Nov 13 2023

Platform Engineering vs. DevOps: How Are They Different?

Software development processes are evolving to achieve higher levels of automation to enhance speed, efficiency and security.

DevOps created an entirely new paradigm for application development. By integrating the work of software developers and IT operations professionals, DevOps processes greatly improved the speed and quality of software development.

But DevOps is not without its challenges. As organizations have deployed this approach, they have run into some common obstacles that slow down development and frustrate developers. To address these challenges, many organizations are evolving their software development approach to adopt platform engineering, which implements a higher degree of automation to help teams reach their development goals more quickly and effectively.

Platform engineering is the natural evolution of DevOps,” says Neil Wylie, a chief architect with CDW. “Platform engineering is about combining the right tools with the right qualities into a tool chain to facilitate the needs of the company.”

Organizations looking to address their challenges with DevOps need to understand what platform engineering is and how it enables an evolution in software development processes.

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What Is DevOps and What Challenges Do Organizations Face with It?

Organizations that implemented DevOps processes in recent years used cloud-native tools to improve the speed and accuracy of their development processes. By aligning development and operations teams more closely, DevOps enables testing earlier in the process, which allows organizations to identify issues and correct them more quickly. This enables shorter development times and reduces the number of errors in software.

However, these changes also increase the complexity of development environments, which can hamper teams from achieving their software objectives. In fact, a 2023 survey found that 96 percent of engineering and software development professionals said they spend most of their time resolving low-level issues. This complexity issue particularly affects organizations that may have less mature development capabilities.


Platform Engineering TOC


Many organizations also face issues regarding their DevOps teams. Finding skilled professionals is a challenge, as is retaining them in a competitive environment.

Organizations should address these issues by making sure teams have all the support they need and delivering a satisfying developer experience. The level of automation enabled by platform engineering can help organizations achieve these objectives, but they must understand what they’re undertaking.  

“When we talk about moving DevOps to platform engineering, this is a big change,” Wylie says.

What Is Platform Engineering?

Gartner describes platform engineering as “an emerging technology approach that can accelerate the delivery of applications and the pace at which they produce business value.”

Platform engineering involves setting up and running the infrastructure and services needed to enable software development. Development teams can improve efficiency by aligning automated, cloud-native tools with their organizational goals.

In a blog post, Evan Bottcher, head of data and architecture at business management platform MYOB, writes that “A digital platform is a foundation of self-service APIs, tools, services, knowledge and support which are arranged as a compelling internal product. Autonomous delivery teams can make use of the platform to deliver product features at a higher pace, with reduced co-ordination.”

The results bear this out, as 68 percent of organizations that have implemented platform engineering say it has increased development velocity, according to a January 2023 report by Puppet.

WATCH: Discover how DevOps can add speed and efficiency to your process.

Platform Engineering vs. DevOps: How Are They Different?

DevOps and platform engineering both aim to improve software development processes within organizations, but there are important differences between them.

In many cases, organizations use a variety of specific, often customized, tools to complete projects using DevOps processes, which creates significant demands on resources. By contrast, platform engineering creates a consistent set of resources that developers share across an organization. By incorporating cloud-based tools such as Docker and Kubernetes into a simple stack, platform engineering streamlines software processes as well as access for developers.

DevOps’ reliance on customized solutions can lead to sprawl, resulting in organizations having large quantities of tools but not necessarily the right tools to solve their problems. By involving practices such as Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and Policy as Code, platform engineering automates many of the solutions to these issues.

“With platform engineering, you’re naturally getting governance because you’re creating a singular series of pipelines within your infrastructure,” Wylie says. “That governance can manifest as cost governance, for example, or it can manifest as security governance.”

Neil Wylie
When we talk about moving DevOps to platform engineering, this is a big change.”

Neil Wylie Executive Technology Strategist, CDW

Why Platform Engineering Is the Next Step in the Evolution of DevOps

The advantages that platform engineering provides over traditional software development methods as well as DevOps processes have led to intense interest among organizations with software development capabilities. In fact, 93 percent of organizations say platform engineering is a step in the right direction, according to the Puppet report.

IaC is essential to establishing a platform engineering approach. It enables development teams to manage infrastructure components more quickly and at scale. By utilizing IaC within their platform engineering initiatives, organizations can automate resource provisioning and standardize workflows.

“The actual infrastructure is becoming more and more of a commodity,” Wylie says. “When we start thinking about the infrastructure as a commodity that’s leveraged by the developers, they can do what they’re doing faster.”

DIVE DEEPER: How automation can help IT leaders alleviate DevOps challenges.

One key objective of platform engineering is to improve the developer experience. By automating simple tasks, platforms reduce the workload of developers and ensure that the software pipeline produces a consistently high level of quality while speeding the process and enabling a faster time to market.

“The point of it is to help developers do whatever it is they’re doing out there faster,” Wylie says. “We want developers to get what they need as easily as possible so we can get time to market is as low as possible. We can help them do that by building our platforms to enable them.”

Ultimately, the goal of platform engineering is to alllow developers to get their work done as quickly, simply and accurately as possible. “The cherry on top of platform engineering might be something like a self-service catalog where developers can choose what they want from a drop-down menu and it would be provisioned automatically,” Wylie says. “Doing that internally would be the ultimate goal of platform engineering.”

LJ Davids

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