A woman standing and a woman sitting, both looking at a laptop

SRE vs DevOps for APIs

How do you expand API functionality while also ensuring existing mission-critical features continue to operate under stress? API development teams tend to focus on new features, while operations teams focus on stability. In the past, this difference in focus often led to these teams working at cross-purposes and made API development difficult. In recent years, SRE and DevOps have emerged as the two most popular approaches to foster collaboration between development and operations teams. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of each and how companies use them to strengthen their API products.

What is SRE?

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is an approach popularized by Google and now used by many organizations. SRE aims to minimize the impact of possible failures throughout the development cycle through the use of automation. Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) work closely with both the developer and operations teams. They aim to increase reliability, reduce organizational silos, and meet production standards.

An SRE working on an API will:

  • Continuously monitor APIs to understand how well they perform
  • Respond to disasters, bandwidth outages, and system misconfigurations
  • Plan API capacity to allocate resources appropriately
  • Implement Updates gradually to keep possible failures small and manageable
  • Budget for predicted error rates and  API failures by balancing new feature releases against reliability concerns
  • Write post-mortems to explain why an API failed

SREs work to automate as many processes as possible and eliminate menial tasks. While a small organization can have SREs, they are more common in large organizations that offer API services at scale. When balancing new features and reliability, SREs lean towards reliability.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a combination of development and operations with a focus on delivering services and making fast changes. DevOps engineers primarily focus on a seamless developer experience and rapid innovation. With a DevOps approach, you manage operations with configuration files.

The DevOps toolkit includes:

  • The DevOps cycle: Plan, Develop, Deliver, Operate
  • Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD): an automated process to build, test, and release changes to an API
  • Version Control: tracking and managing changes to an API
  • Infrastructure as code: writing configuration files to manage IT infrastructure
  • Policy as code: put your API policies in version control to easily track changes
  • Microservices: build modular and composable API features so that different teams can easily use them

Like SREs, DevOps engineers collaborate with developers, operations, quality assurance (QA), and security teams to reduce organizational silos. While DevOps engineers and SREs may have some overlapping responsibilities, they are distinct in their priorities and tooling.

SRE or DevOps for APIs?

While DevOps and SRE share practices like collaboration and granular updates, the two approaches have different goals. DevOps ultimately focuses on fast innovation, a painless developer experience, and rapid communication between teams. SRE focuses on automating systems to operate reliably and sustainably at scale, with minimal failure.

If your priority is a reliable, scalable API, then Site Reliability Engineering may be the right approach for you. If your priority is agile decision-making and fast innovation, DevOps might be a better fit for your organization.
Your organization can benefit from either SRE or DevOps, or combined elements of both. Take a good look at your business needs and choose the approach that aligns with your goals.