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What Is a Site Reliability Engineer?

What Is a Site Reliability Engineer?

A site reliability engineer (SRE) can help enable DevOps success, deliver greater visibility into the health of mission-critical services, improve incident response times, and ensure high availability of all applications. In this article, we’ll explore what an SRE is and how they can help your organization improve the overall quality and reliability of your software development lifecycle (SDLC). 

What Is a Site Reliability Engineer?

A site reliability engineer is responsible for the monitoring, automation, and reliability of IT operations. They use software development tools to automate IT operations tasks like change management, incident response, and production system management. They’re also responsible for monitoring the health of software deployments and relaying logs and data back to the developers. 

Why SRE? 

The initials SRE can refer to a site reliability engineer or the practice of site reliability engineering. The purpose of the SRE practice is to make sure that an organization’s services and applications are always up and available—even through frequent updates performed by the development team. 

The SRE role relies heavily on software tools and automation that can simplify day-to-day tasks such as application monitoring or system management. When developers update an application, their changes can sometimes adversely affect the application and decrease its performance or even make it crash. SREs are there to watch for these potential issues and make sure that errors in the software code or implementation don’t affect the organization’s ability to satisfactorily serve its customers. 

A big part of an SRE’s responsibilities is to serve as a buffer and facilitator between IT development and operations. Developers want to update their software quickly and often, but operations teams want to move a little slower to make sure that the updates won’t cause problems. 

Due to this need to maintain the best balance between development and operations, SREs must blend several jobs—including software engineering, operations, and infrastructure management—into one. They’re also typically very adept at creating and managing networks and systems in general, and they know how to predict and prevent costly downtime and system outages. 

What Do Site Reliability Engineers Do?

SREs work to maintain the availability, performance, and reliability of an organization’s IT infrastructure. This includes the design, implementation, and overall monitoring of systems to keep them up and running at peak efficiency and always able to deliver the kind of intuitive, responsive experiences end users want.  

Leveraging software tools, SREs can automate and streamline many crucial operational tasks, such as log analysis, patching and updating applications and systems, testing production environments, and so on. They also closely manage all systems, detect and resolve any issues that arise, and conduct post-mortems after an incident to analyze what happened and how it can be prevented in the future.  

Other responsibilities include: 

  • Consulting with developers to ensure reliability is designed and built into every application
  • Working with operations to see that new and updated applications have sufficient support from existing IT infrastructure
  • Forecasting and planning for capacity needs as well as system performance and resiliency
  • Setting key metrics as service-level indicators (SLIs) and service-level objectives (SLOs) to measure progress and success over time
  • Improving the software development lifecycle, especially after incidents
  • Assisting development teams by scaling the system, implementing automation, and creating new features
  • Responding to and resolving support escalation issues

Is SRE the Same as DevOps? 

SRE is not the same as DevOps, but there are some similarities in the objectives of each team. Both SREs and DevOps want development and operations to work more closely and more effectively. Both SREs and DevOps are greatly in favor of automation and system optimization. 

While traditional DevOps practices have led to better overall collaboration and faster software development cycles, DevOps hasn’t typically had anyone on their team who is specifically responsible for driving development that improves or increases site performance and reliability. This is where the SRE shines. An SRE’s sole purpose is to deliver (or maintain) reliability and scalability across the entire system. 

Where DevOps are focused on speed and agility, SREs are focused on managing infrastructure and keeping it available and high-performing. DevOps is more of a cultural approach in an organization, but an SRE employs highly specialized skills to support DevOps while also ensuring peak operations. 

Even within the culture of DevOps, SREs serve as a bridge between IT operations and development. They often act as quality assurance, but it’s proactive QA. SREs are often a critical factor that enables DevOps to succeed by helping to define the ideal balance between system stability and development speed. 

What Skills Does an SRE Need?

Because SREs form the bridge between IT operations and developers, they need quite a range of skills. Many of today’s SREs are ex-sysadmins who know how to code or former software developers with experience on the operations side. 

SREs need to know how to design and build scalable resilient IT systems. They need to understand a variety of cloud computing platforms. They also need to know how to configure network protocols and manage databases. And maybe most importantly, they need excellent problem-solving and communication skills. 

Other valuable skills can include: 

  • Deep understanding of IT infrastructure, both in the cloud and on premises 
  • Expertise in container technology and orchestration
  • Ability to form strategic relationships with partners, vendors, and colleagues from all business units
  • Experience with coding languages, monitoring and version control tools, databases, and operating systems
  • Website infrastructure management and maintenance
  • Familiarity with continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) 
  • Experience with distributed computing systems

Are SREs in Demand?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes! SREs are more in demand than ever, and that momentum shows no signs of slowing. Industry analysts at Gartner have estimated that by 2027, 75% of enterprises will use SRE practices across the organization to optimize operations. That percentage is a great leap from just 10% of enterprises that were using SRE practices in 2022. 

As organizations increasingly move their applications and services online, customers continue to expect seamless access to services without any downtime or lag. SREs are a critical part of delivering on those expectations—especially in industries where downtime can cause serious repercussions, such as technology, healthcare, and finance. 

Large global organizations need engineers with SRE skills to ensure the reliability of their services and applications. While the role has many technical requirements, the SRE career track is wide open and can lead to further management and leadership roles.

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