The Five Pillars of Resilience Engineering - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Leadership // Enterprise Agility
Commentary
4/14/2021
07:00 AM
Hector Aguilar, President of Technology, Okta
Hector Aguilar, President of Technology, Okta
Commentary
50%
50%

The Five Pillars of Resilience Engineering

Keeping systems up and running has become even more critical given today's distributed workforce. Here are five ways to keep your engineering team ready for anything.

In today’s “Always On” world, just being available from the infrastructure perspective is not enough. Services not only need to be responding to requests -- but they also need to ensure that all of the integration points are working properly and that their core function in your ecosystem of applications is working the way you expect and at the pace you expect. A resilient engineering team is always necessary, especially at my company, where identity is central to everything we do.

Image: viperagp - stock.adobe.com
Image: viperagp - stock.adobe.com

It’s always critical to keep systems up and running, but it’s more critical than ever given today’s distributed workforce. We’ve been practicing it on my team for the past 12 years, and because of that, we have created some unique ways to drive this home across our engineering team. Here are five ways to get started:

Monitoring and Visibility

It’s critical to implement constant monitoring to ensure your team can act quickly in the case of an emergency. You have to monitor at the application level, identify your critical user flows, and ensure you create synthetic transactions and heuristics monitoring to identify signs of disruption before the experience for your customers starts to degrade.

One way you can challenge your engineers to prepare for the unknown is through regular games and testing opportunities like SRT (site reliability testing) and outage simulations. In these games, we divide the team in half. One team is tasked with understanding how to monitor several metrics of the new technology to ensure it’s working correctly and to take manual action if needed to restore service when a disruption is identified. The other team will purposely introduce several disruption modes and monitor how they affect the system. It’s okay -- and even encouraged -- to push teams over the edge, forcing them to reassess themselves and learn for next time.

A “Redundancy is King” Attitude

To ensure resilience engineering, it’s critical to have no single point of failure and proactively prepare for where you might need “backup.” This can look like multiple cells supported by several servers and all backed by different data centers. When you send your credentials to authenticate, if one subsystem isn’t working, you can redirect to another, so the authentication works and appears seamless to the end-user. We’ve spent a lot of time understanding failure modes and making sure our architecture can immediately work around those modes.

Always remember that redundancy should be considered at all levels, not only within your infrastructure but also with the third-party providers or services you rely on.

A “No Mysteries” Mindset

Embracing a “no mystery” culture comes down to being willing and motivated to find the root cause of any issue that happens in your production system, no matter the complexity. Every engineer must maintain a mindset of curiosity and exploration and never settle for not knowing.

I like to occasionally remind my team about what happened when we didn’t implement this mindset and how much additional work it created. Several years ago, we had a recurring issue around 6 am each Monday that eventually caused customer disruption. At first, we’d assumed it was related to normal load coming to the system, but because it was only happening in one of the cells, that theory was quickly dismissed. We had to start hosting watch-parties starting at 4:30 am with engineers monitoring different parts of the application and infrastructure. Eventually, we found the actual root cause -- after many weeks -- and fixed it. But the team still remembers those disruptive 4:30 am watch parties, and they serve as a powerful reminder of the need to never leave a mystery lingering long enough to cause customer disruption.

Strong Automation

Automation is an absolute requirement, but the only thing worse than having no automation at all is having bad automation. A bug in your automation can take an entire system down faster than a human can restore it and bring it back to operation.

The key to implementing effective automation is to treat it as production software, meaning strong software development principles should apply. Even if your automation starts as a small number of scripts, you need to consider a release cycle, testing automation, deployment, and rollback procedures. This may seem overkill for your team initially, but your whole system will eventually depend on your automation making the right decisions and having no bugs when executing. It’s hard to retrofit good SDLC processes for your automation if they’re not incorporated from the beginning.

The Right Team

An organization that practices and prioritizes resilience engineering starts with its people. Long gone are the days when an engineer would write software and then pass it off for someone else to test it and run it. Today, every engineer today is responsible for ensuring their software is robust, reliable, and always on. Resiliency engineering is hard and requires a lot of passionate engineers, so make sure you reward and recognize your team; ensure they know you understand the complexity of the challenges.

This takes a cultural shift and starts with who you hire. When you’re interviewing, ensure you hire people who are proud of what they’ve built in previous roles and who get satisfaction from solving tough problems while keeping a product running.

And finally, remember that merely stating these components of resilience engineering isn’t enough -- bake them into your organization’s culture. Incorporate games and sayings and ensure everyone feels like an owner to win as a team, and ultimately, keep your customers satisfied.

Hector Aguilar is the President of Technology at Okta, and is responsible for running engineering and technology. His focus is developing strategic planning for the direction of product development activities and managing the engineering team, as well as business technology and corporate IT. Prior to Okta, Hector served in a variety of roles at ArcSight since its inception, driving technology development as the CTO and Vice President of Software Development for the company during its successful IPO in 2008 and after its acquisition by Hewlett Packard.

 

The InformationWeek community brings together IT practitioners and industry experts with IT advice, education, and opinions. We strive to highlight technology executives and subject matter experts and use their knowledge and experiences to help our audience of IT ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

News
Becoming a Self-Taught Cybersecurity Pro
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  6/9/2021
News
Ancestry's DevOps Strategy to Control Its CI/CD Pipeline
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  6/4/2021
Slideshows
IT Leadership: 10 Ways to Unleash Enterprise Innovation
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  6/8/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Slideshows
Flash Poll