Platform Engineering vs DevOps: A Comprehensive Comparison

Joseph Sibony
Joseph Sibony reading time: 6 minutes
April 11, 2024

If you’ve heard the buzz about platform engineering, but you’re still confused about how it actually works, you’re not alone. Is it meant to work alongside DevOps? Replace it? Or are DevOps and platform engineering two completely different things?

One way to understand the difference is to think of DevOps as a workplace culture that drives technical decision-making. Whereas platform engineering is a way of unifying technology so that DevOps can rapidly turn that vision into reality.

If the DevOps process is Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar finessing a new track in the studio, then a platform engineer is the genius in the studio. The person tweaking the levels, mixing the sound, figuring out how to create the effect Beyoncé and Kendrick want to achieve, so they can focus on their performance instead of worrying about what happens under the hood.

You see, platform engineers don’t replace developers or DevOps teams. They’re not singing for Beyoncé or rapping for Kendrick. Instead, they create self-service applications and design internal development platforms (IDPs) that DevOps can use without having to engineer and manage all these tools themselves.

 

What is DevOps?

As the name suggests, DevOps combines software development and operations.

The idea is to optimize both these areas by enabling better communication and collaboration all through the development and delivery processes.

Some of the key features of DevOps are:

Collaboration

DevOps is, at its core, all about teamwork. The goal is to break down barriers between teams working on different functions and get them to collaborate more effectively, so that the organization can create, maintain, and deliver software and apps faster and more efficiently.

Automation

Ideally, DevOps also makes smart use of automation. Basically, anything that cuts out the need for team members to intervene manually in processes like testing, deployment, and release management is going to be a plus.

Continuous integration

Here’s where things get especially interesting. Continuous integration and continuous delivery/deployment (CI/CD) are increasingly important for streamlining and accelerating software development lifecycles, especially when you’re maintaining “always-on” applications. With CI, you automatically integrate source code into a shared repository — including updates, fixes, patches, and versions.

Continuous delivery/deployment

And then there’s the “CD” side of the CI/CD pipelines. CD means integrating, testing, and delivering code — or, if you’re continuously deploying, you go as far as automatically deploying these updates in your production environment too.

Done right, this should reduce bugs and failures and make the whole workflow smoother and less complicated.

Together, CI and CD make true continuous delivery possible. In other words, they speed up processes and cut down on bottlenecks, so teams can deliver software on time, without outages.

Monitoring and logging

Working out where things went wrong is usually the biggest barrier to fixing problems and getting things right the next time around. Because DevOps is built on communication and collaboration, it’s much easier for teams to monitor processes and keep hold of key information, including through development, release, and update logs.

Infrastructure as code

This is the process of creating, setting up, and managing system access to compute resources through code itself, rather than through hardware configuration or tools. It’s an especially useful approach when you’re managing cloud-native apps, service-based architecture, or large-scale, distributed systems. By automating the management and provisioning of cloud infrastructure, you can cut down on human error, provision resources more effectively, speed up deployment, and free up engineers’ time for more valuable tasks.

Scalability and flexibility

If you’re doing DevOps right, your team will be much more flexible and responsive to problems as they arise. They’ll be able to communicate fast to find fixes for unexpected changes or operational issues. And that means, of course, that they’ll be able to scale far more effectively in the long term.

Feedback loops

And finally, DevOps is all about learning and improving. Rather than a back-and-forth of reactive firefighting, it creates a continuous feedback cycle. You get feedback fast, you can respond to it swiftly, you can resolve problems as soon as they pop up, and you can absorb all of your experience into your work processes to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

What is platform engineering?

A platform engineer’s job – in basic terms – is to design IDPs that give developers the tools and workflows they need to keep developing and improving apps, without needing to worry about all the back-end work that goes into maintaining their technology stack.

Platform engineering is becoming increasingly popular as software development gets more complex and engineers spend more and more time managing CI/CD pipelines, DevOps tools, cloud resources, and other tools.

Let’s break down a few of the benefits of hiring a platform engineer for your team.

Increased developer productivity

There is only so much a developer can do in a day. If they’re totally wrapped up with managing giant codebases, maintaining existing tools, and worrying about fit and integration between these tools, that doesn’t leave much room for anything else. A well-designed IDP takes some of this pressure off their shoulders.

Rather than fretting over getting toolchains to work, developers can focus on just accessing the tools they need to speed up development — and that means getting more done, more quickly.

Self-service capabilities

Platform engineering is all about creating self-service capabilities for developers and software engineers. Instead of having to manage constantly growing toolchains spanning CI/CD pipelines, DevOps tools, version management, cloud resources, acceleration tools, and so on, they can just use the IDP to access the tools they need, when they need them.

Security and compliance

Another core aim of platform engineering is to boost security and compliance. With a platform engineer on the team, engineers can access a single platform that meets regulatory requirements; implements industry best practices, and incorporates comprehensive security controls, encryption mechanisms, and so on than. That drastically reduces the chances of human error and security issues, compared to keeping a dozen individually managed tools secure and up to date.

Scalability and reliability

By reducing the time engineers spend on managing tools, a platform engineer can streamline your processes, reduce costs, make your organization more agile, reduce the chances of bugs occurring due to human error, and speed up time to market. All of this means you can scale bigger, faster, and with more confidence.

Collaboration opportunities

The best IDPs can also include collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools like chat systems and code repositories. This makes it easier for engineers to bounce ideas around and experiment with new approaches. Working together to innovate and improve products without getting bogged down by technical challenges.

It makes collaborating with teams outside the organization less scary too, opening up a wealth of new possibilities.

Better results

Ultimately, the most compelling case for platform engineering is that it’s designed to help your developers make better products more quickly and with fewer bugs. As a result, they can roll out apps and run builds faster and more reliably. Done right, it should create improvements all along the chain — from onboarding to innovation and delivery.

The connection between platform engineering and DevOps

The key thing to remember here is that these things don’t cancel each other out!

Having a platform engineer doesn’t mean you don’t need a DevOps team, or vice versa. If anything, you need a DevOps platform engineer. These are complementary disciplines. Platform engineers can build the infrastructure, the technology stack, and the basic foundations for developers and DevOps teams to work with. DevOps, meanwhile, is about coming up with processes and ideas that put these tools to optimal use, getting the very best they can out of the development cycle.

DevOps and platform engineering are better together

Platform engineering is a term that’s generated a lot of buzz in recent years — and for good reason. Rather than seeing platform engineering and DevOps as competing disciplines, it’s far more useful to consider how an engineering platform can enhance your DevOps.

A good IDP can help you focus on what will streamline your processes, help you identify and fix bugs, improve your builds, and give your team the space to create apps and products that will blow the competition out of the water.

Joseph Sibony
Joseph Sibony reading time: 6 minutes minutes April 11, 2024
April 11, 2024

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