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Internal Developer Platforms: An In-Depth Guide to Unlocking Developer Productivity

What are Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs)?

Internal developer platforms (IDPs) are platforms that developers can leverage to build and deploy their applications to one of the environments. Their main purpose is to increase the pace of development and reduce the developer’s dependence on DevOps and Platform engineers through automation and developer self-service. The platform may be built in-house, usually, an adaptation of an open-source or purchased offering such as platform as a Service (PaaS).

The adoption has been both recent and rapid. Puppet’s state of platform engineering survey finds that over 51% of companies that have adopted Internal Developer Platforms have done it in the past three years. And an overwhelming majority of the respondents (93%) declared that IDP adoption is a step in the right direction.

Internal developer platforms are good at helping the team manage applications and infrastructure from one place, providing tight integration with the existing tools and services, and giving developers self-serve and collaboration capabilities.

Benefits of IDPs

IDPs offer several benefits to the organizations using them. The first relates to improvements in infrastructure and IT management, such as increased productivity stemming from reduced communication times between devs and infra teams. Secondly, they reduce the complexity of the cloud and make it easy for people in your org to pick up on the best practices set forward by your team. In larger organizations, they can also be an easy way of managing RBAC to deployments, infra creation and management, and more.

Responses from Puppet’s State of Platform Engineering 2023 report also show how IDP has improved DevOps KPIs:

  • An increase in development velocity (68%)
  • 42% say development velocity has improved “a great deal” since they started doing platform engineering
  • Improved productivity (59%)
  • Improved system reliability (60%)
  • Improved security (55%)

Components of IDPs

Let’s dive deeper into the components of IDPs and discuss which parts of the application and infrastructure management process they improve.

  1. Integration with existing tools and services IDPs are built by integrating with the existing set of tools and services that the company currently uses. These can be your source control systems (e.g., GitHub, GitLab), Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, and observability tools such as monitoring and logging systems. In addition, they may also include some form of access control, observability dashboards, and a set of best practices for developers to use.
  2. Application and infrastructure management IDPs can be used to automate a lot of the hassle of deployment. By setting up IDPs with GitOps best practices, users can automatically deploy application and infra changes with each commit to the Git code. Managing multiple environments is another popular use case of IDPs. They can be effective in creating, providing selective access, and managing the use of multiple different environments such as development, testing, pre-prod, and prod. Several tools set up preview environments on the fly. Their ability to monitor and view deployments across environments helps organizations scale dynamically to changing workloads and maintain consistent performance across their infrastructure.
  3. Developer self-service capabilities IDPs empower developers with self-serve capabilities by offering a centralized, user-friendly interface to access tools, resources, and services on demand. These capabilities facilitate faster development cycles, reduce operations teams’ dependency, and enable greater autonomy in seamlessly creating, testing, and deploying applications. The streamlined workflow also makes it considerably easier for new employees to get started with your stack without diving into the internal workings. Some tools also add a collaboration layer on top that allows different members of a team to work together easily and review changes before deploying the code.
  4. Collaboration and governance features IDPs can achieve enhanced security and compliance by providing Role-based access controls (RBAC), ensuring each team member has the appropriate permissions to access specific resources and perform certain actions. Overall, this minimized the risk of unauthorized access or accidental changes while also promoting collaboration and efficient workflows among cross-functional teams. IDPs help developer teams maintain transparency, accountability, and traceability throughout the development process by providing audit logs and history tracking. This enables easier identification and resolution of issues, as well as ensures compliance with regulatory and organizational requirements for data handling and change management.

Platform engineering

Companies that decide to build their own platform usually hire platform engineers, who are specialized professionals responsible for the creation and continuous improvement of the IDP. They work to implement and maintain tools, services, and best practices that streamline development processes, ensuring a smooth and efficient workflow for the organization's developers.

Platform engineering is the process of designing, building, and maintaining an IDP that provides a centralized, scalable, and efficient infrastructure for developers within an organization. An IDP simplifies and standardizes application development, deployment, and management, enabling faster and more reliable software delivery.

Software development trends that are catalysts for IDP adoption

  1. Digital transformation: As businesses worldwide increasingly embrace digital transformation, there is a growing need for efficient and robust software development processes. IDPs play a crucial role in enabling companies to stay agile and quickly adapt to the dynamic digital landscape.
  2. Need for faster software delivery: In today's fast-paced business environment, organizations must deliver new features and applications at an unprecedented speed. IDPs provide a standardized, automated, and centralized platform that accelerates development cycles, enabling companies to stay competitive and responsive to market changes.
  3. The growing complexity of software architectures: With the rise of microservices, containers, and cloud-native technologies, managing and deploying software has become increasingly complex. IDPs help simplify this complexity by providing a unified platform where developers can build, test, and deploy applications with ease, regardless of the underlying architecture.
  4. Demand for DevOps and CI/CD practices: The need for IDPs grows as more organizations adopt DevOps and Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) practices. IDPs enable seamless collaboration between development and operations teams, automating many manual tasks and ensuring smooth transitions throughout the software development lifecycle.
  5. Scalability and flexibility: IDPs offer a scalable solution that can accommodate the growing needs of organizations, regardless of their size. They provide a flexible platform that can be easily customized and adapted to cater to the unique requirements of different teams and projects.
  6. Cross-region collaboration: With businesses operating across multiple geographies, the need for a platform that supports cross-region collaboration is essential. IDPs empower development teams spread across the globe to work together seamlessly, enabling efficient knowledge sharing and fostering a culture of innovation.

In summary, the rising popularity of IDPs across companies of all sizes and regions worldwide can be attributed to their ability to streamline software development processes, simplify complex architectures, support DevOps and CI/CD practices, and facilitate cross-region collaboration. As the demand for digitalization and agility continues to grow, IDPs are poised to play a critical role in shaping the future of software development.

Commercially available internal developer platforms

  1. Argonaut is a DevOps automation platform that helps engineering manage both the app and infra side of things and ship faster! Built with the GitOps best practices in mind, Argonaut reduces the complexities of creating and maintaining cloud setups. Whether it is Kubernetes app deployment to AWS or GCP, there are several runtimes, environments, regions, integrations, and app types to choose from.
  2. Mia Platform offers a simple way to develop and operate modern cloud applications on Kubernetes. It can be adopted as either a self-hosted or PaaS option. There’s also a marketplace with essential plugins, templates, and applications making it easier to get started. Its features benefit not only the developers but also the platform engineers and CIOs.
  3. Humanitec is an internal developer platform providing simplicity, automation, reusability, and self-service. It acts as a Platform Orchestrator that lets engineering teams remove bottlenecks by enabling them to build code-based golden paths (executable config files and templates) for developers. It can be used through the CLI or UI.
  4. Opslevel provides engineering teams self-serve access to tools and information. It helps developers ensure operational excellence across services with its integrations that can be set up in a secure and compliant way.
  5. Shipa is a Kubernetes application management platform that enables efficient deployment processes. Developers can leverage its standardized application and policy definitions that are platform-agnostic. It also has a GUI-based portal to manage apps after deployment and gain visibility into pipelines for smoother operations.
  6. Port provides a context-rich software catalog with maturity and quality scorecards. It also supports comprehensive developer self-service actions while providing additional role-based access controls (RBAC). Their free-forever provides many key features and makes it a worthy contender.
  7. Upbound, powered by Crossplane, offers an enterprise-grade control plane solution for multi-cloud and hybrid environments, enabling efficient management of cloud infrastructure. The Up command line and Upbound marketplace make it more effective and easier to get started.
  8. DevOpsBox is an all-in-one DevOps platform that streamlines the application deployment process. It provides a comprehensive feature set in a modular manner that allows teams to focus fully on business functionality.

Evaluating Internal Developer Platforms

Despite its myriad of benefits, Internal Developer Platforms do not make sense for all teams. They can end up being overkill for certain types of engineering teams and a burden to build and maintain for companies with smaller teams.

When they don’t make sense

  1. You have existing processes that are efficient. Don’t complicate things too early. Companies that are currently using PaaS or other managed offerings should continue doing so as long as possible.
  2. Limited resources and team size. This could also mean your team is small, and most of your team is senior and comfortable writing scripts and managing infrastructure.
  3. There is low development complexity. If you have just one app with a simple single-cloud setup. And, if your app is monolithic and doesn’t make use of the microservice architecture, there is little benefit from creating an IDP.
  4. Incompatible organizational culture. If an organization’s culture is resistant to change or does not foster collaboration and communication, implementing an IDP might not be successful and could even lead to decreased efficiency and productivity.

When they make sense

  1. You plan to start using Microservices. This usually also means a growing development team size or the complexity of projects you handle.
  2. You have a small team, and not everyone feels comfortable with deployments, scripting, and infrastructure, and you have not yet hired a dedicated DevOps.
  3. Dependencies on other colleagues are blocking your developers.
  4. The cost of your existing setup (such as PaaS) is too high. Which is inevitable once you start to scale to meet new requirements.
  5. You have plans to go multi-cloud, adopt more modern cloud services, and scale geographically.
  6. You want to increase standardization and consistency across your teams. An IDP can help reduce errors, improve code quality, and ensure all developers work with the same set of tools and follow the same best practices.

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