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Essential Tools for Site Reliability Engineers

site reliability

Site reliability engineers (SREs) are involved in scaling systems and making them reliable and efficient for organizations. But SREs often fail to build system resiliency when they do not have the right tools at their disposal.

In this post, we’ll uncover five leading tools that SREs can use to drive the reliability and stability of software systems. It also examines how SREs can use the tools to improve operations tasks and infrastructure processes.

What Are Site Reliability Engineers?

The concept of the site reliability engineer was first introduced by Benjamin Treynor of Google in 2003. The objective of an SRE was to minimize the misalignment between software development and operations teams and create a force multiplier that was more effective in rapidly scaling organizations. In his own words, Treynor states that, “[An SRE is] what happens when you ask a software engineer to design an operations function.”

An SRE would typically take ownership of a system and manage its reliability. According to a recent article, SREs are responsible for the, “Availability, latency, performance, efficiency, change management, monitoring, emergency response and capacity planning.” At its core, SREs bring their valuable coding skills to operations to provide more agility to the operations function. 

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What Does an SRE Do?

As discussed earlier, SREs are highly skilled software engineers with a background in operations. They are primarily responsible for ensuring that an organization’s systems are reliable at scale. Additional responsibilities of SREs include:

  • Designing reliable systems
  • Monitoring applications and features that make up a service
  • Planning for software updates and emergency response in case updates do not go as planned
  • Coding and automating manual tasks 

Why Do SREs Automate Tasks?

SREs are expected to automate any routine, manual task so they can spend more time focusing on impactful projects and building effective solutions. Any routine task that requires excessive labor, such as “toil,” is coded and automated to streamline processes for SRE teams.

System Reliability at Scale

As organizations scale, they are introduced to two key challenges that SREs must address. These obstacles include:

  1. Scaling systems while delivering reliable services
  2. Standardizing processes around reliability with a growing workforce

The goal is to create standardized practices for system reliability that could sustain fast-growing organizations and their scalability challenges. 

Five Popular SRE Tools

SREs must standardize tool stacks to support rapidly growing teams of software engineers in a scalable and efficient manner. Five key tools that SREs can leverage to perform their tasks effectively include:

  1. Containers
  2. Source control tools
  3. Chaos engineering platforms
  4. Monitoring and observability systems
  5. Incident alerting solutions

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1. Containers

Containers in software development are centralized systems that consolidate code and all its dependencies to ensure applications run effectively. Docker Swarm and Kubernetes are some of the leading tools available for SREs.

2. Source control tools

According to an article published by Perforce Software, development teams can use source control tools to manage changes and track version code in the codebase. Tools such as GitHub and Apache Subversion (SVN) are only two of the many source control tools available for today’s dedicated SRE teams.

3. Chaos engineering platforms

SREs can use chaos engineering to intentionally introduce faults to an organization’s system and test the system’s response to these vulnerabilities. Teams introduce chaos engineering to their toolsets when they are contractually obligated to provide five nines of system uptime.

Chaos engineering platforms, such as Chaos Monkey and Gremlin, simulate incident outages, traffic spikes and other commonly encountered IT issues in a highly controlled testing environment. With chaos engineering, SREs can preempt future incidents. 

4. Monitoring and observability systems

Engineers use observability tools to automate the anomaly detection process and take corrective actions when anomalies are detected. Engineers can maintain system uptime by monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) for reliability and availability. Datadog, New Relic One and Prometheus are leading monitoring systems that offer full visibility across tech stacks and applications.

5. Incident alerting solutions

Organizations can use automated, real-time alerting solutions to quickly notify the right engineers of IT incidents. These automation capabilities help engineers eliminate human error and improve incident resolution time. Alerting solutions are also used to notify the wider business ecosystem of incidents while keeping people apprised of the situation. 

An effective alerting solution not only automates the distribution of alerts but also ensures an equitable on-call schedule for engineers. These solutions can seamlessly integrate with an organization’s existing tech stack. 

Leading alerting solutions, such as OnPage, are widely used to improve incident management processes for response teams. They are designed to streamline IT team workflows and ensure engineers never miss a critical alert.

Conclusion

Adopting the right toolset for your site reliability team is a challenging yet rewarding undertaking that allows engineers to achieve system reliability. Though there are many tools available today, SREs can simply look at the five tools discussed in this article to improve their engineering processes.

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