Chapter 9. Simplicity

The price of reliability is the pursuit of the utmost simplicity.

C.A.R. Hoare, Turing Award lecture

Software systems are inherently dynamic and unstable.1 A software system can only be perfectly stable if it exists in a vacuum. If we stop changing the codebase, we stop introducing bugs. If the underlying hardware or libraries never change, neither of these components will introduce bugs. If we freeze the current user base, we’ll never have to scale the system. In fact, a good summary of the SRE approach to managing systems is: “At the end of the day, our job is to keep agility and stability in balance in the system.”2

System Stability Versus Agility

It sometimes makes sense to sacrifice stability for the sake of agility. I’ve often approached an unfamiliar problem domain by conducting what I call exploratory coding—setting an explicit shelf life for whatever code I write with the understanding that I’ll need to try and fail once in order to really understand the task I need to accomplish. Code that comes with an expiration date can be much more liberal with test coverage and release management because it will never be shipped to production or be seen by users.

For the majority of production software systems, we want a balanced mix of stability and agility. SREs work to create procedures, practices, and tools that render software more reliable. At the same time, SREs ensure that this work has as little impact ...

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