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April 9, 2024

6 min read

Buy, Build, or Adopt: Seasoned Platform Engineers Weigh In

What's the secret to achieving the right balance for your platform?

Jorge Lainfiesta
Written by
Jorge Lainfiesta
Buy, Build, or Adopt: Seasoned Platform Engineers Weigh In
Table of contents

Platform engineering encompasses building bespoke solutions, purchasing ready-made products, and adopting open-source technologies. What's the secret to achieving the right balance?

I had the privilege of moderating a panel at KubeCon Paris with experts from Saxo Bank, the LEGO Group, Chainalysis, and Wolt. We delved into the platform's role as a catalog for accessible, compliant, and secure components designed to minimize cognitive load and empower developers to focus on creating value.

Throughout the discussion, we examined criteria for selecting vendors, strategies for open-source software (OSS) adoption, and maintaining the platform for optimal operation beyond its initial launch.

This article compiles key insights from that conversation.

Panel hosted during KubeCon Paris 2024

Platforms Drive Compliance and Developer Experience

The implementation and goals of a platform vary from company to company, but it's crucial to build towards tangible goals, as Victor Araujo, Senior SRE at Wolt, noted.

For larger organizations, simplifying compliance is a primary platform objective, according to Jinhong Brejnholt, Chief Cloud Architect, Global Head of Cloud and Container Platform Engineering at Saxo Bank. Providing battle-tested and scrutinized building blocks allows developers to deliver value without repeatedly fighting compliance battles.

Leena Mooneeram, Senior Engineer (Platform & DevEx) at Chainalysis, highlighted reducing the cognitive burden on developers as a main driver for platforms. Designing platform components with smart defaults and useful abstractions simplifies developers' work.

Moreover, platform teams can act as facilitators between service providers and consumers within an organization. Enabling inner sourcing allows the platform to scale beyond the team that builds it.

Buying Software Is Much More Than Paying

Encountering a vendor that has built something potentially years ahead in engineering terms makes buying an obvious choice. However, costs and long-term commitments weigh heavily when incorporating a vendor into your platform.

After signing with a vendor, significant work is required to integrate their solution into your ecosystem. Being conscious of vendor lock-ins is crucial. Prioritize vendors that use standard or open-source protocols and ensure you own your data.

Experts recommend developing a close relationship with your vendors to align proactively with ecosystem developments. Working with a vendor in a competitive landscape is preferable, as monopolistic markets risk future abusive pricing or licensing schemes.

Open Source: Tips for Long-Term Success

Adopting OSS software requires a thoughtful process beyond evaluating a project's GitHub stars. Assessing the community's health and the project's backers is crucial for long-term support.

Open Source is not free, and the lack of a sustainable business model behind a project poses a risk. Understanding the commercial landscape around the project is essential for estimating its long-term success.

Victor notes that adopting OSS also benefits recruiting. Using an OSS project enables hiring people familiar with it, rather than having them learn proprietary software from scratch.

Day-2 Operation: Future-Proofing Your Platform

Platform teams must continuously evolve their platforms based on user needs, technological evolution, and learnings. Jinhong emphasized the health of replacing components that no longer fit and the importance of having a competent team. Rapid technological changes require adaptable and forward-moving personnel.

Additionally, Edgaras highlighted the significance of developing a close relationship with vendors to ensure alignment with your objectives. The same applies to OSS software; being an active community member mitigates risks associated with open-source adoption.

Conclusion: Taking Your Platform Forward

Platforms managed as products are most effective. Listening to your customers—ensuring you're meeting developers' needs and enabling them to do more, rather than imposing another tool—is key.

Securing well-staffed teams to support your platform is another crucial recommendation. Reliance on hero developers poses a significant risk for business continuity as the platform becomes a more integral part of the organization.

Curious to dive deeper and hear the full conversation? Check out the full panel recording on YouTube!