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Harnessing the Potential of Internal Developer Portals

Internal Developer Portals

Delivering high-quality scalable software is becoming an increasingly difficult endeavor. A wide variety of tools and services exist to help us do our jobs better and more effectively, but at the cost of spreading our attention entirely too thin. I believe that this lack of focus in our tooling choices is leading us to an unsustainable place, where it becomes too difficult to support the wide variety of software that exists in our organizations.  The solution? Internal Developer Portals (IDPs).

Internal Developer Portals

These platforms have emerged as pivotal tools that are designed to streamline the complexities inherent in managing the proverbial jungle of services, documentation, and development workflows that we frequently find ourselves in. IDPs allow you to take a collection of disconnected tools and turn it into a cohesive view of your ecosystem that enhances the efficiency, collaboration, and effectiveness of software development teams. By addressing critical challenges such as service disorganization, inconsistent development practices, and the inaccessibility of current documentation, IDPs transform the way organizations approach software development.

The core of an IDP’s utility lies in its ability to simplify the developer’s journey. In an environment where new services and updates are frequent, keeping track of all the moving pieces becomes a formidable challenge. IDPs help bring order to this chaos, offering a centralized hub for all things related to software development. They assist teams in solving problems by providing clarity, consistency, and a single source of truth, ensuring that teams can focus on innovation and problem-solving, rather than getting lost in the maze of service sprawl, discordant tooling, and outdated information.

Software Catalog: A Beacon in the Service Jungle

At the heart of an IDP is the Software Catalog, a feature that acts as a comprehensive directory for all software and services within an organization. In the digital jungle of today’s software landscape, the Software Catalog is akin to a lighthouse, guiding developers and stakeholders to the information they need. It provides a clear and up-to-date view of what software and services are available, who is responsible for them, their current status, dependencies, and more. This transparency is crucial for efficient management and utilization of an organization’s software assets.

For organizations aiming to harness the full potential of a Software Catalog, the key lies in its meticulous implementation and maintenance. Keeping the catalog up to date is essential. This can be achieved through automation, ensuring that data is constantly and automatically updated, either in real-time or through timed batch jobs. It’s vital that the information in the catalog reflects the current state of affairs; outdated data can lead to confusion and inefficiency, undermining the catalog’s purpose.

Moreover, the catalog needs to be extensive.

It should encompass a comprehensive range of information, providing users with a detailed picture of the organization’s software landscape. This includes not just basic information about each service but also insights into its health, dependencies, and operational details. However, having a wealth of information is not enough; it must be well-structured. Most IDPs allow customization in their data model, enabling organizations to tailor the representation of relationships between systems, applications, services, and components. A well-thought-out data structure aids in easy discovery and navigation, enhancing the overall utility of the Software Catalog.

software landscape

At one of our clients, we built custom scripts to pull system data in real time from the client’s Github instance, as well as their system of record for Systems Architecture. This ensured that as changes were made by developers or Enterprise Architects, the catalog was automatically updated and published. This ensured that the client always had the most up to date picture of their systems, without having to maintain that information in the new IDP we spun up for them.

They could continue to use their existing systems if they wanted, all the while capturing more and more data into their new IDP.

Software Templates: Crafting the Pathways of Development

Moving further into the realm of IDPs, Software Templates stand out as a critical component. These templates are not simple blueprints; they are dynamic, automated guides that aid developers in consistently setting up new services with efficiency and precision.

They embed best practices and standardization in from the outset, so that each new service starts off on the right foot.

The effectiveness of Software Templates hinges on several key characteristics. Firstly, they must be automated, streamlining the process of setting up new services. This includes tasks like creating repositories, configuring CI/CD pipelines, and provisioning necessary infrastructure. By automating these initial steps, Software Templates save Developers significant efforts in getting new systems into a workable state.

However, automation alone isn’t enough. These Software Templates must also be standardized. They should provide a uniform starting point for all services, encapsulating the organization’s best practices, coding standards, and architectural guidelines. This standardization ensures consistency across the development team’s efforts, paving the way for a harmonious and efficient development environment.

These Software Templates

Lastly, customization is a critical aspect of Software Templates. While providing a standard framework, they should also offer the flexibility to be tailored to the unique needs of different services or teams. Giving teams the choice to include framework capabilities that they may not need, for instance.

This adaptability allows teams to choose only the things they need to include, reducing the surface area of systems at the outset, which increases performance and improves security.

In practice, the impact of Software Templates is profound. For instance, at one of my client engagements, we faced a challenge where the process for pipeline definition was disjointed and stored in non-version-controlled spaces. This led to confusion among developers about the current best practice for pipeline setup.

By consolidating the best pipeline definitions and incorporating them into Backstage Software Templates, we enabled developers to spin up new services with the most current and effective pipeline definitions in just a few clicks. This not only streamlined the process but also ensured consistency and compliance with the latest standards.

TechDocs: Transforming Documentation Accessibility

Another pivotal feature to some IDPs is to help teams find Documentation more easily. In Backstage, an open source IDP, it is called TechDocs. The Backstage TechDocs streamlines the way documentation is managed and accessed in software development projects. In many organizations, documentation is often scattered across various platforms, outdated, or simply hard to find. TechDocs address this by aggregating and centralizing documentation, making it an accessible, integrated part of the development ecosystem.


TechDocs elevate documentation to a ‘first-class citizen’ within the development process.

They ensure that documentation lives alongside the code, updated as part of the continuous integration and deployment process. This approach guarantees that the documentation evolves in tandem with the services it describes, maintaining relevance and accuracy.

One significant advantage of TechDocs is the establishment of a single source of truth for all documentation needs. Developers no longer need to navigate through multiple systems or rely on tribal knowledge to find the information they require. Everything is available in one place, searchable, and versioned alongside the code it documents.

This centralization not only saves time but also enhances the quality of the documentation, as it is easier to maintain and update.

Implementing IDPs with Expertise

The journey through the digital landscape of software development is fraught with challenges, but with the right tools and guidance, organizations can navigate this terrain with confidence and efficiency. At Headstorm, we are experts in guiding organizations through the implementation of IDPs.

Our expertise in these areas ensures a significant boost in operational capacity, streamlining development processes, and fostering a culture of efficiency and innovation. With our support, organizations can fully leverage the benefits of IDPs, transforming their software development endeavors into a well-oiled machine.

When coupled with our Extreme DevOps (XDO) offering, we can further turbocharge the impact of an IDP. XDO exists to leverage our deep knowledge and expertise in streamlining legacy DevOps and CI/CD practices, allowing organizations to take full advantage of the promised benefits and cost savings of DevOps.

Coupling an XDO transformation with an IDP roll out will codify the XDO ethos and ensure that teams stay on the golden path.

To end

Whether it’s managing the complexities of service sprawl with a Software Catalog, streamlining service creation with Software Templates, or ensuring up-to-date and accessible documentation with TechDocs, IDPs offer a comprehensive solution.

As organizations seek to navigate the challenges of modern software development, the implementation of an IDP–particularly when coupled with Headstorm’s XDO offering–can be a game-changer, unlocking the full potential of their development teams and operational capacity.

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