What are developer platforms and how do they work?
In our modern day and age, applications are essential and business-critical components of any company’s day-to-day operations. They automate, simplify and optimize many processes and give companies the opportunity to engage with (potential) customers. Applications can also help you to greatly enhance work productivity.
The high demand for high-quality applications and the need to get them to the market as fast as reasonably possible without compromising security and functionality, demands a lot from modern-day developers. To increase efficiency and give developers all the tools they need, using a developer platform can be a great idea. But what are developer platforms? How do they work? And why do they matter? Read on and find out!
What are developer platforms?
A developer platform is a set of tools, services and processes that supports and accelerates software development. It also takes care of the underlying infrastructure of your application development environment. A developer platform usually consists of many different technologies and tools. These are glued together in a way that lowers cognitive load on developers without abstracting away context and underlying technologies.
Developer platforms often take the shape of self-service layers that allow developers to interact independently with their organization’s delivery setup, enabling them to self-serve environments, deployments, databases, logs, and anything else they need to run their applications. Most developer platforms consist of five core components:
- Application configuration management enables developers to manage application configuration in a dynamic, scalable and reliable way.
- Infrastructure orchestration takes care of orchestrating your infrastructure in an intelligent, context-specific and dynamic way.
- Environment management enables developers to create new and fully provisioned environments whenever and wherever you need them.
- Deployment management gives you the opportunity to implement a delivery pipeline for continuous delivery or continuous deployment.
- Thanks to role-based access control you can manage who does what in a scalable way.
How do developer platforms work?
But how do developer platforms work? Although there are of course differences between different platforms on the detail level, a typical flow would look like this:
- The user (usually a developer) interacts with a web UI or directly with Git. With a couple of clicks, the user can trigger the developer platform to create all the necessary resources. This means that several manual tasks, such as assigning permissions to all contributors, creating a ticket for the infrastructure team to provision resources, and finally deploying the application, are automated.
- A pipeline creates all the relevant resources, a testing infrastructure, and a new repository with all the important files (source code, pipelines, application manifests, and more).
- An application-specific pipeline (often GitHub Actions) builds a container image, pushes it to the image registry and updates the manifests in the management repo.
- GitOps tools detect changes to the management repo and synchronize them with the resources in the control plane cluster.
- The resources in the control plane cluster are picked up by corresponding controllers, which in turn create application resources as well as dependent resources like databases.
Why and when do you need a developer platform?
We now know what developer platforms are and how they work. But why do they really matter? What are the main benefits of using them? Let us explore these questions in greater detail.
A developer platform allows you to carefully align your development processes and methods with key business objectives. You get the opportunity to exactly define what type of infrastructure you deploy and what types of applications are supported. Detailed documentation functionalities make sure that the offering is robust and well-defined. This means that everyone knows what to expect of the system.
A developer platform equips you with a standardized set of tools and services for all teams and developers. This greatly reduces the risk of (costly) inconsistencies and errors.
Compliance and governance
Development platforms allow you to automate the provision of necessary resources and assure that the platform is hardened and secured in automated, errorless fashion. You can store every piece of information regarding your data, applications, and supported infrastructure, allowing you to meet all the required compliance and governance standards.
A development platform provides a shared platform for collaboration. Development teams can work together with and show their results to other people and teams (security, operations, management, CEO) within the organization.
The desired time to market for applications is getting shorter and shorter. Developer platforms allow you to meet these tighter demands because they improve productivity. Since they automate setting up and managing development environments, configuring build pipelines, and deploying applications, developer platforms offer developers the opportunity to fully focus on writing code and delivering the right features and functions faster than ever.
Developer platforms give developers all the tools they need, allowing them to self-source the resources they need and making it easier to do the required job in a timely fashion. This gives developers more autonomy, which in turn improves efficiency because you increase development speed and smoothen the communication between individual contributors and teams.
A scalable developer platform can grow organically with your organization, allowing new teams to onboard quickly, but also giving every team and individual contributor access to the same tools, features and functionalities.
Balancing standardization and freedom
One of the biggest development challenges is finding the right balance between the standardization of infrastructure and the freedom to experiment with customization options. A good developer platform does just that by providing developers with both extensive standardization options and the self-serve tech that they need to satisfy industry-specific and business-specific needs of various organizations.
When does a developer platform make sense and when not?
A developer platform is not a magical silver bullet for all development challenges and doesn’t necessarily suit every (type of) organization. For example, adopting a developer platform usually doesn’t make much sense for specialized teams of 1-15 developers that have already hired dedicated DevOps colleagues. Developer platforms are also not very useful when you’re dealing with a single monolithic application or an application that has a simple, single-cloud infrastructure.
Developer platforms are however perfectly suited for bigger and more complex projects that involve microservices or multi-cloud architectures. It also makes sense to seek the aid of developer platforms when:
- You work with a standing team of more than 15 developers with a dedicated DevOps engineer, or you are planning to scale to this size. Without the developer platform, the DevOps team (or person) cannot properly focus on service level agreements or workflows because he has to deal with too many repetitive tasks.
- You have a small team and not everyone feels comfortable with deployments, scripting and infrastructure. You also have not yet hired a dedicated DevOps.
A valuable tool in the right situation
This article makes clear that developer platforms have the potential to greatly improve and streamline the process of software development through automation, standardization, and the creation of better security and compliance frameworks. You should however carefully consider if a developer platform is the right fit for your organization and activities. It really only warrants the investment if you’re developing (or planning to develop) software on a decent scale and are dealing with complex technologies like microservices and multi-cloud infrastructures.