SRE Best Practices For Successful Teams

Myra Nizami

Wondering about SRE best practices? If you are trying to improve and streamline your current process, we explain best practices and tips for implementing them.

What are SRE best practices?

SRE fuses software and operations teams with the goal of producing reliable, resilient, and scalable systems. Best practices in SRE include:

  • Error Budgets
  • Service Level Objectives
  • Eliminating Toil
  • Automating whenever possible
  • Blameless Incident Retrospectives

SRE fuses together software development and operations to ensure products are stable and available while still providing customers with new features and improvements. Using both software engineering techniques and operational knowledge, SRE best practices bring together two crucial organizational functions to deliver a better customer experience. 

If implemented and adhered to correctly, SRE best practices benefit teams by taking a data-driven and methodical approach to incident response and improving service reliability. This data-driven approach treats incidents and their contributing factors as system-wide obstacles rather than mistakes pinned to a single person. In addition, the increased automation and streamlined process benefits customers since new features and improvements are released faster with fewer issues.

Looking at SRE best practices in more detail

As part of a site reliability engineering team, the goal is to ensure availability, performance, and monitor services. This gets further broken down into making effective policies and procedures to ensure these goals are met, even during emergencies.

SRE best practices provide a framework for teams to achieve this and serve as the foundation of SRE. We’ll look at some of the best practices more deeply to understand how SRE best practices benefit organizations.

Error Budgets

Error budgets are set between teams and refer to the number of errors that can accumulate with a service or product before customers get upset. Errors can be caused by various issues with the product such as availability, performance, and more. It’s up to teams to first identify what they’re trying to measure for. 

The error budget itself will vary depending on teams, but it’s calculated using the service level indicator (SLI) equation, which looks like this: 

SLI = [Total good events / Total events] x 100.

The percentage that comes from this equation is referred to as an SLI, and each one is assigned an objective (SLOs, which we’ll get to right after). The remainder is your error budget.

Error budgets serve many vital purposes. On its surface, they are an essential metric to understand how products and services are running. But when you look deeper, it’s more than that. For example, if the budget is close to exhausted, you can trigger policies to prevent it from running out. This could include code freezes, where new updates and improvements are frozen until teams can identify what changes need to be made. 

It provides a bit of breathing room, as you’re able to tell when an incident won’t jeopardize the error budget and panic. If error budgets aren’t spent, it gives teams the leeway to innovate and take risks to launch new features and improvements for customers. 

Service Level Objectives

Availability and performance are crucial aspects to monitor - but how do your users view them, and what matters most to them? SLIs and service level objectives (SLOs) play a significant role in SRE best practices because they encourage teams to think like users. 

Prioritizing development work and undertaking effective incident management underpin SRE best practices, and SLOs accomplish this as a tool for measuring and validating service health. SLOs are designed based on a user’s point of view and the factors that matter most to them alongside business requirements.

SLOs are considered a best practice because they reflect a user journey and make customer happiness a metric - and thereby a priority. Crafting SLOs that reflect what users want gives development teams a roadmap to follow. It shows a better understanding of when to increase development velocity and when to focus on improvements through implementing SRE best practices. 

Eliminating Toil

Manual, repetitive work is a massive drain on engineering time and can lead to products falling behind on development and improvement. Automation plays a huge role in eliminating toil, but SREs first need to do some groundwork to make that happen.

SRE best practices need to develop frameworks and processes, bring in the necessary tools to eliminate toil. and recommend areas where automation can benefit the team. Rather than let teams get bogged down with manual work, the goal is to promote innovation and risks that could benefit customers. 

By investing time into building the right framework, SRE best practices can identify duplicate and repetitive tasks and begin building automation solutions to reduce developer workloads.

Automating whenever possible

The last point brings us to the next SRE best practice because the two are connected. Automation is necessary because it enables teams to deliver quicker with more accuracy. 

There are several areas where automation benefits teams. It helps create faster processes by automating manual tasks and reducing workload – without sacrificing reliability. 

Automation helps teams keep an eye on systems, spot errors faster, and considerably speed up the incident management process. 

One example of this is that automation can be used during the development and testing phases to reduce manual testing and automate much of that process. However, you should look for places to automate throughout the entire development lifecycle. Even when responding to incidents, automated runbooks can reduce toil and increase consistency. SRE teams automate where possible while still monitoring to ensure that speed, reliability, and accuracy see benefit from it. 

Blameless Incident Retrospectives

To attain reliability and speed, examining outages and incidents is crucial. Building on SRE best practices, blameless retrospectives are an integral component. Incidents are inevitable, and it’s important to consider not just the response to the incident but how it’s discussed after. 

A blameless culture centers around focusing on the process and technology rather than assigning blame to people. It’s a way to handle failures as a team, understand what could have been done differently, how best to move forward, and create and/or amend processes as needed to reflect the learnings from the retrospective. 

A blameless culture ensures that teams are resilient but don’t feel hindered or scared to innovate and take risks. It gives everyone an equal playing field when it comes to learning and getting better moving forward. Retrospectives are a useful tool for SREs to understand system weaknesses and identify opportunities for improvement. 

How SRE practices fit with DevOps 

A question that comes up is whether SRE best practices can be implemented if teams are following a DevOps methodology. The answer is a resounding yes. SRE is ultimately the implementation of DevOps principles, but the difference is that SRE only looks at reliability as opposed to the CI/CD pipeline. 

SRE can help teams adopt DevOps principles by reducing organizational silos between teams and bringing together developers and operations. SRE best practices can also help DevOps teams look at failure with a new lens and implement gradual changes that benefit teams and customers. 

There are several different categories of tools that help bring this culture into teams, including automation, incident response monitoring, and management, as well as automated runbooks and other support tools. 

SRE best practices can be a massive change for organizations but have the potential to create a better experience for teams and customers if done correctly. Tools like Blameless help you implement SRE best practices and see the benefits, including SLOs, incident response tools, and retrospectives, make it easy for teams to adopt SRE best practices. See how by checking out a demo!