Successes and failures in Platform Engineering: Lessons from the trenches

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Learn 3 lessons about success and failure in Platform Engineering with Amazon, Google Cloud and Knight Capital.

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As we embark on the path of Platform Engineering, it’s important to understand that each step is layered with insights — victories and defeats alike. Throughout this journey, we come across stories of grand successes and lessons etched in failures. It’s this dynamic contrast that allows us to grow and refine our craft. 

In this blog post, I’ll take you through a few significant narratives in Platform Engineering, shedding light on the learnings they offer.

The journey of Amazon

The successful transformation of Amazon from a monolithic architecture to microservices is a testament to the prowess of Platform Engineering. Early on, Amazon realized the limitations of its architecture in scaling to meet growing customer demand. Their journey began with the shift towards service-oriented architecture. Small, agile teams, referred to as “two-pizza teams” were tasked with building and owning their services. This allowed for faster, more reliable deployments and scaling.

However, the journey was not without challenges. The initial transformation was slow and fraught with coordination and communication issues. Amazon had to invest heavily in refining its practices, crafting its tools, and nurturing a cultural shift towards microservices.

Today, Amazon is one of the largest and most successful e-commerce companies globally. Its architectural transformation has enabled it to scale effectively, offer superior customer experiences, and continuously innovate.

Knight Capital’s cautionary tale

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the story of Knight Capital — a powerful lesson on the potential risks in Platform Engineering. In 2012, Knight Capital, a leading American global financial services firm, experienced a major trading glitch due to a failed deployment.

The company unintentionally activated dormant code in its trading software, leading to a series of erroneous trades worth billions of dollars. In less than an hour, Knight Capital’s losses escalated to $440 million, nearly four times its 2011 net income.

This incident underscores the importance of meticulous deployment practices, robust testing environments, and rollback strategies. It’s a reminder that without proper safeguards, even a minor oversight in Platform Engineering can result in significant consequences.

Google’s Cloud outage: a reminder of resilience 

In June 2019, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), a suite of cloud computing services, suffered a significant outage affecting multiple services including YouTube, Gmail, Google Drive, and more. The disruption lasted for approximately four hours, causing severe impact for many businesses relying on GCP, not to mention inconveniencing millions of individual users worldwide.

Upon investigation, Google identified the root cause as a configuration change intended for a small group of servers in one region. The change was mistakenly applied to a larger number of servers across several neighboring regions, and it led to those regions using more network capacity than was available.

The network congestion in turn caused various services to go down, demonstrating how a minor error could ripple through a system and cause extensive damage. What was supposed to be a routine update led to one of the largest outages in Google’s history.

This incident served as a stark reminder of the need for comprehensive testing, especially in configuration changes, and the importance of having rollback procedures and effective incident response strategies. The impact of the outage also underscored the importance of architecting applications for resilience, not just for regular operation. Even the most reliable providers can, and do, have failures, so it’s crucial to have a disaster recovery plan in place to ensure minimal disruption.

Unlock the speed and security of developing with StackSpot! 

As experienced software engineers, we understand that you seek to provide efficient and standardized solutions that allow your team to focus on solving business problems, not on assembling the necessary infrastructure to tackle these issues. We recognize that time is precious and efficiency is vital. That’s why we’ve developed StackSpot, our Enterprise Developer Platform designed specifically for professionals like you.

How about a hands-on test of StackSpot, completely adapted to your company’s unique context and challenges? Our goal is to demonstrate how our platform can not only simplify the distribution of guidelines but also make their application easier, saving you time and boosting your team’s productivity.

Book a demo now! We’re eager to get to know you and your challenges. Let’s transform the landscape of your software engineering together with StackSpot.

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