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Site Reliability Engineering - Briefing the Best Practices, Tools and Challenges

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What is Site Reliability Engineering?

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is a practice that applies both software development skills and mindset to IT operations. SRE involves using software engineering techniques that include algorithms, data structures, performance, and programming languages to achieve highly reliable web applications.


Having been around since 2003, SRE enables software engineers to design an operations function.


Site Reliability Engineering uses software engineering techniques to ensure the production environment's stability and availability, simultaneously adding new features and operational improvement needed. SRE Team comprises the software engineers knowing sysadmin, which substitutes automation for human labor and focuses specifically on system reliability.


Key Site Reliability Engineering Skills

The type of skills required will differ from organization to organization. It is widely based on the type of application a particular organization uses and how and where it is deployed and monitored. The other essential skills for SREs are to be more focused on application Monitoring and Diagnostics. Apart from the specific technical skills which depend on organizations practices, below are some non-technical and some basic technical skills one should look for in Site Reliability Engineering.

Non-Technical Skills:

  • Problem Solving
  • Teamwork
  • Work well under pressure and solve problems.
  • Translating the technical into business language.
  • Have excellent written and verbal communication.

Fundamental Technical Skills:

  • Know version control.
  • Knowledge of Linux (most preferably).
  • Automate things over the manual work.
  • CI/CD Knowledge.
  • Knows how to troubleshoot.

How Site Reliability Engineering Works?

A Site Reliability Engineering team provides availability, performance, effectiveness, emergency response, and service monitoring. In short, Site Reliability Engineering is accountable for all those things which make their services up and reliable for their user. So to fulfill all these, the SREs work according to these following principles, or we can say it is the base for the foundation of Site Reliability Engineering:

  • Embracing Risk
  • Service Level Objectives
  • Eliminating Toil
  • Monitoring Distributed Systems
  • The Automation
  • Release Engineering
  • Simplicity

Service-Level Objective (SLO)

Set a specific numerical target for system availability. This particular numerical value is termed as Service-Level Objective (SLO), i.e., it defines a target level for your service's reliability. More reliable service will cost more for operation; hence SLA should be set carefully.

Service-Level Agreement (SLA)

An SLA involves a response to a service that it's available typically. SLO meets a certain level over a certain period, and if it fails to provide what's in SLO, then some fine will be given as a refund. Define SLA’s availability SLO; be more careful about which queries count as genuine.

Service-Level Indicator (SLI)

It's an indicator of the level of services provided, and to know whether the system ran under SLO for the past or not, look at the SLI to get the service availability rate. If it goes below the defined SLO, then there is a problem, and it must be solved (someone needs to make the system more available in some way to solve the problem).


Benefits of Site Reliability Engineering

Site Reliability Engineering aims to improve high-scale systems' reliability, which is done through automation and continuous integration and delivery. SRE's primary goal is to fill the gap between the developer teams and Sysadmin teams. When talking of SRE Benefits, we usually relate how it can benefit an enterprise. Grab a Look below at what we think:
  • Fill in the gap between developer and sysadmin.
  • Automate the process.
  • Continuously monitor and analyze application performance.
  • Plan and maintain operational runbooks.
  • Contribute to the overall product roadmap.
  • Manage on-call and emergency support.
  • Ensure software has good logging and diagnostics.

Why Site Reliability Engineering Matters?

A sysadmin is responsible for the configuration, keeping the system up, and reliably complex computing systems. Do all deployments, monitor services, and respond if something goes wrong.

According to Google's Site Reliability Engineering Book, the traditional approach caused gaps and conflict between developers and sysadmins due to different skills. Developers suggest new features should be available to users as frequently as possible, whereas the sysadmins team members avoid breaking anything.


Adopting Site Reliability Engineering

Google is the first to embrace Site Reliability Engineering's culture, but what works for Google may not work for all other organization, means the adaptation of Site Reliability Engineering in an organization depends on different factors such as Organization size, Technology used, culture or other factors. To adopt Site Reliability Engineering, refer to the defined principle and practices that Google is practicing and match the established methods organization follows.

Analysis:

  • Current Situation of Organization
  • Challenges
  • Capabilities
  • Capability Gaps

Hiring Site Reliability Engineering team by Analysis:

  • It's up to the organizations, hire the most efficient and only required members, based on the analysis.

Recommendations:

  • Which Site are Reliability Engineering principles most suitable for your situation?
  • Site Reliability Engineering practices are feasible for the organization?
  • Which can make the most significant difference, the soonest?
  • How can someone best integrate Site Reliability Engineering into an organization’s culture?

Implementation:

  • How should one structure the Site Reliability Engineering team?
  • What skill gaps have you got, and what are the best ways to fill them?
  • How can you make the existing team up to speed with Site Reliability Engineering?
  • What should you be looking for in new hires?

Site Reliability Engineering Challenges

The Site Reliability Engineering supports the business by automating tasks to eliminate inessential work and roles and reduce the overall cost by optimizing resources and improving mean time to repair. The key areas that Site Reliability Engineering focuses on are:

1. Reliability

To maintain a high level of network and application available

2. Monitoring

Implementing performance metrics and establish benchmarks to monitor the systems.

3. Alerting

Readily finding any problems and making sure that there is a closed loop support process to resolve them.

4. Infrastructure

To understand cloud infrastructure and physical infrastructure scalability and limitations.

5. Application Engineering

Understanding all application necessities as well as testing and readiness needs.

6. Debugging

Understanding the systems, log files, code, use case, and troubleshooting will debug as required.

7. Security

Understanding common security problems and tracking and addressing vulnerabilities to make sure the systems are properly secured.

8. Best Practices Documentation

Prescribing solutions, production support playbooks, and many more.

9. Best Practice Training

Site Reliability Engineering best practices are done through production readiness reviews, blameless postmortem, technical talks, and tooling. There are alternative resource domains that overlap with the SRE's role, like DevOps, IT Service Management (ITSM), Agile Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), and other organizational frameworks. SRE and DevOps/NetDevOps teams are interdependent. By providing monitoring solutions that address the needs of both, information is facilitated across teams so that collaborative troubleshooting results in problem resolution.

Site Reliability Engineering Best Practices

Site Reliability Engineering is concerned with speed, performance, security, capacity planning, software/hardware upgrades, and availability, which result in reliability, an aspect every organization is willing to achieve. SREs operate services with networked systems, operated for users, internal or external, and are eventually responsible for these services' health.

Successfully operating a service requires a wide range of activities such as developing monitoring capabilities, planning capacity, responding to incidents, ensuring the root causes of outages are addressed, and many more. Google has defined more than nine practices for Site Reliability Engineering. Given below is a brief categorization of these practices for better understanding.

Controlling Overload Operation

Hire coders as the primary duty of an SRE is to write code. About 5% of the ops work should go to the dev team, plus all overflow. The aim is to cap the SRE-operational load at 50% (usually 30%). The on-call team has a minimum of eight engineers for one location, handling a maximum of 2 events per shift.

SLA-Driven Operation Monitoring

  • Have an SLA for your service; it may vary for different services.
  • Measure and report the performance against SLA.
  • Use error budgets and get launches on them.

Ways to Handle Incident/Blackout Smoothly

  • Do Postmortems for every event.
  • Postmortems cannot be blamed, so focus on process and technology and not on people.
  • Aim for the maximum of 2 events per on-call shift.

Management/Budget Policies

  • To hire your SREs and your developers from the same staffing pool and treat them all as developers.
  • To take care of SLA, SLI, and SLO very carefully and logically to define all the values and agreements.

Some other SRE Best Practices Include:

  1. Participating in and improving the whole lifecycle of services from inception and design through deployment, operation, and refinement.
  2. To support services before they go live, which can be done through activities like system design consulting, developing software platforms and frameworks, capacity planning, and launch reviews.
  3. Maintaining services once they’re life by measuring and monitoring availability, latency, and overall system health.
  4. Scaling systems sustainably can be done through mechanisms such as automation.
  5. Evolve systems by pushing for changes that will help to improve reliability and velocity.
  6. By doing sustainable incident response and blameless postmortems.

Site Reliability Engineering Tools

Understanding the SRE approach is not written in stone, it's all on an organization. See on which organization is our concept working and adapt the required tools accordingly. Some SRE tools are mentioned below:


Conclusion

Site Reliability Engineering needs special skills to succeed. There ought to be a sense of trust between the teams. Being responsible for SRE is more about taking ownership of production-related operations. It is a specific approach that focuses on IT operations. Want to adopt SRE culture in your project? Go ahead and train your team, follow the best practices, and trust the process. It is a myth that you will achieve 100% perfection. But you're going to make things better and get as close to perfection as you can.

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