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May 18th, ‘23/4 min read

SRE vs DevOps

What's the difference between SREs and DevOps professionals? How do they differ in their daily tasks?

SRE vs DevOps

What’s the difference between a Site Reliability Eningeer and a DevOps person?

Both Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) and DevOps are roles or approaches that aim to improve the reliability and efficiency of software systems. While there is some overlap between the two, there are also distinct differences in their focus and responsibilities.

The most simplistic way to understand this comes from a colleague, who has a fantastic post Explaining Reliability Engineering to a 5 year old (ELI5). Please read below if you’re keen to delve deep into our world; it’s written in simple, plain terms. 👇

Reliability Engineering for Dummies: ELI5
Explaining Reliability Engineering to a 5-year-old.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a cultural movement emphasizing the need for folks who write code, and Operators who execute the code to work together as one team. By doing this, you could ship products faster, communicate efficiently, unlock productivity, etc… Mind you, DevOps does not have a defined set of principles or a clear manifesto. It’s a rallying cry for a cultural change in approaches to engineering.

What is SRE?

The actual, real-world implementation of DevOps practices is Site Reliability Engineering. The DevOps movement started off in 2007 as a framework. But Google had been running these practices since 2003 in their engineering efforts and coined the term SRE. So, the actual implementations became all the more important. Site Reliability Engineers took DevOps practices and ‘productized’ them in an organization.

Understanding DevOps

DevOps is an approach to software development and delivery that emphasizes collaboration, communication, and integration between development teams and operations teams. It aims to break down silos and streamline the entire software development lifecycle, from coding to deployment and maintenance.

Key principles of DevOps include:

  1. Collaboration: DevOps fosters close collaboration and communication between development, operations, and other stakeholders. Teams work together to align their goals, share responsibilities, and jointly deliver high-quality software.
  2. Continuous Integration and Delivery (CI/CD): DevOps promotes the use of automation and tooling to enable frequent and reliable code integration, testing, and deployment. Continuous integration ensures that code changes are regularly merged and tested, while continuous delivery enables rapid and automated software releases.
  3. Infrastructure as Code (IaC): DevOps encourages treating infrastructure configuration as code. This involves using version-controlled scripts and tools to define and manage infrastructure resources, making deployments consistent, repeatable, and scalable.

While SRE and DevOps share common goals, SRE focuses more specifically on ensuring system reliability and performance, while DevOps is a broader approach to streamlining the entire software development and delivery process. In some organizations, the roles may overlap, and individuals may have skills and responsibilities that span both SRE and DevOps practices.

💡 Because of how interchangeably these roles are framed, organisations chart their own course of how the role is shaped. However, all orgs have one fundamental mainstay: Ensuring systems are up and running with minimal disruption.

Understanding Site Reliability Engineering

SRE is a role that was pioneered by Google to address the challenges of operating large-scale, complex software systems. SREs focus on ensuring the reliability, availability, and performance of these systems. Their primary goal is to bridge the gap between development and operations by applying software engineering principles to operations tasks.

Key responsibilities of an SRE include:

  1. Reliability: SREs prioritize system reliability by monitoring, measuring, and managing service-level objectives (SLOs) and error budgets. They establish processes to mitigate risks, manage incidents, and perform post-incident reviews to learn from failures.
  2. Automation: SREs develop and maintain tools, frameworks, and infrastructure to automate operational tasks, such as deployment, configuration management, monitoring, and capacity planning. They emphasize building reliable, scalable systems through code and configuration.
  3. Collaboration: SREs work closely with development teams to ensure that new software releases are reliable and production-ready. They provide guidance on system architecture, scalability, and performance, and help improve the overall development and deployment processes.

Some organizations may have dedicated SRE teams responsible for system reliability, while others may distribute SRE-related responsibilities among DevOps or development teams.

Further reading: read more on Service Level Indicators and setting Service Level Objectives

Here’s a table capturing some of the differences and similarities between the two roles:

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) DevOps
Focuses on ensuring system reliability, availability, and performance. Focuses on streamlining the entire software development and delivery process.
Primary goal is to bridge the gap between development and operations. Emphasizes collaboration and communication between development, operations, and other stakeholders.
Monitors system metrics, logs, and performance to maintain defined service-level objectives (SLOs). Configures and maintains the continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipeline for frequent and reliable software releases.
Automates operational tasks through scripting, infrastructure-as-code, and tooling. Automates software development, testing, and deployment processes to ensure rapid and consistent delivery.
Focuses on capacity planning, scaling, and optimizing system performance. Manages infrastructure resources, provisioning, and configuration to support development and deployment needs.
Works closely with development teams to ensure production-ready software releases. Facilitates collaboration and communication between development, operations, and other teams involved in the software development lifecycle.
Develops and maintains monitoring, alerting, and incident response systems. Ensures infrastructure stability, manages cloud resources, and optimizes resource utilization.
Analyzes system usage patterns and predicts future demand for scaling purposes. Aligns priorities, coordinates meetings, and establishes communication channels between teams.
Promotes a blameless culture that emphasizes learning from failures through post-incident reviews. Fosters a collaborative and cross-functional culture that encourages sharing responsibilities and aligning goals.
Primarily focuses on system reliability, performance, and availability. Focuses on improving software delivery speed, quality, and collaboration among different teams.
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