Updated December 2022
Learn what production readiness means and how to create a production readiness checklist of requirements. In this article, Yonatan Boguslavski explains why you need to evaluate your services and how to improve their production readiness and a better developer experience.
What is production readiness?
We develop software products to answer customer needs. Products should handle production-level traffic and be compliant with all data and security requirements. To do this, our services should be production-ready.
There is no one definition for “production-ready”. It’s a spectrum, and production readiness is slightly different for every organization and its needs. For example, a “production-ready” service for an early-stage startup might only require monitoring support, alerts, and a few unit tests. In contrast, in a large corporation, production readiness may be an adequate amount of unit and integration tests, documentation, monitoring, alerts, tracing support, and more.
Generally speaking, Production readiness is when an application or system is ready to be deployed in a production environment. This means the product or software have been tested sufficiently, are considered stable and reliable enough to withstand use in a live environment.
What is production readiness made of? What can a production readiness review consist of?
- Sufficient testing
- Monitoring and more
In this production readiness 101 post, I will provide a general idea about which requirements can be included in a checklist, covering all or most of the aspects behind the idea of production readiness. You can focus on the ones that best fit with the product and the engineering organization you’re in. The next step would be to think of how to create production readiness scorecards and tracking, to spot service or app degradation and be able to deal with them in time. We’ll tackle that towards the end of this post.
Production readiness: a checklist
Getting to production readiness is no walk in the park. DevOps is becoming mature, and the result is that the software ecosystem is becoming complex. Production environments can consist of a growing number of moving parts, different environments, thousands of microservices, frameworks, and dependencies. As a result, it’s difficult to observe distributed systems, creating a heavy cognitive load for developers and making onboarding difficult. This makes the cost of coordination between developer teams high, and makes for a poor developer experience with a long onboarding period in which they need to get to grips with the tribal knowledge about the architecture, resources and what even counts as production readiness.
Ensuring developers think ahead of software release readiness isn’t simple, and ensuring only the right software is scaffolded and released into production isn’t simple with a medley of devops tools and environments.
Shift-left production readiness
A shift-left approach to production readiness can help.
Just like shift-left testing and shift-left security (and almost all phases of the development life cycle), shift-left production readiness is crucial for reducing incidents and MTTR. In many ways, the core of modern production readiness is a shift-left of production operations to developers, but with solutions and approaches that do not require them to be infrastructure or devops experts, because that isn’t always humanly possible with hundreds of devops tools around.
Custom views developers can understand
With the shift-left paradigm, a lot of the responsibility is now in the developers' hands. But it is impossible to expect the developer to be an expert in k8s, security, data, and a lot more. This is behind the rise of platform engineering. You need to give the developers a platform that consolidates all the relevant data they need to know to fix the problem, in an intuitive view, not too much information and not too little too. You don't want developers to start doing SSH and kubectl commands in various terminals. It creates a cognitive load and increases the chances of error.
Using a service catalog
A Service Catalog is a unified interface showing engineering teams everything they need to know about the microservices, software and underlying resources - the architecture and everything cloud.
The organization’s software or service catalog should support the developers as they perform many tasks, from scaffolding new microservices with best practices (for example, configuring basic alerts and showing them on Grafana) up to the production phase when, for example, the developer needs to find the relevant runbook for fixing a bug in production. A consistent view that shows your entire microservices architecture is crucial for scaling engineering efforts and helping developers stay efficient and autonomous, with a strong sense of ownership. An up-to-date service catalog can be very helpful when an incident occurs and will help reduce the MTTR. It should be live, not reside in documentation or a spreadsheet.
What should be in such a catalog?
- Who owns a service: Instead of hunting down suspected service owners, in case of downtime or errors, you can immediately interact with the responsible team or developer
- The slack channel for the service: A dedicated slack channel for each service is a great way to interact with all its relevant stakeholders: developers, SREs, and more.
- Who is on-call
- Used packages (In-House / External): In case of a security vulnerability, it’s much easier to find all services that are impacted.
- Latest Deployment: Reviewing the latest commit messages and the latest deployments, makes it much easier to determine what have gone wrong
- Documentation: Most organizations store documentation in all kinds of places (readme, confluence, notion, and more). It really helps to have one central place with the link to the relevant documentation
- Service dependencies: Today organizations have hundred of microservices, but developers need to quickly understand who/what depends on the service they own and which services their service depends on
- Audit Log on catalog entities: When it is easy to see all the last operations that happened on entities in the service catalog (for example, S3 buckets, deployments, k8s), you can understand issues faster
- Which checks/tests were performed on the microservices: It is important to remember that every service is unique, so we need to define a general checklist for all the services but also special checks and tests for the individual services. Creating an accurate checklist will be crucial in reducing the MTTR. It is important to distinguish between tests that check the core logic of the services and tests that check the production-readiness of the services.
and many more...
Production readiness scorecards
Creating scorecards within the service catalog can be a way of managing production readiness:
Here are some scorecard examples from Port’s product:
In the first example, production readiness consists of
- Tests that passed CI
- Open bugs (should be less than an allowable number)
- Clear team ownership
- Existing CD
- Security code scans
This second example shows a case where
- A service owner is named
- Certain on-call scheduling is set
- The existence of troubleshooting tools and
- End to end testing
Release cycles are becoming shorter, and some organizations release a new version a couple of times a day. In this case, shift-left testing is the only way to go. Without it, the number of tests that QA should do is too big and will cause a never-ending loop between the developers and the QA. it’s not only impossible, it’s also a recipe for production bugs.
With shift-left testing, we force ourselves to do brainstorming sessions and think about roadblocks, bottlenecks, and possible performance failures. Even though these discoveries may require new design options, they will ensure a better outcome.
Adopting a Production and Reliability Mindset
Everyone, not just SREs, should adopt a production and reliability mindset.
Developers should implement systems and processes that make detecting, mitigating, and preventing incidents easier. They need to really understand the problems and issues their customers are facing. In addition, they need to use monitoring and analytics tools to provide a continuous, holistic view of infrastructure health and enrich it with relevant data to reduce the time it takes to solve an incident.
Also, in the developer onboarding phase, it is important to reinforce this mindset. When a new developer starts their onboarding phase in the organization, we usually invest in shortening the time until the first or tenth commit. Don’t forget how important it is to be familiar with the production environment. A good KPI for the quality of onboarding can be the time it takes for a developer to be on-call on their own.
Automation can help perform tasks with limited manual intervention in order to streamline development and incident management. Automation is one of the critical principles for avoiding incidents and has benefits such as increasing productivity and scalability while reducing the chances of failure. In addition, Automation increases the agility and the independence of the developers and reduces DevOps grunt work.
In some organizations, even non-technical people make app configuration changes, on YAML files. This isn’t a good idea, since it is error-prone. It would be best if you supplied your non-technical internal users with a friendly UI to change configurations, if needed, for example, by customer success. Just like in a service catalog, the UI should contain all the relevant context for executing the operations. Automation should also include manual approval processes if it is necessary and also support "if this, then that" UI forms. After all, internal developer portals aren’t about creating a golden cage which allows zero permissions. Sometimes you do want to give temporary developer permissions or set up temporary environments.
Incidents will happen, and your organization should have a disaster recovery plan that’s both documented and tested (and don’t forget regular backups).
If your organization wants an efficient disaster recovery process, you should use IaC. If you’re using manual processes or complex chains of tooling, then that disaster recovery (DR) process will take longer. The reliability of an application is impacted by the ability to pivot and the speed to redeploy. Be sure you know what that process looks like and how to put in place the right practice, tooling, and underlying processes to make the deployment as straightforward as possible.
IaC also helps track changes and audit infrastructure. Because your infrastructure is represented in code, commits to your Git repository reflect who, when, and why changes were made. You’ll be able to look at the code and to know how environments were built, what’s happening, and why. This can be done easily by searching internal developer portal logs.
Conduct Post-Mortem Meetings
One of the most powerful ways to prepare for future incidents is to study and learn from patterns in past incidents.
A post-mortem meeting is held at the end of an incident. The goal is to look at the incident from start to finish to determine what went right and what can be improved. By the end of the meeting, you should have identified best practices and future improvement opportunities.
Benefits of Production Readiness
The end goal of production and operational readiness is to improve customer experience and deploy more frequently with more confidence, and minimize toil. In addition, development teams respect the code base more, leading to higher quality code, and an increased pride of ownership.
How to Review Production Readiness
Each organization needs a platform that shows which checks are available, which checks the services did not pass, what their severity is, and what action items have to be done to fix them. The developers must understand and buy into the initiatives around production and operational readiness. It is also essential to make a recurring event dedicated to going over the status of the services and if there have been improvements in the last weeks.
Production readiness is getting harder to achieve. Teams are hit with unprecedented change and growing application complexity. Organizations need to provide one place where the developer can see all the relevant context for them and will be able to do all the required operations to handle the incident. A developer portal is the best approach.
An internal developer portal can implement a scorecard system that tracks production readiness and additional KPIs and health checks.
- When microservices are scaffolded or any other developer self-service actions are made, standards can be set to ensure production readiness.
- When microservices are already in production, scorecards can support production readiness by demonstrating key KPIs, and reports and ad-hoc queries can report when services or other infra elements drop beneath a certain threshold.
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Learning from CyberArk - building an internal developer platform in-house
Example JSON block
Core Kafka Library
Core Payment Library
Cart Service JSON
Products Service JSON
Scaffold a new microservice
Deploy (canary or blue-green)
Force merge pull request (skip tests on crises)
Add environment variable to service
Add IaC to the service
Upgrade package version
Spin up a developer environment for 5 days
ETL mock data to environment
Invite developer to the environment
Extend TTL by 3 days
Provision a cloud resource
Modify a cloud resource
Get permissions to access cloud resource
Update pod count
Update auto-scaling group
Execute incident response runbook automation
Add / Remove / Update Column to table
Run Airflow DAG
Change customer configuration
Update customer software version
Upgrade - Downgrade plan tier
Create - Delete customer
Machine learning actions
A/B testing traffic route
Spin up remote Jupyter notebook
Containers & Serverless
Software and more