All platform teams share the same primary mission: improve developer productivity.  There may be many other organization-specific secondary goals for creating platforms such as controlling cost, improving security, maintaining high site reliability, and streamlined compliance.  So it may be strange to hear that the best teams are the ones that create platforms that disappear.

Platform teams are most effective when they work to disappear.

In every enterprise I’ve met, there is a split between the teams. One team writes code and applications (“devs”), and other teams that focus on infrastructure and systems (“ops”).  Universally, the infrastructure team’s most critical job is to get out of the way of application delivery efforts.  Meeting any secondary goals is icing on the development enablement cake.

Fundamentally, their job is to make infrastructure disappear for their internal customers.

This idea that ops creates a platform service for their devs is a pragmatic shift from the collaborative era of DevOps and has led to a recent wave of “platform engineering” and “platform team” initiatives in the type of enterprise banks, media, gaming, telco and pharmaceutical companies that RackN serves with the Digital Rebar platform.

Do you have the platform buffer?

With RackN, our customers acknowledge a separation between Development and Operations.  This separation frees individual development teams to pursue tooling that best fits their tasks (see Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais). This frees platform teams to focus on scaling cross-functional Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

But beware, this approach only works with a buffer (aka, a platform) between developers and infrastructure.

When each of an organization’s operations teams support different development efforts by optimizing for individual team choice, they become highly siloed. Unfortunately, this fragmentation seems to be the status quo across the industry.  While this setup serves the “enable devs” mission, fragmented operations are expensive, unreliable, and non-compliant. This is probably why there is so much interest in platform teams as a way to consolidate infrastructure management.

It is critical to recognize that the infrastructure platform is the operations team’s domain.  Developers should never need to use or engage with the platform itself. Developers do need to be empowered to use their own best fit tools and utilities.  To be honest, we should expect that different development teams often want different tools; a platform team that forces developers to undesired tools fails its primary mission.  But how can platform teams empower developers without creating infinite sprawl?

Don’t confuse portals and platforms

The mistake we see in the market is confusing developer portals with infrastructure platforms.  As long as the developer tools engage with a consistent infrastructure abstraction, the platform team can serve both their empowerment and consolidation missions.  Since the purpose of the platform is to disappear, this means that independent development teams can remain unaware of shared systems while the enterprise reaps the benefit of improved operational efficiency.

Real Talk

This IaC platform approach makes Digital Rebar unique.  RackN understands the mission of our users, the infrastructure teams, is to enable and empower the business around them.  That requires an API-driven approach that is infrastructure neutral with rich and useful controls because making infrastructure disappear is the hardest magic of all.   After all, our most effective IT systems disappear on purpose. 

Read more about how Digital Rebar can help your platform disappear.


December 1, 2022