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February 13, 2024

20 Years of Google SRE: 10 Key Lessons for Reliability 

By Christof Leng ,Summary by IT Revolution

Google pioneered the concept of Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) back in 2003. After 20 years and thousands of SREs managing Google’s massive infrastructure, they’ve learned a thing or two about running large-scale, reliable systems. Dr. Christof Leng, SRE Engagements Engineering Lead at Google, recently shared 10 insightful lessons that both business leaders and software developers should take note of.

The 10 Key Lessons

Reliability must be a priority.

Just like air and food, reliability is easy to take for granted until something goes wrong. There needs to be a voice advocating for it in every organization.  

Treat systems like cattle, not pets.

Have standardized, interchangeable components instead of unique and fussy “pet” systems that require special care. This allows easier scaling and change management.

Foster blameless cultures.

When people aren’t afraid to reveal issues, you can discover weaknesses and fix root causes. Pointing fingers rarely solves anything.

Measure carefully.

Metrics drive behavior, so ensure they incentivize the right outcomes and iterate if needed. Don’t just blindly follow numbers. 

Experience incidents first-hand.

Being on call helps SREs deeply understand systems and build credibility with developers. But don’t play the hero — solve issues as a team. 

Automate aggressively.

Automation increases consistency and frees up more time for engineering improvements. Make it a priority, not just a future wish list item.  

Incrementally test changes.

Roll out changes gradually to limit blast radius. Never deploy without code reviews or on Fridays. Wait until rollouts are flawless before deploying without oversight.  

Minimize outage impacts.

Outages will happen, so have fast rollback procedures in place and focus first on restoring service. Collect data, but analyze the root cause later.  

Communicate during incidents.

Have a written record of actions taken and info discovered so the full team can quickly get up to speed and help resolve issues.  

Avoid technical debt.

Monitor and pay down historical issues proactively or risk unmanageable systems no one will want to touch.

By keeping these proven lessons from Google’s SRE team in mind, technology leaders can foster the habits and culture required to run reliable, resilient systems as they scale. 

To watch the full presentation, please visit the IT Revolution Video Library here:

- About The Authors
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Christof Leng

SRE Engagements Engineering Lead at Google

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Summary by IT Revolution

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