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  • Will Boyd

Is Platform Engineering the new DevOps?

If my social media feed is to be believed, DevOps is out and platform engineering is in. I'm not sure I completely agree with that sentiment, but it has certainly generated plenty of spirited discussion. So, what is platform engineering? Is it actually different from DevOps? Is DevOps dead, long live platform engineering?

To answer those questions, the best place to start is probably to have a clear understanding of what exactly is meant by the terms "DevOps" and "Platform Engineering." 

DevOps (according to AWS) - "the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes."

Platform Engineering (via - "Platform engineering is the discipline of designing and building toolchains and workflows that enable self-service capabilities for software engineering organizations in the cloud-native era."

There's a bit of a clue in those two definitions. The DevOps definition from AWS mentions "cultural philosophies, practices, and tools," and the Platform Engineering definition speaks of "toolchains and workflows." There definitely appears to be a good bit of overlap between DevOps and Platform Engineering. The difference, it seems, is one of emphasis.

DevOps arose in response to the culture and practices of the old-school pre-cloud era. Developers and operations personnel worked in separate silos, often failing to collaborate effectively. Release cycles were long, and deployments were fraught with issues, unexpected downtime, and late-night calls. Developers and operations folks started collaborating, designing a new set of cultural practices and tools (and automation... so much automation!) to help solve these challenges. Code ran through automated build pipelines and was deployed using automation as well. Engineers spent their time building and improving these automated tools and systems rather than dealing with the issues that arose during late-night manual deployments.

Toolchains and workflows are hugely important to DevOps, so how is platform engineering any different? I think the bulk of the answer lies in the term "self-service." Platform engineering uses many of the same tools and practices of DevOps, but it focuses on building platforms that enable developers (and even customers), through automation, to create their own environments, infrastructure, and whatever else they need to deliver their applications, all in a secure and manageable way. In other words, DevOps builds automated processes, and platform engineering takes DevOps a step farther and focuses on turning those processes into self-service platforms. 

So, is DevOps dead? Should DevOps engineers be looking for a career change? It depends on how you look at it. The way I see it, platform engineering is really an extension of DevOps. It requires most of the same skills, and even uses many of the same tools. Platform engineering does not do away with the need for CI workflows, automated toolchains or for a healthy, DevOps-y culture of collaboration.

I don't think DevOps is dead, it is merely shifting focus toward the concept of self-service platforms, and that's what folks are calling Platform Engineering. 

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