The Build vs. Buy Software Guide to Development Platforms
Top Ten List of Considerations When Debating to Build or Buy a Dev Platform
To build or not to build? Ah, that is the Shakespearean question when it comes to software. When faced with a specific business challenge, many companies debate this dilemma; it's an especially tricky quandary when the software in question is meant to help software developers develop more efficiently.
Why building might at first seem smart
Constructing an internal cloud development platform may appear like a smart business move at first glance. Having a custom-made solution enables teams to have control over the specifications and manage releases based on their specific needs. In-house software allows for customization of features to meet immediate requirements instead of opting for a third-party solution that may have unused features.
Another benefit of building an in-house dev platform can lead to a first-hand understanding of the technology and deeper sense of ownership and pride in the solution, which can translate to a more motivated and dedicated development team. This is a fair point because developers like to develop. And some organizations, especially those with sophisticated engineering teams, are tempted to build their own developer platform. It's easy to understand this philosophy: who knows the needs of developers better than a company's own developers?
However, this approach brings with it the responsibility for future development investments, constant research, compliance upkeep, bug fixing, platform updates, and support, all of which can be a costly and time-consuming distraction from the core business operations.
When considering the option to build or purchase software, companies usually start by evaluating their budget, assessing the impact of this investment on their core business, and weighing the near and long-term time constraints and potential future needs.
Should You Buy or Build a Development Platform?
Although building software may be a viable option in some specialized cases, purchasing a cloud development platform from a vendor often proves to be a more favorable business decision for several reasons, including the following ten:
1. Buying a Cloud Dev Platform Offers Superior Features
Investing in a cloud development platform developed by cloud experts is likely to bring significant business benefits. Vendors typically offer a wide range of advanced out-of-the-box features that allow developers to create microservices for cloud applications with ease. These cloud development platforms are battle tested and often designed with input from some of the most forward-thinking development organizations and have undergone thorough testing. As a result, these platforms offer features and capabilities that in-house development teams might not have considered on their own.
- Pro Tip: The key is to find a cloud development platform built with pre-configured development images for the following languages: dotnetcore, golang, java, node, php, python, ruby and rust. Additionally, the platform should work with existing Helm charts, docker-compose, or Kubernetes manifests. At the end of the day, you have to ask if your homegrown development is robust enough to simplify the adoption of Kubernetes, provide enterprise-ready security, support namespaces, mirror production, and scale as technology evolves. If not, then buying is the correct business decision.
Here are the questions you should ask:
- Is your feature plan similar to the features included out of the box?
- Can non-technical teams participate in the feedback and collaboration process?
- Does your solution accurately reflect production environments with digital twin technology?
- Are you able to facilitate pair programming for multiple services?
2. Buying a Cloud Dev Platform Offers Reliability and Scalability
If you have built your own in-house cloud development platform, it may seem that the in-house team's familiarity with the solution will make performance maintenance simple. However, if key team members leave the company with that crucial knowledge, it can create challenges. Additionally, as the environment needs to expand to meet the demands of emerging standards and new technology upgrades, such as Kubernetes, the in-house solution may not be equipped to handle these changes.
Inadequate updates to the platform and poor design of its resilience can lead to significant downtime during issues. Even seemingly minor updates can uncover security vulnerabilities and data bugs in business logic, which can hinder the performance of the development teams and put the delivery of value at risk. These issues can have a negative impact on the developer experience and slow down the entire process.
A cloud development platform provided by a third-party vendor can ensure speed, reliability, and scalability through ongoing maintenance and the introduction of new features and functionality.
- Pro Tip: When considering a third-party platform, it's important to look for one with a robust architecture that offers multiple layers of redundancy and provides consistent, secure updates. The platform should also be flexible and designed to perform at scale, whether you're developing simple internal apps or complex global apps with numerous microservices.
In-house solutions and the teams supporting them may struggle to keep up with the demands of your product development. There's no doubt that there are serious technical challenges involved in creating a scalable secure development platform. With a third-party platform, you can relax knowing that it is compatible with current standards and can adapt to evolving standards in the future, such as updates to Kubernetes. This allows your development team to focus on creating innovative cloud applications that will drive your business forward.
Questions you should ask:
- Are you able to provide ongoing bug fixes, maintenance, and platform updates at scale?
- Is there an option to test code before merging it?
- Can your platform handle parallel management of multiple microservices?
- Is it user-friendly for both experienced Kubernetes users and those new to the technology to collaborate effectively?
The Ultimate Build vs Buy Self Evaluation Guide
3. Don’t Waste Engineers on Non-Essential Tasks
The reality is, if your engineers are dedicating a portion of their time each week to maintaining the development environment, they are not able to focus on driving innovation and creating revenue-generating application features. In other words, building an in-house platform can be both resource-intensive and time-consuming. The use of your valuable developer resources is part of the total cost of ownership (TCO) equation often ignored when development teams opt to build an in-house cloud development environment.
- Pro Tip: Look for a cloud development platform that comes with a support team that has extensive experience in cloud development and Kubernetes. The vendor should leverage their expertise to address complex problems, create comprehensive solutions, proactively tackle security concerns, and anticipate user needs and patterns to enhance your business and fulfill the requirements of all stakeholders. By doing so, your team that was previously responsible for maintaining the development environment can now concentrate on their core strength - developing outstanding applications.
Questions you should ask:
- Do you have the resources and budget to effectively address problems at a large scale, now and in the future?
- Are your developers' time and resources being consumed by maintaining the in-house development environment, instead of developing innovative applications?
4. Remember Building a Cloud Dev Platform Has an Opportunity Cost
At the end of the day, the argument for building versus buying always comes down to ROI. If you build, you bear the entire cost burden of homegrown software. That includes paying for the initial buildout, ongoing support, bug fixes, upgrades, platform migrations, and keeping up with software industry trends. These costs can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
When evaluating the ROI of building versus buying a cloud development platform, it's crucial to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) of building versus the cost savings and productivity benefits of outsourcing the maintenance and support responsibilities to a vendor. A vendor's expertise in hosting and maintaining cloud development solutions can provide a significantly positive impact on developer experience and overall organization productivity.
- Pro Tip: Ask the vendor to showcase their success in helping other companies improve their development processes, reduce the number of bugs and late-stage defects, and cut down on scrap and rework by 50%. A positive developer experience is a crucial factor in achieving a high ROI from a cloud development platform, and you should ask for customer testimonials that speak to this.
Remember, by outsourcing the maintenance of the platform to a vendor, your engineering team can concentrate on delivering value to your organization, instead of dealing with the overhead of maintaining a homegrown solution. The vendor bears the cost of building and maintaining the platform and can pass on the efficiency savings to you.
Questions you should ask:
- How many resources and budget can you dedicate to cloud-centric DevOps, Infrastructure Provisioning, and CI/CD QA?
- How much time and resources are needed to increase collaboration with the DevOps teams even more to ensure the end-to-end platform executes?
5. Improved Developer Experience Accelerates TTM for Software Releases
Developing a cloud development platform from scratch can take a long time and exhaust your internal engineering resources. On average, building a cloud development platform with a dedicated in-house team can take a year or more. Buying a cloud platform from a vendor can save a significant amount of time as it is already built and ready to use.
This can free up resources for other critical business initiatives. For example, according to monday.com, switching from an in-house to a third-party cloud development platform accelerated developer velocity by 50% and reduced costly scrap and rework by an additional 50%.
And guess what? As a result of superior development processes, development companies using a cloud development platform can in return, reduce the time-to-market for new products and services compared to traditional in-house development platforms and processes. Surprise. Surprise.
- Pro Tip: Remember that the bottom line is the bottom line: Building an in-house cloud development platform is time-consuming and can take years with an entire team of engineers. During this time, the organization will have to divert resources away from other critical core-business efforts, which can hurt the bottom line.
Questions you should ask:
- How quickly can you see the return on investment: with an in-house dev environment or with the development of core application features?
- What would be the potential financial impact of a security breach on your company?
- What is the cost of prolonged onboarding delays in terms of time and money?
6. Vendors Offer Technical Expertise for Kubernetes and Microservice Management
Most cloud development platform vendors have a team of experts with extensive experience and knowledge with regards to microservices, Kubernetes and security, for example. These third-parties invest heavily in research and development to create the best possible product. This can ensure a higher level of quality and functionality compared to an in-house development team that may not have the same level of expertise.
According to Slai, a company building a developer-first platform for machine learning, the reason they switched to a third party cloud development platform was access to Kubenetes expertise and a pool of skilled resources that were not available internally to the company.
Slai was able to work with a Kubernetes namespace in a shared developer cluster that replicated their production environment. This made it easier for them to work on the project, as they did not have to be experts in Kubernetes: however, the company benefited from the additional expert support they received from the third-party vendor that had a deep understanding of their infrastructure, Kubernetes, and was able to help design their system to closely match the production environment.
- Pro Tip: Make sure the cloud development platform vendor has a high level of expertise in cloud computing, security, and infrastructure to support you. Ask if they have customer testimonials confirming the vendor provides excellent professional support. It can be challenging for most organizations to find and retain the necessary in-house expertise. Additionally, remember that maintaining a development platform isn’t your core competency in the first place.
Questions you should ask:
- Can you easily find replacement developers for your current homegrown environment if they leave the company?
- Is it convenient for both experienced and inexperienced Kubernetes users to work together on the solution?
- Does your platform provide flexibility for developers to use their preferred development tools?
- Are your developers and teams responsible for managing ETCD, coreDNS, CNI, and Docker within the environment?
7. Buying a Dev Platform Is Cost Effective
Building an in-house cloud development platform can be very expensive, especially when considering the costs of hiring and training a team, buying hardware and software, and other overhead expenses. According to one build vs buy expert, building a cloud development platform represents around 1MM in payroll expenses to get the platform up and running. For Replicated, a company that enables the seamless delivery and management of Kubernetes applications in multi-prem, customer-controlled environments using a single architecture, the switch from building to buying resulted in immediate cost benefits. The company saved thousands each month on development costs and accelerated developer productivity by 200%.
"There's a cost-effectiveness to a third-party cloud development platform," says the Senior Software Engineer of a healthcare unicorn platform. "It offers a scalable, reliable, stable production-ready infrastructure that allows our team to shorten the gap from dev to prod and enables us to ship value to our customers faster. I can now deploy a helm chart, namespace, cloud integrations, and can go run through chaos scenarios. I can experiment, delete things and remove pods. I have immediate feedback as to how that might play out in production. And there's no way you can do that with local development or a homegrown solution."
- Pro Tip: Remind the business decision makers that buying reduces upfront costs. Building an in-house cloud development platform requires a significant upfront investment in hardware, software, and staffing. This investment can be substantial, especially for organizations unfamiliar with cloud computing. Those upfront costs can be in the form of opportunity costs.
Questions you should ask:
- How much investment in terms of resources and budget can you allocate to cloud-focused DevOps, Infrastructure Provisioning, and CI/CD Quality Assurance?
- What is the effort required to enhance collaboration with the DevOps teams to guarantee seamless execution across the entire platform?
8. Scaling with In-House Solutions Is Challenging
Established third-party cloud development platforms tend to have a large user base and strong support networks, making it easier to scale and expand to meet customer demands. On the other hand, an in-house development platform may not be able to handle sudden spikes in demand, quick pivots necessary to adopt disruptive change, leading to prolonged downtime and decreased performance.
In the case of Replicated, the company's local dev environments could not meet the developer demands of the company's sophisticated platform. "Developers would spend a lot of time building their dev environment instead of coding, and that became unsupportable and difficult to maintain," says Marc Campbell, Replicated co-founder and CTO.
- Pro Tip: Pick a vendor with an architecture, roadmap and vision to support scalability now and into the future. A third-party cloud platform can provide better scalability compared to in-house development, as cloud platforms are designed to handle sudden spikes in demand. Couple that flexibility with a team of vendor experts on emerging technologies and you can be assured that your solution will be prepared for unforeseen technology and market changes.
As an organization grows, it may need to scale its cloud development platform to accommodate additional users and workloads. This can be challenging in-house, as the organization will need to acquire additional hardware and software and hire other staff to manage the platform.
Questions you should ask:
- Can you quickly resolve issues globally across different namespaces and shared environments?
- Is it possible to set up your tech stack with just one simple click using your solution?
- Can you effectively manage all the components involved, such as IDEs, Docker, code repositories, and various tooling options?
- Can you access another developer's local frontend branch without launching the instance?
9. Continuous Improvement Not Easy to Maintain Internally
Most cloud development platform vendors constantly invest in R&D to improve their products and stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends. An in-house development platform may not have the same resources available for continuous improvement and may become outdated quickly. For example, the inability to keep up with updates to Kubernetes can crash an entire application. And not being current with security patches can leave your platform vulnerable to attacks.
- Pro Tip: Consider the value of a positive developer experience and weigh it against the potential risks and expenses of a failed migration, security breach, delays, and increased scrap and rework caused by a homegrown solution.
Cloud development platforms offered by vendors are continually updated and enhanced with new features and capabilities. Building an in-house platform means the organization will have to manage these updates and improvements, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
Questions you should ask:
- Do you have the ability to facilitate pair programming across multiple services?
- Is it convenient to access Kubernetes?
- Do you offer pull requests with easily shareable preview URLs?
- Can you ensure repeatable and dependable workflows?
10. Building a Cloud Dev Platform Is a Security Risk
Cloud platform vendors typically have a team of security experts focused on ensuring their platform's security. They invest heavily in security infrastructure and continuously monitor and update their systems to prevent security breaches.
Historically, static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST) scans cannot accurately determine which environment is being tested against. This impediment can lead to security oversight and bugs skirting past the DevOps goalkeeper. But a cloud development environment with embedded security policies shores up your posture against vulnerabilities.
- Pro Tip: Work closely with system architects and CISOs to ensure the cloud dev platform vendor builds with security in mind. An in-house development platform may have a different level of resources or expertise to ensure the same level of security. A cloud development environment allows teams to test security protocols while in development. Forget about the days of developers creating risky ad-hoc staging environments that are impossible for CISOs and system architects to manage and protect. This new cloud security development paradigm has allowed DevOps and developers to work together to stop security risks dead in their tracks.
Using cloud platforms can provide better security compared to in-house development, as cloud platform vendors typically have a team of security experts and invest heavily in security infrastructure. Bottomline: Maintaining the security of an in-house cloud development platform is critical. However, doing so can be difficult and expensive, especially for organizations unfamiliar with cloud security best practices.
Questions you should ask:
- Is your solution secure enough to support SOCII or ISO27001 security?
- Can you effectively protect PII?
- Can your solution cross borders for GDPR compliance?
To Build or Buy a Dev Platform - Ah, That’s the Question
Buying a cloud development platform from a vendor can provide benefits, such as time and cost savings, access to expertise, scalability, continuous improvement, and security, which are not necessarily guaranteed when building an in-house development platform.
These benefits can result in a better return on investment for a business, making it a better business decision. In addition, with a cloud development environment, you can say goodbye to the headache of worrying about security risks, learning Kubernetes, and escaping the never-ending cycle of updates. Instead, say hello to a simple, effective solution that allows more time for coffee breaks and debating the questions that really truly matter, such as:
- Star Wars vs. Star Trek
- The best Star Wars movie
- The best Star Trek movie
- C3P0: man or myth?
- DC vs. Marvel
- Batman vs. Superman
- Apple vs. Android
- Science vs. Fantasy
- Get Out vs. Cabin in the Woods
Sure, building a cloud development platform can provide customization and control but at what cost - total cost of ownership, total cost of what happens when there is a security breach, and total cost of having unhappy developers leave. Buying removes these issues.