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Defining the relationship between SRE and DevOps teams
The lines between site reliability engineering and DevOps aren't always clear, but building a harmonious relationship between teams pays dividends for large cloud initiatives.
When appropriately managed, collaboration between site reliability engineering and DevOps teams improves security, resilience and efficiency -- but a poor relationship between SRE and DevOps can compromise operations.
Application delivery, with all its challenges, benefits from the shared accountability that a strong relationship between SRE and DevOps teams provides. SRE-DevOps collaboration is the only path to effective end-to-end management and incident response that both meets customers' needs and prevents crises from adversely affecting an organization.
SRE responsibilities and job duties
A site reliability engineer's job is to ensure the high availability, reliability and resilience of production systems and services. SRE responsibilities can encompass on-premises, hybrid cloud and public cloud environments in any given system.
Performance tuning and optimization falls on the SRE team, even in complex hybrid and multi-cloud environments. This requires automation and centralized tooling to ensure maximum team productivity. The SRE team automates deployment, scaling, monitoring and related tasks across these environments.
SRE teams also define and maintain customer service-level agreements (SLAs) within their area of responsibility. In addition, they provide technical and operations support to remediate cases of SLA system violations.
Designing, testing and implementing disaster recovery plans is also an SRE responsibility. This requires proactivity and ownership by SREs to ensure their team's response to a disaster situation is well rehearsed and on point. Disaster recovery plans aren't meant to be "shelfware"; SRE teams should constantly test and improve their plans and practices.
Like their DevOps counterparts, SRE teams must continuously improve their processes, tools and infrastructure to promote system efficiency and resilience. Such continuous improvement is possible when teams implement appropriate monitoring tools and practices to analyze system performance and remediate performance bottlenecks.
SRE is a red-hot trend right now. Consequently, it's essential that someone on the SRE team tracks IT trends and emerging technologies to evaluate their suitability to improve the organization's SRE efforts.
DevOps responsibilities and job duties
DevOps teams implement CI/CD pipelines and manage and maintain their organization's development infrastructure, including public cloud environments.
DevOps is responsible for automating the build, test and deployment processes to increase the speed and efficiency of application delivery. This isn't a one-and-done task; DevOps teams must approach this task with an eye to continuous improvement.
DevOps teams should aim to continuously improve the deployment process by making it faster, more reliable and more scalable. This requires the team to document and communicate improvements to the SRE team and other technical stakeholders.
Other DevOps responsibilities include ensuring the high availability and scalability of the systems they develop. DevOps also monitors and troubleshoots technical and security issues in development and testing environments.
Because DevOps remains a trendy topic, DevOps teams also must monitor industry trends -- such as the DevOps to DevSecOps transformation -- and regularly evaluate new tools that could improve the organization's DevOps efforts.
What's the difference between SRE and DevOps?
While the boundaries between SRE and DevOps vary depending on the organization, the division usually falls between development and production.
A common and clear boundary is for DevOps teams to focus primarily on software development and deployment, while their colleagues on the SRE team focus on the ongoing operations and maintenance of software after deployment.
SLAs often draw another boundary between SRE and DevOps teams. The SRE team maintains application availability and performance, whereas DevOps focuses on the development and deployment process. The latter typically falls outside the scope of a customer SLA.
In addition, SRE and DevOps teams usually bring different experiences that set them apart from each other. DevOps team members often come from software development and testing backgrounds. In contrast, site reliability engineers are more likely to have prior experience as a senior-level sys admin or operations engineer.
Another difference is the role of documentation. Technical documentation is integral to SRE team culture -- it's part of a site reliability engineer's job.
The same can't necessarily be said for DevOps teams, but the situation is starting to improve as teams look to preserve institutional knowledge, improve developer onboarding and safeguard their developers' cognitive load from unnecessary distractions.
Collaboration points and similarities between SRE and DevOps
To deliver secure and quality software, SRE and DevOps teams must collaborate on a few essential points.
When the organization launches a new feature or service, SRE teams should collaborate with their DevOps counterparts to ensure the scalability and reliability of the new offerings. This responsibility ties back to site reliability engineers' SLA and performance-tuning work.
SRE and DevOps work together to monitor their areas of responsibility and collaborate on responses when incidents occur. They must also collaborate on incident postmortems and root cause analysis, aiming to identify and resolve the underlying causes of the incident so that it won't happen again.
Security throughout the development lifecycle is becoming increasingly critical as teams try to do more with less while facing an ever-evolving cyberthreat landscape. Both DevOps and SRE teams can automate and secure toolchains to ensure the organization can deliver new features and bug fixes to its customers continuously and securely.
Configuration management and capacity planning are other areas that require DevOps-SRE collaboration. Each group can suffer if configuration issues arise in an application across their environments. Likewise, expertise and data from both groups are necessary to scale software to meet business needs while staying within budget.
Finally, SRE and DevOps can come together to communicate about technical projects outside the IT department. Using shared project management reporting and collaboration tools, DevOps and SRE teams can give executive stakeholders the end-to-end picture of a project's status or an incident in the organization's IT environment.
A day in the life: What does a site reliability engineer do?