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Building blocks of a Developer Platform

·1002 words·5 mins
Platform Engineering Thoughts - This article is part of a series.
Part : This Article

I have read a lot of articles about Platform Engineering recently, and many of them talk about platforms as a completely new way for your developers to work. In fact, many of those articles are trying to sell you their platform!

In this series, I’ll be exploring how you can create a platform starting from the tools and processes that your team is already using.

I’ll be writing with a focus on software development teams working in a Cloud environment, but most of this applies to other environments and teams, though some interpretation may be necessary.

This article will discuss some of key features of a Platform that I believe are important, based on my years of experience as a Google SRE, and a contributor to the Reliable App Platforms repository (RAP) which illustrates what a minimum viable platform might look like.

Each of these features has some key benefits that help your organization be more efficient, and align with the goals of Platform Engineering. These features can be implemented in many different ways, so I’ll be discussing them in abstract. Possible implementations are mentioned briefly in each section.

Library of reusable components

Modern cloud infrastructure has an absolutely massive number of configuration options. While these options allow the product to serve a variety of use cases, it can be overwhelming for each developer team to understand how to achieve their specific goal.

Creating a library of reusable components allows us to capture successful patterns and promote their use. These components should model a specific use case like “global http load balancer” or “replicated sql database”. For example, we might have a component that models a set of replicated multi-region databases, given nothing more than a name and a list of regions. This component creates an abstraction layer that encodes the configuration of a common pattern, which eases cognitive load for the developer teams and keeps the organization’s database configurations more consistent!

Reusable components also allow us to adapt to changes in cloud products and/or organization policy. For example, we may decide that any multi-region database should also have weekly backups. We can configure the backups once, in the component definition, and apply it to all the affected databases.

It is important to note some situations where I do not recommend a reusable component. Some teams have drastically different needs that are not common in the organization - for such teams it is unlikely that a component will be reused and is probably not worth the investment. I also recommend avoiding components that are too general, and can serve different needs (for example, a generic “database” component) - such components often require exposing so much of the underlying configuration that they do not lower the cognitive load on developer teams.

Implementations In the RAP repo, we chose Terraform to model our components, and created components for “global http frontend to kubernetes services” and “CI/CD pipeline in CloudBuild using Github webhooks”. Our applications consume these components as Terraform modules, so any changes to the components will be reflected in the next application rollout.

Service Catalog

RAP’s use of Terraform allows applications to pick up changes made to our reusable components - but what if there’s an urgent change that our Platform team needs to push out? How would we find all affected services? That’s where a Service Catalog comes in.

A service catalog keeps track of metadata about applications and services in your organization. This usually includes the location of the source code, and the teams responsible for the service. It may also include related links, like an on-call emergency contact, a service health dashboard, or a place to file bugs about the service.

With a Service Catalog, the platform team can “push” reusable component updates out to any service that uses that component. The details of discovering which services are using a component will depend on the implementation of both the service catalog and the component library.

Implementations For small organizations, their Service Catalog may be searching their Github Organization, or an internal set of documentation. Larger organizations may opt for something more automation-friendly like a YAML file. Organizations with many services may wish to use, which provides an API to query their Service Catalog.

Infrastructure Catalog and Configuration

While a Service Catalog keeps track of services, we need a similar mechanism for reusable shared infrastructure. This may be part of an organization’s Service Catalog or Component Library, depending on the chosen implementation, but I feel it is worth its own discussion since the needs are slightly different.

Many organizations have shared resources that multiple applications rely upon. Resources like this may include shared Kubernetes clusters, the locations of critical data, or shared frontend load balancers. This mechanism can also be used to share the location of secrets that are stored in a secret manager.

Publishing this information in a machine-readable format will help teams adapt as your organization grows. Perhaps a major database moves to a different region - any team that runs a data-intensive workload will likely want to move as well to avoid an expensive cross-region network bill.

Implementations As noted above, this feature can be implemented as part of the Component Library or Service Catalog. It could be as simple as a structured data file in a known location, or as complex as a custom API.


These are some features of a platform that can improve the lives of both your platform team, as well as your app development teams.

  • Reusable components guide app developers toward “known good patterns”, and provide a centralized point of control for organizational best practices
  • A Service Catalog ensures that the platform team knows about all their users and can avoid unexpected surprises when updating platform components.
  • An Infrastructure Catalog ensures that shared infrastructure is discoverable, and allows the platform team to add/change infrastructure in a way that is clear and visible to app teams.

What other platform features do you find valuable, or wish you had?

Platform Engineering Thoughts - This article is part of a series.
Part : This Article