ops team would.

Considering that the average time spent toiling according to surveys of SREs at Google is 33%, eliminating toil or at least minimizing it makes solid business sense. The rationale is to identify and quantify toil so as to optimize the time rather than spending it on work you would not like to do.

Adopting an SRE model

When all big IT majors are eagerly embracing SRE to ensure uptime and improve reliability and performance, here's what you can do to get started.

  • Begin by addressing common areas of concern such as security, observability, availability, release engineering, capacity planning, incident management, and any other areas you think are important for your business to be prioritized.
  • Have the right metrics in place - Service Level Agreement (SLA), Service Level Objectives (SLOs), and Service Level Indicators (SLIs) – all need to be monitored and measured to evaluate system performance.
  • Determine an error budget so that you are in control of the speed with which you introduce changes into the production environment.
  • Document response scenarios, prepare automated runbooks for every scenario, and test them regularly to sharpen your skills and handle issues effectively.
  • Make sure that you have blameless postmortems to rectify errors without any delay.
  • Build a shared recruitment pool for SREs in a way that SREs are nurtured to evolve into developers.

Adding value with SRE

When it comes to their approach towards culture and automation, DevOps and SRE teams are not really different. Both aim to increase business value and responsiveness through rapid and flawless service delivery. SRE depends on site reliability engineers within the development team who also come with skillsets to eliminate communication and workflow-related issues in operations.

Some of the roles SRE teams handle include:

Making systems more reliable - SRE teams fix support escalation issues so that your systems become more reliable with time and experience minimal critical incidents in production.

Documenting historical knowledge - SRE teams are privy to a lot of information since they work on different fronts supporting diverse business operations. So they end up having a lot of knowledge that they document diligently to ensure teams are able to access the information they need right away.

Conducting detailed reviews - You need thorough reviews following an incident to know what went wrong and how it can be addressed. SRE teams conduct post-incident reviews and document their findings to take appropriate action for optimizing incident management and strengthening service reliability.

Accelerating SRE adoption with TransformHub

Our SRE way of doing things empowers our clients to improve their incident resolution metrics and bolster the reliability of their systems. So when our client struggled with a broad technology stack spread across disparate systems, we knew we had to go the SRE way. Also, a complex business environment and an extensive partner network meant uptime of their services was extremely crucial.

The challenges were many. The most common ones included:

  • Lack of visibility into the systems
  • Significant lag between incident recovery and acknowledgment that led to an increase in the mean time to recovery (MTTR)
  • Lack of clear Service Level Objectives (SLOs)
  • Frequent outages
  • Undefined scope for performance improvement

We decided to build a scalable system for them considering ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’ as the first principle of SRE. We integrated our SRE system with advanced incident response orchestration platform ‘OpsGenie’ to enable better alerting and escalation capabilities. We used multiple tools and technologies to ensure a unified view and comprehensive reporting.

Those deployed included:

  • Prometheus and Influx DB for time series database
  • Grafana for visualization
  • Cloudwatch for monitoring cloud-native metrics
  • AWS Lambda functions for customizing alert behavior

Service level objectives (SLOs) were clearly defined and metrics were logged. The new system enabled continuous monitoring of internal and external systems to offer a consolidated view of the entire ecosystem and ensure operational efficiency. We also introduced latency monitoring and configured alerts for violations. Measures were implemented to enable uptime monitoring.

The results were beyond exemplary.

We helped them achieve:

  • 3 times of reduction in API errors (99.97% success calls)
  • Better SLOs
  • Reduced mean time to recovery (MTTR)
  • Monitoring based on metrics for third-party integrations
  • Improved stability, performance, and availability
  • Visualization of metrics to identify pattern-based issues

Wrapping up

Whether to hire SREs or not can be a tough choice especially since they are expensive. You will have to track your organization's reliability and service health by identifying Service Level Indicators (SLIs) and defining Service Level Objectives (SLOs). You need to evaluate how far you have come and how effectively you are meeting Error Budgets every quarter to know what's going wrong and how you can address it.

It's not difficult to build an SRE maturity model if you refine and define your objectives. With the right approach, you can build the perfect SRE culture for your enterprise. Of course, if you want an expert by your side to commence or refine your SRE journey, you can always count on TransformHub.

Lead with TransformHub:

TransformHub is an award-winning Global Digital Solutions company providing a full suite of digital transformation & product engineering services to enterprises, product companies & new-age startups. We have our presence in Singapore, US, Middle East, and India.

Our mission is to become a preferred partner to enterprises for growth and innovation in the digital age. TransformHub combines Strategy, Experience, and Technology at every stage of the engagement model to build human-centered digital platforms & channels.

Our expertise lies around the 6 building blocks for Digitization - Product Engineering, Mobility, Enterprise Integrations, Data & Analytics, Cloud & DevOps, Intelligent Automation. With a large and ever-growing team of digitally ready consultants, the company helps its clients to grow and stay ahead of their competition.

So, if you are looking to innovate, trust TransformHub to be your like-minded partner that can help you cut the costs and digitally transform your business with our expertise. Our team does the thinking and focuses of getting the Return on Investment (ROI) and controls the Total cost of ownership (TCO).

To know more about service & solutions - call us at +65 9198 4440 or write to us at info@transformhub.com and request a free consultation with our team.

   

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