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As the global economy becomes more challenging to navigate, the need for managed service providers (MSPs) to automate more processes becomes even more pronounced. The cost of labor is still the single biggest IT cost, so there is always a need to find ways to do more with less. One of the ways more IT organizations are rising to that challenge is by hiring site reliability engineers (SREs) to programmatically manage IT environments.

Originally defined by Google, site reliability engineering defines a set of principles and practices that applies software engineering specifically to the management of IT infrastructure and operations. As such, site reliability engineering is a subset of the DevOps workflows that many organizations today employ to build and deploy software faster.

A way to reduce costs of IT management

According to Glassdoor, an SRE on average makes roughly $125,000 a year. That’s a lot more than the average IT administrator but an SRE is typically capable of automating tasks that previously might have required three or more IT administrators using various graphical tools. As such, SREs represent a significant opportunity for MSPs to reduce the cost of managing IT at scale.

The challenge is, SREs are in high demand so they can be tough to find and retain. However, in addition to being able to typically provide a more challenging IT environment to manage, MSPs can generally afford to pay a little more for talent than the average IT organization. After all, the overall profitability of the business is directly tied to how efficiently IT services can be delivered.

Internal culture can impact performance

The biggest challenge for MSPs, however, may be adjusting the internal culture. Most SREs subscribe to a “just culture” philosophy for managing IT where organizations ensure that reporting of incidents is not met with punitive measures. As it turns out, a survey published this week found that among other things, organizations that have this type of culture are 500 percent more likely to be elite performers in terms of the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) metrics defined by Google, that enable IT organizations to track deployment frequency, lead time for changes, time to restore service, change failure rates and overall operational performance.

Reduce costs, but also improve agility

It’s not likely an MSP will be able to hire enough SREs anytime soon to entirely replace IT administrators. The real opportunity is to find a way to meld the DevOps workflows created by SREs with the IT service management (ITSM) practices based on frameworks such as ITIL that IT administrators typically rely on. The overall goal should not be to just reduce costs but also improve the overall agility of the IT team at a time when business processes have never been more dependent on IT.

At present at least, there are now widely recognized programs for certifying SREs, so MSPs will need to interview candidates with a bias toward hands-on experience. IT professionals know an SRE commands a higher salary but not everyone who applies for these jobs is truly an engineer. However, those that are once hired in a matter of days will truly prove their worth to any MSP multiple times over.

Photo: wutzkohphoto / Shutterstock

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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