When it comes to software, customer expectations have increased significantly in the past decade. Users expect applications that are high-performing and highly available, and this expectation is being bolstered by the highly competitive marketplace. In short, with a plethora of options available in nearly every industry, there is little reason for customers to compromise on user experience.
With that said, the process for ensuring reliability in modern applications is tightly coupled to an organization’s incident response process. Therefore, it’s critical that teams maximize their ability to identify root cause and resolve incidents as quickly as possible. One way to accomplish this is by taking steps to streamline incident response in an automated manner, or in other words, by implementing continuous reliability management.
Keep reading for a primer on how to go about implementing continuous reliability management within a modern engineering workflow.
Establish a Culture of Reliability as a Shared Responsibility
As mentioned in the precursor to this article, incident response was traditionally the responsibility of IT operations teams. Developers designed and developed the application, but their involvement in reliability ended with application testing. Instead, IT operations personnel were the ones responsible for ensuring reliability in production as well as executing manual operational procedures to respond to incidents and restore service when problems occurred.
If organizations want to effectively implement continuous reliability management, this strategy will no longer suffice. Continuous reliability management requires that reliability considerations be folded into an organization’s continuous engineering workflow – and this means that the responsibility for ensuring reliability must be shared by developers and IT.
Educate Development Teams about SRE Concepts
If development teams are to be involved in optimizing incident response, then they need to fully understand the metrics upon which incident response processes are evaluated and the concepts that can be leveraged to improve them. These include the critical indicators that measure response (such as MTTA and MTTR), as well as the concepts that help drive the development of better application support (monitoring, alerting, observability, etc.). Knowledge in this area empowers software developers to participate more effectively in the effort to streamline incident response.
Formalize Incident Response Considerations as Part of the Development Process
Organizations that are looking to make reliability a constant consideration within their engineering workflow should consider development tasks incomplete until incident response has been addressed. In other words, as components are added or modified, developers should also be taking steps to help simplify the process for responding when these components experience problems.
By making this effort a formal requirement when implementing new features or modifying existing functionality, organizations can ensure that these considerations won’t be overlooked or ignored.
Enable Efficient Incident Response through the Use of Response-as-Code
We’ve established that continuous reliability management requires addressing incident response in a more automated fashion. One way to accomplish this is by implementing code-based workflows that make post-deployment incident response easier. Still, an important question remains: what does this look like in practice?
Imagine a scenario in which an incident occurs in production. An alert is sent out and an on-call engineer is contacted to begin digging into the details. To resolve the problem efficiently, the engineer must take specific actions to analyze the issue, identify the root cause, and apply a fix to restore the application to a working state.
Traditionally, these actions were performed manually. However, many of them could be automated. The automation of these manual procedures for incident response is known as response-as-code, and it is accomplished through the development of code-based playbooks. These playbooks are triggered in response to incidents, and they accelerate response by automating actions such as collecting the relevant details that provide incident context, performing incident analysis to help narrow the search for root cause, and (in some cases) by automating the steps for incident remediation.
This equips responders with the information that they need at the beginning of the response process, and when it comes to automated remediation, it removes the need for responders to intervene at all. This saves time, which reduces MTTR and limits the impact that incidents have on end users.
Continuously Identify Opportunities to Further Efficiency in the Realm of Incident Response
In addition to being proactive and attempting to streamline incident response by folding it into new development tasks, organizations should continuously evaluate their incident response strategy for inefficiencies. Incident postmortems, analysis of commonly triggered alerts, and regular examination of incident management workflows can be critical in identifying opportunities to improve an organization’s approach to ensuring system reliability. Thus, a response-as-code strategy can evolve over time, thereby helping to increase the reliability of an organization’s services.
The Impact of Continuous Reliability
Continuous reliability management requires that development teams take steps to proactively address incident response, in part by codifying response measures such as the collection of details that help contextualize problems and automate root cause analysis. For responders, this provides value in the form of reducing the manual procedures that were traditionally required to gather the necessary information and insights to resolve incidents quickly.
Perhaps most importantly, streamlined incident response limits the amount of time that key resources devote to application problems – and this paves the way for innovation. There are only so many hours in a day. When teams are constantly putting out fires, they have less time to investigate new technologies or implement game-changing system improvements. In essence, by taking all possible steps to reach a resolution more efficiently when problems occur, organizations put their teams in a better position to deliver increased value to their customers.