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Understand the role of an SRE vs. cloud engineer

While SREs can play a distinct role in cloud computing, they don't replace the need for cloud engineers. Learn how the two roles can work together toward reliability goals.

Site reliability engineering changes how businesses manage IT resources -- including resources in the cloud.

A site reliability engineer (SRE) optimizes IT resource availability and performance. To accomplish this, SREs apply software engineering techniques to IT operations. For example, an SRE might manage dynamic IT systems via code.

SREs do not replace cloud engineers. However, they could affect the way cloud teams are structured. They can also help cloud teams unlock new tools and strategies to optimize the reliability of cloud environments.

Compare the SRE vs. cloud engineer role

SREs don't focus on the cloud in particular. Instead, an SRE is an all-purpose role that aims to manage reliability for any type of environment. Because almost all businesses today use the cloud, managing cloud reliability is an important part of an SRE's job responsibilities.

That said, when comparing SRE vs. cloud engineer responsibilities, there are some key differences, including:

  • Methodology. Cloud engineers may also use software engineering methodologies. This includes infrastructure as code (IaC) practices to administer cloud deployments. But, in general, cloud engineers use IT operations strategies to manage cloud environments. SREs are different in that they bring a software engineer's perspective.
  • Focus. Reliability is the only priority for SREs. They spend all their time focusing on how to avoid downtime and optimize performance. Cloud engineers also care about reliability, but that's only one of several priorities for them. They also focus on tasks such as cloud cost optimization and, with the help of security engineers, cloud computing security.
  • Scope. As noted above, the cloud is one type of environment that SREs help manage. They also deal with other components and layers of a business' IT estate. In contrast, cloud engineers typically focus just on the cloud. 
Review SRE role and required skills
List of SRE responsibilities.

SREs think differently and have a separate set of priorities than cloud engineers. Thus, SREs are well positioned to help cloud engineering teams find new ways to improve reliability in cloud environments.

SREs think differently and have a separate set of priorities than cloud engineers.

For example, SREs can help businesses align cloud reliability with broader reliability goals. An SRE could identify cloud services or resources that are single points of failure and, as a result, constitute reliability risks. Alternatively, SREs can help businesses design more effective data backup strategies that rely on a combination of cloud and on-premises resources to maximize the availability of important data.

SREs can change cloud engineering operations through the introduction of new automation and scalability techniques. For example, with the support of SREs, cloud engineers can embrace practices such as GitOps to automate cloud management tasks.

Integrate SREs and cloud teams

Businesses shouldn't expect to replace their cloud teams with SREs. Even worse would be to relabel cloud teams as SRE teams. This conflates the skills of SREs and cloud engineers.

Still, organizations can consider embedding SREs within their cloud teams. This ensures SREs bring their unique skills and perspectives to cloud management. This may happen even if SREs exist as a distinct team. But close organizational integration between cloud engineers and SREs won't hurt.

Cloud skills for SREs to master

Which SRE skills should a business look for to help manage cloud environments? That depends on which cloud computing model it uses. But, in general, SREs are best suited to optimize cloud environments when they have skills related to:

  • Multi-cloud observability. SREs should know how to use tools that let them observe multiple clouds, or hybrid cloud environments, to accommodate business needs.
  • Cloud deployment automation. SREs should be able to work alongside cloud engineers to deploy workloads automatically. They should also be able to use automation tools that support any type of cloud environment.
  • Cloud command-line interface (CLI). To dig deep into cloud environments and solve reliability issues, SREs require expertise of cloud CLI tools.
  • Cloud cost analysis. Although reliability is the core focus of SREs, they must balance reliability priorities with cost priorities. Understanding how to analyze and manage cloud costs is essential.
  • Cloud security. Similarly, SREs should be able to balance cloud reliability with cloud security. They should know how to use cloud security posture management tools, manage cloud access controls and ensure cloud networking configurations minimize risks.

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