Site Reliability Engineering is quickly becoming a go-to solution for IT professionals who want to optimize various processes. Despite this, it’s not as well-known as methodologies like DevOps, which company decision makers are already familiar with. It’s a worthwhile investment because it can provide significant benefits to companies. What are those benefits, exactly?

1. Better understanding of systems thanks to observability

As technology advances, systems have become increasingly complex. Simply relying on traditional and even the most advanced reactive monitoring systems is not sufficient to resolve application issues proactively while fully understanding what caused the issues in the first place.

Instead of using solely reactive monitoring tools and systems, SRE suggests incorporating observability as well. Observability enables you to gauge the internal state of your systems by examining their external outputs, and continuously analyze the traffic and errors flowing through the system through log analysis and performance monitoring. While reactive monitoring is useful for identifying failures, observability provides a more profound understanding of the system, including the underlying causes of those failures.

By utilizing observability methods with the right tools (such as AppDynamics, Datadog, or Sentry), system administrators can promptly respond to application errors. This results in higher user satisfaction, as any service downtime or inefficiency is minimized.

Observability is an ideal approach for handling complex and dynamic application’s behavior. Such systems are prone to failures that can’t be monitored traditionally by system administrators. ew dependencies continue to emerge, which can lead to unexpected incidents. This is precisely where a comprehensive understanding of the system becomes crucial.

2. Finding a balance between reliability and development velocity

You might think that the goal of reliability engineers should be to avoid service failures altogether. Such a rigorous approach would have disadvantages. The first is very high costs caused by overspending on H/A and excess reliability that the core business might not necessarily need. The key is to understand how much or how little bad interactions are acceptable for the business and the clients.  Thanks to that, a smaller budget can be spent on minimizing failures and transferred to, for example, implementing new functionalities.

The second goal is a reduction of the product’s development dynamics. Requiring extreme reliability may lead to the subsequent implementation of new functionalities. However, what users expect is both dynamic development and reliability.

Users themselves rely on devices that are usually less reliable than the services themselves. Most often, on the scale of the entire community of users, it will not matter whether the reliability reaches 99.99% or 99.999%, while their devices are much more prone to failures.

The solution to these problems is to embrace  the risk, which is what SRE is all about. The company should set service reliability level that it wants to maintain (SLO). However, it should not be exceeded, so as not to expose the company to the problems and costs mentioned above. In this way, SRE allows you to achieve savings on the one hand, and to maintain the dynamics of product development on the other.

3. Making data-driven decision

By implementing SRE, you can manage the service in a more optimal, business-oriented and rational way. Using specific metrics enables you to make decisions and prioritize tasks more easily, with indicators playing a crucial role in this process

Service-Level Objective (SLO)

The SLO refers to the level of service availability that the team aims to maintain in a given time window. By setting a clear and reasonable SLO, it becomes much easier to make data-informed decisions and divide resources between service reliability and development.

Service-Level Agreement (SLA)

SLA refers to a company’s commitment to a guaranteed level of service availability within a specific timeframe. Failure to meet the terms of the agreement can cause financial penalties. A collection of SLO’s is what should define an agreeded SLA. It encourages the team to uphold internal SLOs, which typically exceeds the SLA’s value. This approach also helps prioritize tasks if contracts with specific types of customers differ.

Service-Level Indicator (SLI)

SLI serves as an indicator that helps you assess if the system was functioning within the SLO during a specific time frame on the lowest operational level. By referring to the SLI, it becomes possible to identify potential changes in the service delivery method, in case the SLO falls below the expected level.

In SRE, the idea of an error budget also holds significant importance. It sets a benchmark for the acceptable error rate over a specific time frame, such as a quarter. As per this methodology, incidents are bound to occur, especially during product development. By strictly defining the error budget, one can determine the optimal time to halt the introduction of new functionalities and prioritize the reliability of the service.

4. Taking advantage of mistakes

In SRE, it’s considered unrealistic to prevent all failures completely, and it’s not advisable to do so at any cost. Every extra “nine” in uptime can result in as much as 10x extra effort and costs involved. Incidents can provide valuable insights into how the system operates. SRE makes use of the blameless postmortem document for this purpose.

A blameless postmortem is a type of retrospective analysis that helps identify the root cause of an incident. By doing so, it enables you to improve the system processes, reducing the likelihood of similar problems occurring in the future. This approach also helps to minimize the time needed to solve any issues that arise, and to limit their impact.

This procedure is an excellent tool for complex distributed systems that are constantly evolving. Changes often bring a high risk of failure, which SRE acknowledges as inevitable.

A blameless postmortem offers the chance to recognize failure patterns, turning every setback into an opportunity to learn and enhance the system’s performance. Rather than forgetting incidents once resolved, they are documented, and proactive measures are taken to ultimately boost the system’s reliability.

Why is Site Reliabiltity Engineering (SRE) important?  

There are many advantages to implementing Site Reliability Engineering in an organization, but perhaps the greatest benefit is the opportunity to enhance overall user satisfaction.

A service administered according to the principles of this methodology is more accessible, stable and efficient. The number of mistakes is reduced, but they can still be made in a safe and controlled way, thanks to which product development can take place. You can also learn from your mistakes by carefully analyzing them thanks to blameless postmortems.

SRE enables the process of making better business decisions driven by data and ultimately leads to a more comprehensive understanding of the system through diligent observation. These advantages make the methodology highly effective and frequently employed in the age of complex and rapidly evolving systems.

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