Home Think Topics Platform Engineering What is platform engineering?
Explore IBM's platform engineering solution Subscribe to technology and business newsletters
Person working on computer using multiple screens

Published: 12 June 2024
Contributors: Matthew Finio, Amanda Downie

What is platform engineering?

Platform engineering is the discipline of creating and managing platforms with standardized tools, automated workflows and consistent environments to boost developer productivity.

Platform engineering is primarily a discipline within software engineering, software development and IT operations, and is a key component of DevOps. It involves a combination of practices, processes and roles dedicated to building and maintaining internal platforms that enhance developer productivity and operational efficiency. 

Like designing a workshop where all necessary tools and materials are perfectly arranged, platform engineering helps create a secure, consistent environment for developers to focus on their projects. This specialized area of software development enhances developer productivity and operational efficiency by building and managing internal developer platforms (IDPs). 

IDPs reduce complexity by providing standardized, self-service tools and automated workflows, which help minimize errors and enable developers to work more effectively within a secure, governed framework. By maintaining these steady environments, platform engineering allows developers to focus on innovation while accelerating product delivery, enhancing security and supporting scalability.

Platform engineering is especially important in cloud-native environments where scalable and resilient infrastructure is crucial. Using infrastructure as code (IaC), platform engineering automates the management and setup of infrastructure, enhancing operational efficiency, security and compliance. 

More engineering organizations are forming platform engineering teams to reduce the complexity of software delivery, manage underlying infrastructure and provide reliable tools and workflows. These initiatives help enhance the developer experience, accelerate the delivery of applications and align development with business objectives.

What is an IDP?

An internal developer platform (IDP) is a product developed by platform engineering teams designed to serve developers within an organization. An IDP functions as a unified, self-service platform, providing the necessary hardware or software to host applications and services. 

IDPs offer developers the set of tools and automated workflows they need to efficiently create, deploy and maintain code. By integrating essential toolchains, an IDP simplifies the development process and enhances overall efficiency and security, enabling continuous delivery and efficient software delivery. Incorporating a modern data platform within the IDP offers developers access to advanced data and analytics capabilities. 

The IDPs built by platform engineering teams are tailored to meet the specific needs of their user groups. They include resources such as starter kits, encapsulated common patterns and early feedback on potential issues, fostering a streamlined and effective developer experience.

Also, platform engineering facilitates integration with application programming interfaces (APIs), enabling seamless integration with external services and tools.

The core value of an IDP lies in its ability to provide developers with a clear golden path, guiding them through the software development lifecycle.

Starting with a minimalistic approach, platform engineers incorporate the most beneficial tools for development team members, gradually expanding capabilities based on ongoing feedback and evolving needs. This iteration helps streamline tasks, minimize complexities and keep the IDP aligned with developer requirements.

Maximize the value of hybrid cloud in the generative AI era

Download the ebook and learn how to empower your organization through a new type of innovation, hybrid cloud with generative AI.

Related content

Learn how platform engineering accelerates time to market

Platform engineering benefits

Platform engineering offers many benefits, including:

Accelerated time-to-market: The automation and self-service capabilities of successful platform engineering speed up the development process and enable faster delivery of features and products.

Boosted developer productivity: The use of reusable tools and automated workflows fosters a product mindset, allowing developers to concentrate on writing code and building features rather than dealing with infrastructure and tools issues.

Consistent and standardized environments: Uniform tools and processes help ensure consistency across development environments, reducing variability and potential conflicts.

Efficient operations: Using IaC automates infrastructure management and orchestration. This automated provisioning reduces complexity for developers, operations teams and DevOps teams and facilitates continuous integration.

Enhanced developer experience: Platform engineering significantly improves the developer experience by reducing cognitive load and improving workflow. This enables developers to focus on coding rather than infrastructure management, facilitating integration with external service providers and enhancing the front-end experience for users.

Improved security and compliance: Integrated security practices and compliance measures, including those related to DevSecOps, use open source solutions to develop apps that meet industry standards.

Proactive responsiveness: Active monitoring, performance metrics and data-driven improvements enable platform teams to quickly address issues and bottlenecks and optimize the development environment.

Reliable platform operations: Proactive monitoring and problem-solving help ensure quick solutions to tool or task problems, helping to ensure minimal downtime and sustained productivity.

Superior project quality: Streamlining processes gives developers more time to work on core projects, conduct thorough testing and meet higher standards. Bolstering the quality and reliability of delivered software improves the reputation of product teams, product managers and the entire organization.

Scalable and flexible solutions: Platform engineering creates platforms that enable seamless deployment and updates. These platforms can handle increased workloads, including those associated with microservices architecture.

Platform engineering key stakeholders

The stakeholders in platform engineering include individuals and teams with specific interests and responsibilities:

Business leaders, such as executives and project managers, focus on the strategic alignment of platform engineering with business objectives. They have a vested interest in the success of the platform and its impact on performance, such as accelerating time-to-market, reducing costs and enhancing agility.

Customers and users give feedback that is crucial for continuous improvement. They benefit from the faster delivery of high-quality software products, improved reliability and better UX facilitated by effective platform engineering practices.

Developers are the primary users of the platforms. They benefit from streamlined workflows and self-service capabilities that enhance their productivity and reduce time spent on infrastructure management.

DevOps engineers are responsible for integrating development and operations, managing CI/CD pipelines and helping to ensure smooth software deployment and delivery processes.

External providers, such as vendors and third-party service providers, supply tools, technologies and services that integrate with the platform.

Operations teams collaborate with platform engineers to manage the infrastructure and help ensure the smooth operation of the platform, handling issues related to provisioning, scaling and maintenance.

Platform engineers implement and maintain the platforms to help ensure that they enhance organizational efficiency. Platform engineers focus on supporting development teams by creating and maintaining IDPs that manage systems, solve problems and automate development tasks. They also stay current with new technologies to keep the platform competitive, reduce costs and improve application performance. 

Product managers rely on the platform to deliver features quickly and efficiently. They define requirements, prioritize features and help ensure that the platform aligns with business goals and user needs.

Quality assurance (QA) teams test and validate the software and platform functions to help ensure that they meet quality standards and perform as expected.

Security teams help ensure that the platform complies with security standards and regulations, supported by integrated security practices within the platform that help mitigate risks.

Site reliability engineers (SREs) help ensure the reliability, availability and performance of the platforms and applications, often working closely with the platform and DevOps engineers.

Why platform engineering is becoming more common

Platform engineering is increasingly crucial because it alleviates infrastructure concerns from developers. Traditionally, developers have had to find or build their tools, but this approach has become impractical due to increasingly complex technology.

Today, developers constantly face new tools and features that require time to learn and integrate. These tasks divert attention from core responsibilities such as product improvement and meeting business goals. Platform engineering solves this by providing standardized, self-service infrastructure and automated workflows, allowing developers to focus on innovation and productivity. 

As organizations grow, the need for scalable and efficient infrastructure increases. Platform engineering provides the infrastructure and tools to meet these demands, enhancing operational efficiency and reducing time-to-market.

The shift to cloud computing also requires flexible platforms to manage resources effectively; platform engineering supports the adoption of cloud-native architectures, which improves scalability and resilience.

With integrated security practices and automated checks, platform engineering helps ensure that infrastructure and applications meet the industry standards of stricter security and compliance. Standardizing tools and processes also reduces infrastructure costs and optimizes resource usage, making it a cost-effective solution.

Related solutions
IBM platform engineering services

Reimagine your internal developer platforms and increase the business value of your software development teams.

Explore IBM platform engineering services

IBM systems engineering software and solutions

Manage product and software development and solve complex issues with our systems engineering solutions.

Explore IBM systems engineering software and solutions

IBM Instana®

Avoid costly downtime with a real-time, full-stack observability solution.

Learn more about IBM Instana
Resources Managing complexity with model-based systems engineering

See how you can optimize and verify the product architecture before committing to implementation with IBM® Rhapsody®.

IBM Engineering Lifecycle Management (ELM) platform and digital threads

Learn how the IBM ELM platform can help break down data silos and support data interoperability across the product development lifecycle.

IBM watsonx.data together with the IBM Storage Fusion HCI system

Explore how to improve performance over object storage by caching critical data in a global data cache with this demonstration of IBM Global Data Platform’s Storage Accelerator feature with IBM® watsonx.data™.

Enhancing observability with chaos engineering: Steadybit integration with Instana

Read how these two tools join forces to create a comprehensive reliability solution that covers both proactive resilience testing and real-time performance monitoring.

Insightful engineering at enterprise scale

Embrace an end-to-end management approach to your systems and software development.

Unlock your cloud investment by transforming the way you manage applications

Stay competitive by managing applications in hybrid multicloud environments in a brand-new way.

Take the next step

Are you ready for DevOps? To deliver software and services at the speed the market demands, teams must iterate and experiment rapidly, deploy new versions frequently, and be driven by feedback and data. The most successful cloud development teams adopt modern DevOps culture and practices, embrace cloud-native architectures and assemble toolchains from best-in-class tools to unleash their productivity.

Explore DevOps solutions Try at no cost