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Site Reliability Engineering with Azure

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@salkimmichSal Kimmich

Focused on the open source software supply chain to build a better digital future for all of us.

Site Reliability Engineering is a fast-evolving engineering discipline, under the realms of DevOps, that is focused on ensuring desirable levels of reliability for any system, solution, or service offered or used by an organization.

As the solution footprint grows, both the DevOps and the SRE teams face the same challenges that are mostly related to performance, scalability, availability, observability, security, and process documentation. The organizations define their SLAs around the same set of attributes. Some of the standard SLAs are:

  • Availability of the solution and the platform for over 99.9% or 99.99% or even 99.999% during a year, including the planned and unplanned outages.
  • Auto scalability either up or down and horizontally or vertically in case of change in the transaction load on the solution and the platform.
  • High performance ensuring that 95% of the transactions are completed within 3 secs and the rest within 5 secs.
  • Low latency where the transactions do not lose more than 100 to 150 ms to the network and other concerns.
  • Strict security that can encrypt all traffic and stored data and avoid or detect attacks and threats quickly enough to take an action.
  • High observability that captures logs for every activity performed within the solution.

Such SLAs can be met by setting up appropriate SLOs and identifying the correct services from the cloud provider.

Managing site reliability helps organizations to improve their customer experience, provide quick support, reduce application outages, and positively impact the overall business. We dive into the services provided by Azure to understand the SLOs better below.

How does Azure help SRE teams?

Microsoft Azure is an extremely mature cloud platform that has a lot of services for handling every concern of a solution. While building your solution on the Azure cloud, you need to choose the correct services that serve your SRE requirements.

Azure Monitor

Azure Monitor is a modern monitoring solution that can collect data from your solution, cloud platform, and on-premises environment, analyze it, and visualize it. It allows rules-driven alerts as well as ML-based insights to proactively identify issues with the reliability of the solution.

It can easily integrate with solutions of all modern technology stacks, viz. .Net, Java, Node.js, Python, and Ruby. It is a unified intelligent service that can serve your entire solution.

Azure Traffic Manager

A load balancer plays the critical role of distributing the load across multiple application instances so that the performance of the solution is optimal. Azure Traffic Manager is a DNS-based load balancer that distributes the traffic to multiple Azure regions globally based on the routing policies and health of the services.

This ensures high availability, redundancy as well as failover. It has the capability to distribute the load amongst internet-based services hosted within or outside Azure platform.

Azure Network Watcher

The availability, reliability, and security of a solution are as good as that of the network it is operating on. Azure Network Watcher allows you to monitor and diagnose networking issues remotely by capturing data packets and analyzing them. Apart from performance and issues, it also lets you audit your network traffic and detect security vulnerabilities and threats.

Azure Resource Manager

Most of the applications on the cloud are not yet containerized. SRE teams need tools that can help them spawn new instances, monitor existing instances, throttle service access, and perform other resource management tasks.

Azure Resource Manager is the perfect tool for doing all these things from a single place. It allows you to create declarative templates that can be used to deploy the entire solution along with its dependencies in the correct order.

Azure Lighthouse

As the footprint of the solution grows, it is important to monitor all integration points and vendor actions. Azure Lighthouse is the tool that provides you ways for controlling access and monitoring the activities.

SRE teams can leverage it to reduce the risk exposure of the solution. It also provides just-in-time access, real-time insights, and auditing features.

Azure Policy

Enforcing the organizational policies related to security, privacy, and data governance is another key challenge that SRE teams face while maintaining the reliability of the solution.

Azure Policy works as the guardrails for governing existing and future resource deployments. It can automatically remediate any non-compliant resources.

Azure Automation

A must for the SRE teams is to automate all the frequent, time-consuming, and error-prone cloud management tasks.

Azure Automation helps in orchestrating processes using runbooks created in PowerShell and Python. It helps you to scale up and down all your resources automatically and consistently.

Azure Advisor

Azure Advisor can be seen as the guiding light for all other services. This service is a great differentiating factor between Azure and other cloud vendors. It provides free and actionable recommendations based on your application configuration and platform usage data.

It covers every aspect of the solution, such as operations, reliability, security, and performance. All the recommendations are based on Azure best practices to help you optimize your costs of operating on the Azure platform. It helps you validate your SRE initiatives and realign them to create better value for your solution.

New Tooling Available

Azure is a continuously evolving and growing platform. It is coming up with the next set of services that are going to make it even easier for the SRE teams to deliver reliability.

Azure Automanage tops the list of upcoming services that promise to improve the workload uptime and optimize the operations. It directly impacts the effort required by SRE teams on the Azure cloud platform.

Azure Blueprints is another service worth trying out. It is expected to allow SRE teams to create templates for deploying and updating compliant and streamlined environments.

If you or your team are using these tools in your SRE ecosystem, I'd love to hear more about your joys and troubles on the path to ending development toil!

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