What you need to know about Reliability Engineering

Almost all human interactions assume a foundation of reliability. Unreliability leads to an absence of trust and that can spell the end of any relationship.

When it comes to software, reliability is critical. Today, you want to ensure that all the moving parts of your software product work harmoniously, constantly, and consistently. And you want to ensure that the services or products you build today will continue to be relevant to your customers tomorrow as well.

As software becomes central to business models, reliability becomes even more essential for survival. After all, DevOps.Com reports that “Fortune 1000 companies average between $1.25 billion and $2.5 billion in total annual costs due to unplanned application downtime. The average hourly cost of an infrastructure failure is $100,000 per hour and the average cost of a critical application failure per hour is $500,000 to $1 million.” Those are powerful financial reasons to focus on reliability as you build your software products.

Given the accelerated pace of product development, we have seen development methodologies such as DevOps gain major traction. Testing often, fast, and continuously lies at the heart of this methodology. Today, the scope of testing in software development has expanded beyond the usual suspects (think code only) and accounts for any and every aspect that can create roadblocks or inconsistencies in your customer’s operations.  Reliability engineering is the answer.

What is reliability engineering?

Reliability engineering, as the name suggests, evaluates the inherent reliability of a software product. It checks if the product is dependable, robust, and available as intended. Reliability engineering applies certain engineering principles across the lifecycle of the product and consequently estimates, manages, and prevents engineering uncertainties and potential risks of failure -now and for the possible future.

Given that the risk of failure can never be completely eliminated, reliability engineering works towards identifying failures earlier in the release cycles and suggests appropriate actions to mitigate such challenges by employing the correct techniques.

What does reliability engineering ensure?

Error-free code

One of the primary responsibilities of reliability engineering is to ensure that the code is error-free. This means having a robust testing framework in place that has a comprehensive test design and coverage. It also involves determining the apt test automation framework, because testing has to be continuous.

Along with this, reliability engineers will also have to ensure proper integrations with testing tools and DevOps tools. Test cycle management, test automation development, performance, security, compatibility, compliance, usability, and accessibility testing are the other suspects that a reliability engineer has to cover to ensure that all code that is developed works as intended and the product functions optimally to deliver elevated experiences.

Optimized Infrastructure Management

There’s no doubt that correct and optimized infrastructure management is of critical importance for today’s software products, especially in the age of cloud and virtualization. Infrastructure provisioning becomes a key activity for reliability engineers to undertake. They have to ensure that the infrastructure in place is available, secure, and scalable to meet the growing needs of the business.

Testing the application alone does not weed out deficiencies that exist in the underlying architecture. This becomes a high risk as it can lead to system failures, performance issues, and downtime. Reliability engineers will make sure that all the building blocks or components that are used for supplying functionalities and ensuring performance work as intended. Protocol parsing, employing the right SDN, using the right network devices, DNS, DHCP, etc., conducting robust traffic analysis, employing the right cloud services, ensuring the correct AD/LDAP Integration, etc. fall under this umbrella.

Ensuring Elevated Software Performance

The role of reliability engineering continues even after the software has been developed and deployed. In a world where performance determines profits, you have to ensure that your software product can deliver elevated performance to match the demands of the users.

Reliability engineering thus strives to ensure that the software is working as it should, once deployed, by ensuring that all the moving parts, dependencies, and components are working harmoniously with one another.

Typically, this could include tasks like setting up different test environments with VMware, HyperV, and Xen servers. It calls for robust functional testing of different features such as Archiving, Replication, Deduplication, Compression, Encryption, CBT (change block tracking.), and System testing. The testing would have to factor in networks and file systems like Disks, NAS, NDMP, iSCSI, NFS, CIFS, and the Cloud. This would have to include system testing with applications, Inter-operability Testing, and Scalability Testing. Performance, Load testing would be most effective by using automated frameworks like Tempest. You may have to benchmark performance for Swift, NAS backup storages, and CEPH as backup targets. The array of tests work to ensure that software performance does not get impacted at any given point by any situation that could arise for normal operations.

Seamless development, testing, and deployment

Benjamin Treynor, the founder of Google’s SRE explains “SRE is what happens when you ask a software engineer to design an operations team.”

As constant change becomes the norm, we need to ensure that the aftereffects of change do not manifest as performance issues, or software defects. Reliability engineering today thus has to cover a lot of ground. For this reason, reliability engineers find themselves also working to ensure that the entire process for development, testing, and deployment is seamless and kink-free.

The reliability engineers work closely with the developer and testing teams to close all possible gaps that can impede delivery, deployment, and performance to create fault-tolerant and almost self-healing systems.

With strong reliability engineering practices, you can reduce human labor, ensure knowledge sharing between teams, and keep track of systems reliability. 

We are seeing developers playing larger roles in deployments, production operations, and application monitoring. As reliability engineering practices become stronger, reliability engineering will not only help in identifying faults and errors but will also help in forecasting, preventing, and fixing them proactively.

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