What Is an Internal Developer Platform (IDP)?

The modern approach to software delivery is based on cloud-native services and the DevOps culture, entailing software development in containers, and deployment as microservices and management using CI/CD workflows. For many organizations that have shifted from a monolithic architecture to microservices, it has become more complicated to configure the infrastructure.

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Internal developer platforms (IDPs) were designed to compartmentalize complexity and make life easier for the Devs and the Ops, while also improving the project implementation quality and business performance. What is an internal developer platform, how does it work, and what benefits do companies get from using such a platform? Read on to find out.

What Is an Internal Developer Platform?

Internal developer platforms are becoming widespread as they help teams and entire organizations streamline processes and communication related to feature development by allowing team members to concentrate on what is critical to their roles.

An internal developer platform is a layer that embraces technologies and tools the operations team prepares and sets up for further independent usage by a development team.

An IDP provides the basis for all company tools, services, APIs and knowledge. This is internal tooling that gives more freedom and flexibility for software creation. The goal of the IDP is to ensure the pace of development and hide unnecessary infrastructure details from software engineers. In the internal developer platform concept, there are two parties involved: the Ops and the Devs.

The operations team focuses on infrastructure: they configure the internal platform, specify resources, govern permissions, optimize and automate repetitive tasks to provide an ideal environment for developers — one that is properly configured so that developer teams can work self-sufficiently, without relying on the Ops. Developers can be autonomous and make the most out of such internal platforms, including automated testing, deployment and consistent processes, thanks to the ready-to-use development environment prepared by the Ops.

It can be said that the IDP is an abstraction layer allowing developers to deploy the needed infrastructure automatically, and build and run applications independently. Companies can buy ready-to-use IDPs or build proprietary platforms for internal usage.

The Benefits of an Internal Developer Platform

IDPs are incredibly useful and beneficial for organizations as they streamline projects and help improve the level of satisfaction of team members. How do they do it? In the following ways:

  • The operations team makes the most use of efficient technologies and tools; its load is balanced, pressure is relieved, and all repetitive tasks are automated, which results in higher productivity of the team.
  • The development team doesn’t depend on the Ops; it can manage deployments and environments on its own by relying on ready-made platform configurations and processes. This increases productivity and visibility, reduces the load and the lead time, and increases deployment frequency. It also prompts developers to be creative and experiment with the configuration of internals.
  • The company relies on prearranged flawless platform processes, which allows it to kick off projects quickly and with less effort.
  • Clients get their projects faster and at a lower price; software releases become more stable, as the project can start from the get-go and by relying on out-of-the-box processes and workflows of the internal platform.

The Principles of IDP Operation

How does an internal developer platform work? It integrates into the existing workflows and CI/CD processes and minimizes decisions related to infrastructure; it powers self-contained builds and manages role-based access.

Since the organization’s experts decide on the configuration of the specific platform, the tool stack and the code base, all internal platforms differ greatly. A typical internal developer platform consists of the following key components that are centered around an API:

  • Infrastructure orchestration (used by the Ops)
  • Role-based action management (used by the Ops)
  • Application configuration management (used by the Ops)
  • Deployment management (used by the Devs)
  • Environment management (used by the Devs)

Depending on the platform, a user interface or a command-line interface may be provided for the API. APIs integrate technologies and tools that are used by the team to minimize maintenance and security risks. External resources connect via resource drivers that can be performed as stand-alone services or Infrastructure as Code.

When configuring an internal developer platform, the operations team automates and streamlines repetitive processes by doing the following:

  • They provide required resources that enable requests and environments.
  • They build application configuration templates.
  • They assign clusters to environment types.
  • They manage permissions.
  • They manage service-level agreements.

As a result, developers can do the following at their own discretion, not involving the Ops:

  • Change configurations
  • Deploy and manage deployment automation
  • Spin up, roll out and back resources and environments
  • Request resources

With an internal developer platform, developers can code in IDEs they are used to and rely on the existing git-push-deploy-based processes (an IDP only adds some automation to them). They use the platform to deliver the code.

Let’s have a look at how developers work with an IDP step by step. They:

  1. choose the environment type, which automatically determines resources to be used by the platform for each specific state
  2. choose workloads
  3. change the prearranged configurations
  4. start the deployment of the environment.

After that, the platform accepts configuration changes, creates a manifest, places required variables into the container and enables the environment.

how internal developer platform works

When an Internal Developer Platform Makes Sense

Although an internal developer platform is very useful for many projects and in many situations, it may be excessive in some cases. We don’t recommend switching to an IDP unless necessary, to make the most of its true value.

However, the following points may red-flag that an organization needs to migrate to an IDP:

  • It plans to switch to microservice architecture.
  • It has a team that comprises more than a dozen developers and further upscaling is expected.
  • It lacks proper DevOps expertise.
  • DevOps engineers handle too many repetitive tasks.
  • Developers are highly dependent on the operations staff.
  • It needs full, detailed access to the infrastructure.
  • It needs more control over the platform’s cost.
  • It has security concerns.
  • It plans multi-cloud applications.

In the following cases, the implementation of an internal developer platform would have a detrimental effect:

  • Small teams that comprise up to dozen developers and a few DevOps specialists who are good with infrastructure configuring and scripting
  • An application that has monolithic architecture or simple infrastructure

IDP vs. PaaS: Who Wins the Battle?

The core difference between the two types of platforms lies in the party that controls the technology stack and development processes. In the case of a platform as a service (PaaS), a vendor provides its prescriptions on this point, while an IDP allows teams to choose and set up internals they feel comfortable with.

When should an organization choose a PaaS? If it’s small and needs to have an operational team as soon as possible. However, they should be prepared for little flexibility and freedom. In this case, Cloud Foundry, Heroku and other Platform-as-a-Service solutions are the workarounds.

When should an organization choose an IDP and not a PaaS? If it wants to have flexibility, freedom and complete control over its platform infrastructure and processes.

Make Life Easier for Devs and Ops with an Internal Developer Platform

Internal developer platforms have become a widespread phenomenon, and are expected to gain even greater popularity in the future. Because of the incredible benefits that IDP provides to development and operations teams, many large enterprises, such as Airbnb and Spotify, use it extensively.

SaM Solutions has built a proprietary internal developer platform. Contact our experts to learn more about it and the benefits it can deliver to your business.

Leave a comment
  • This is a relatively new concept — Internal Developer Platform, and it’s gaining popularity because it addresses three challenges: reduces the workload between developers and operations teams; automates repeatable actions; ensures environment management with integrated CI/CD.

  • A very informative post. I also admire how IDPs manage to simplify and minimize tasks that can make the Ops depressed. As a result, the platform allows teams to deliver products of higher quality faster.

  • I noticed that more and more companies are switching to IDPs instead of PaaS, and I now understand why they do it. IDP provides more freedom of action.

  • A good internal developer platform reduces the operation load on the DevOps team. Engineers focus away from distracting issues and should worry about their code only.

  • I also think that a team should use an IDP if there’s a chance, as it automates everything that can be automated. The Ops team configures the platform, and developers use it without worrying about infrastructure management. Highly recommend!

  • Thank you for the post! I’m a DevOps engineer, and I’ve been working with Cloud Foundry for a year and a half. And I can say for sure that life has played out in fresh colors since then: no more repetitive tasks, maintenance overhead, and endless scripting.

  • IDP addresses the issues of a new software delivery approach that relies on cloud services and containerization. It ensures the full-cycle building and management of applications based on microservices from a single location.

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