Site Reliability Engineering is a process of automating IT infrastructure functions, including system management and application monitoring using software tools.

It is used by businesses to guarantee that their software applications are reliable even when they receive frequent upgrades from development teams.

SRE allows engineers or operations teams to automate the activities that are traditionally performed by operations teams manually to manage production systems and handle issues.

The Responsibilities of a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)

Now that we know what SRE full form is and how it benefits the operations and development teams, we also need to understand what a Site reliability engineer does.

Here are a few SRE roles and responsibilities that you should be aware of:

Creates automated processes for operational aspects

SRE teams aim to minimize duplication and avoid unnecessary effort. They achieved this by automating tasks performed manually, such as provisioning access and infrastructure, creating accounts, and building self-service tools.

Initially, when development teams submitted code for deployment, the operations team had to manually determine whether or not the service met SLA requirements by going through an extensive checklist. However, SRE can now automate the design process and determine whether the service adheres to SLA.

This helps development teams to concentrate on delivering features, while operations teams can concentrate on overseeing infrastructure.

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Configure Monitoring and Logging

One of the primary roles of an SRE is to configure proper monitoring and logging of the systems to get visibility of what's happening inside.

We all agree that a system's SLA can never be 100%. Most of the applications will have 99.999% SLA. This indicates that we are going to expect an outage at some point. So, SRE has to configure alerts if any metric, such as CPU usage or latency, goes above the threshold, the system should fire an alert. This helps detect issues before or when they happen.

Know the Difference: SLAs, SLOs, and SLIs Explained - Read Now

Configure and notify alerts with the right information

Now that Site Reliability Engineer has configured alerts, the right person in the team should be notified. The alert message should contain all the information needed to quickly detect, analyze and solve the issue.

For example, an alert message: Something is wrong with cluster A will not help the team to resolve the issue faster. Instead, a detailed message such as Service X in cluster Y throwing an error message 500 will help the team to check and resolve the issue faster.

Do on-call support

When things go wrong and users need real-time support, somebody is responsible for doing that, and that is the on-call support team.

Putting SREs on this support team helps them really see and understand:

  • What issues to expect?
  • How does the support deal with the issues?
  • How can we enhance the support process to increase efficiency?

For example, Do alert messages and logs have enough information to detect and analyze the issue?

So, the main goal of SRE is to ensure few services are affected, and the outage duration is short.

The Importance of SRE

SRE's primary objective is to guarantee the system's availability and reliability. Users pay little attention to the system's dependability and availability unless and until it is accessible.

However, The system can occasionally go down for maintenance or a breakdown. The users are then affected, and they assess if the system is reliable or not.

But what makes a system unreliable?

  • Changes in the infrastructure
  • Changes in the platform where the application is running
  • Changes in application services.

For instance, When AWS experienced an outage, everyone observed it, but the platform wasn't considered unstable. The company will only experience a loss of clients and money if the system is often out of service.

Is there a way to avoid disruptions? If you're thinking about a solution, you might consider limiting the number of changes.But then, how can new features be added to the application?

This is where SRE comes into the picture.

Developers want to add new features, and operations want to focus on stability. To bridge the gap between these two, SRE tries to automate the process of analyzing and evaluating the effects the change will have on our system's reliability.

System stability and availability are achieved without the need for checklists or internal discussions. This streamlined approach enables fast and safe releases.

Basic Tools Stack for SRE

The tools may differ according to the organization’s requirements but here’s a list of tools once can use being an SRE:

Tools Used

SRE

SLO Monitoring

New Relic, Datadog, Grafana, Dynatrace, AppDynamics

Incident response and management

Slack, Zenduty

Automation and Orchestration 

Terraform, Cloudformation, Pulumi

Observability and Tracing 

Opentelementary, Zipkin, Jaegar

Reliability Engineering

Chaos Toolkit, Chaos Monkey, Litmus


The Core principles of Site Reliability Engineering

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is an in-depth learning combination of software engineering and operations tasks to build and maintain highly reliable and scalable systems. SRE is rooted in a set of core principles that guide its practices and methodologies.

Here are the core principles of Site Reliability Engineering:

Reliability as the Primary Goal:

The primary objective of SRE is to ensure the reliability of systems and services. The capacity of a system to carry out its intended function without interruption—even in difficult situations—is referred to as reliability in software engineering.

SRE teams prioritize the reliability of systems over other considerations like new feature development or performance enhancements.

Shared Ownership with accountability:

SRE promotes shared ownership between development and operations teams.

SRE engineers work closely with software developers to ensure that systems are designed and built with reliability from the beginning. This collaboration ensures that reliability is a collective responsibility rather than solely owned by a single team.

Automation:

Site reliability engineers emphasize the use of automation to remove manual labor and lower human error.

For example, procuring and configuring infrastructure, deploying software updates, and keeping track of system health are repetitive processes that are automated.

By automating repetitive tasks, SRE engineers may concentrate on work that is more strategic and valuable.

Monitoring and Measurement:

SRE emphasizes the significance of detailed system behavior monitoring and measurement. Data about system availability, performance, and other pertinent metrics must be gathered and examined.

Monitoring assists in spotting abnormalities, identifying issues, and making data-driven decisions to increase system reliability. SRE teams employ monitoring technologies and efficient alerting mechanisms to identify and address issues quickly.

Incident Response and Postmortems:

SRE teams are well-prepared to handle incidents and outages when they occur. They have well-defined incident response processes that ensure timely identification, escalation, and resolution of issues.

Additionally, SREs conduct post-mortems to understand and learn from the root causes of incidents and learn from them. Postmortems drive improvements in systems, processes, and documentation to prevent similar incidents from recurring in the future.

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Capacity Planning and Load Balancing:

SRE engineer focuses on capacity planning to ensure systems can handle expected and unexpected traffic loads.

Engineers work on forecasting, provisioning, and scaling systems to accommodate user demand while maintaining optimal performance.

Load balancing techniques are employed to distribute traffic across multiple instances and avoid overloading individual components.

Continuous Improvement:

Site reliability engineering follows a culture of continuous improvement.

Engineers actively seek opportunities to enhance system reliability, performance, and efficiency. They collect user feedback, conduct blameless postmortems, and iterate on systems and processes to drive ongoing improvements.

These core principles form the foundation of Site Reliability Engineering and guide SRE teams in pursuing highly reliable and scalable systems.

Role of Observability in Site Reliability Engineering

The observability approach helps the software team be ready for unforeseen circumstances when the software is made available to end users. The Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) teams employ technologies to identify unusual behaviors in the software and, more critically, gather data that enables engineers to identify the root of the issue.

Observability includes gathering the following data:

Traces

Traces are observations of a distributed system's code flow for a particular function. For instance, checking out an order cart can involve the following tasks:

  • Calculating the cost using a database
  • The payment gateway authentication
  • Delivering the orders to the suppliers

A trace consists of a name, an ID, and a time. They improve software efficiency and help in latency problem detection.

Metrics

Metrics are numerical values demonstrating a system's or an application's performance. SRE teams use metrics to identify software that uses excessive resources or acts erratically.

Logs

SRE software creates detailed, time-stamped records known as logs in response to specific incidents. Software developers use logs to comprehend the events resulting in a certain issue.

Key Metrics for Effective Site Reliability Engineering

The following metrics are used by site reliability engineering (SRE) teams to evaluate service delivery quality and reliability:

SLOs, or Service-Level Objectives

Service-level objectives (SLOs) are precise, quantifiable goals that you believe the program can accomplish at an affordable cost compared to other measures.

For instance, Uptime, or the time a system is active, system performance, and loading speed.

SLIs, or Service-Level Indicators

The actual measurements of the metric that an SLO defines are known as service-level indicators (SLIs). You might receive values in real-world scenarios similar to or different from the SLO.

For instance, your application's uptime is lower than the promised SLO at 99.92% of the time.

SLAs, or  Service Level Agreements

Service-level agreements (SLAs) are contracts that outline what will take place if one or more SLOs are not satisfied.

For instance, the SLA promises that the technical staff will fix your customer's problem after receiving a report within 24 hours. You might have to repay the consumer if your team could not fix the issue in the allotted time.

Error Budgets

Error budgets determine the SLO's noncompliance tolerance.

For instance, an SLO uptime of 99.95% indicates that 0.05% of downtime is permitted. The software team commits all available resources and effort to stabilizing the application if the software downtime exceeds the error budget.

SRE VS DevOps — what's the difference?

Now that you have an idea about SRE and its core principles, let's dive into the difference between a site reliability engineer and DevOps.

DevOps is a culture, automation, and platform design strategy aiming to maximize corporate value and responsiveness through quick, high-quality service delivery. SRE can be viewed as a DevOps implementation.

Though they are opposite sides of the same coin, there are certain differences if we talk about the responsibilities of a site reliability engineer VS DevOps Engineer, which are as follows:

Topics

SRE

DevOps

Definition

SRE or site reliability engineer is responsible

for ensuring scalability, reliability and availability of large complex

infrastructures.


A DevOps engineer uses software development and its operation skills to automate the process of building, deploying and managing software applications.

Focus 

SRE focuses on stability, availability and reliability of an application.

DevOps Engineer focuses on collaboration, automation and CI/CD

Goals

  • Reduce incidents 

  • Improve the mean time to recover(MTTR)

  • Implement best practices for monitoring and alerting

  • Risk management and disaster recovery 

  • Improve communication between development and operations teams.

  • Automate the manual process

  • Setup CI/CD pipeline for continuous integration and deployment 

Why Every Company Needs Site Reliability Engineering

Regardless of size or industry, every company can benefit from implementing SRE practices and principles to achieve a more reliable and scalable infrastructure.

Here’s how:

Reliability and Availability:

Businesses rely heavily on their online presence and services. Downtime or poor performance can have significant financial and reputational consequences.

SRE practices ensure high availability, reduce downtime, and mitigate the impact of failures by enforcing monitoring, proactive alerting, fault tolerance mechanisms, and disaster recovery strategies.

Scalability and Performance:

As companies grow and their user base expands, it's essential to have systems that can scale to handle increased traffic and demand.

SRE principles help organizations design scalable architectures, optimize performance, and plan for future growth.

Efficiency and Cost Optimization:

Site reliability engineering manager encourages automation, efficient resource utilization, and elimination of manual toil.

By automating repetitive tasks, leveraging infrastructure-as-code practices, and optimizing resource allocation, SRE helps companies improve operational efficiency and reduce costs associated with manual labor, infrastructure provisioning, and over-provisioning.

Collaboration and Communication:

SRE promotes a collaborative culture between development and operations teams by breaking down silos and fostering effective communication.

It also encourages sharing knowledge, documenting best practices, and conducting blameless post-incident reviews, leading to a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Security and Compliance:

Site reliability engineers consider security and compliance when building and operating systems. They assist in defending systems against potential threats, vulnerabilities, and problems with regulatory compliance by integrating security practices early in the development lifecycle and putting strong monitoring, logging, and auditing procedures in place.

Customer Experience and Satisfaction:

Reliable and performant systems contribute to a positive user experience and customer satisfaction.

By adopting SRE principles, companies can provide a consistently reliable service, minimize disruptions, and ensure a smooth user experience. This strengthens consumer loyalty and helps in retaining existing clients as well as drawing in new ones.

General FAQ for SRE

What are the duties of a site reliability engineer? Here are the primary duties of a site reliability engineer: Create automated processes for operational aspects Configure Monitoring and Logging systems, ensuring the system is reliable. Configure and notify alerts with the correct information to the concerned team Do on-call support
Is coding a necessary skill for an SRE? An SRE should know any programming language to start initially because their tasks involve automating the processes for which scripting and language are required.
Is being a site reliability engineering manager a challenging job? The nature of SRE is subjective, as it demands a blend of development and operations expertise. This can make the role challenging for individuals who are not well-versed in both areas.
Does an SRE role typically offer high compensation? Compared to software developers, SREs are comparatively paid high as their tasks involve on-call support, creating post-mortem reports, etc.
Which position is preferable, SRE or SDE? SRE is more focused on implementing DevOps, and SDE is more generic and focuses on developing web features or building a mobile or desktop application.
What are some companies that employ SREs? Companies such as Oracle, LinkedIn, IBM, TCS, Adobe, and Cisco Systems have adopted SRE in their operations.
Which programming languages are commonly utilized by SREs? The responsibilities of SRE involve automating processes, so learning a programming language can help you in the long run. To start with, you can learn Python or Java.
What skills does an SRE need in terms of Cloud? An SRE does not have to know all about the Cloud but should be aware of the basics of any cloud platform such as AWS, Azure, or GCP. In addition to these, one should be familiar with how containerization, Docker, and Kubernetes work.
Are SRE and DevOps interchangeable terms? SRE and DevOps may sound similar, but they have distinct roles. SRE implements DevOps principles, while DevOps Engineers aim to release quality code swiftly. On the other hand, SREs prioritize both code quality and system reliability, ensuring a robust and dependable system.

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Anjali Udasi

As a technical writer, I love simplifying technical terms and write on latest technologies. Apart from that, I am interested in learning more about mental health and create awareness around it.