Blackstone logo: text "Backstage", investing beyond the scenes.

When your agile organisation develops software using a microservice architecture, at some point, you will run into challenges like:

  • What services are we running?
  • How do I integrate against this microservice?
  • Are all services running to their SLA?
  • Who is working on or can I contact about a specific microservice?
  • Where is the latest documentation of this microservice?
  • How would I add a service to the set without re-inventing the wheel?

The challenge for a development management team is maintaining team autonomy while centralising some processes and creating a "single pane of glass" for both management and teams. Maintain performance by removing or automating red tape or toil as much as possible.

A Developer Portal?

A solution to face the challenges while keeping "the good stuff" is a platform that would:

  1. Provide a single point of entry for development teams
  2. Provide a centralised Service Catalogue
  3. Enable better discoverability of people, services and documentation
  4. Provide templates and best practices for groups to set up new microservices
  5. Centralise (Technical) Documentation and provide a Technology Radar
  6. Show DevOps Metrics for all services and teams

Combining these features into a single solution would give the organisation a Developer Portal. Developer portals are places where companies can do technical outreach and education. They can offer software documentation, example code, tools, and knowledge bases to enhance communication and functional collaboration. Also, from a developer perspective, a developer portal simplifies API management.

Most of the time, Developer Portals are home-grown pieces of software. Luckily there are a way to kickstart (or optimise) Developer Portal initiatives using Spotify's Open Source developer portal project called ‘backstage’.

What is backstage?

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Backstage is an open platform for building developer portals. Backstage provides a centralised catalogue of your microservices and infrastructure. It enables your product teams to ship quickly without compromising autonomy. Backstage can unify all your infrastructure tooling, services, and (technical) documentation to create a streamlined development environment from end to end.

While this sounds like an excellent sales pitch, what does the product Backstage include:

  • A Software Catalog for managing all your software assets. (i.e. microservices, libraries, data pipelines, websites, ML models and more)
  • Software Templates for quickly spinning up new projects and standardising your tooling with your organisation's best practices
  • Backstage TechDocs for making it easy to create, maintain, find, and use technical documentation, using a "docs like code" approach.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the backstage offering is the large ecosystem of open source plugins that further expand Backstage's customisability and functionality. Backstage is the most popular developer portal tool at the moment. There is even a guide by Backstage on how to make the adoption a success.

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Alternatives to Backstage?

Given all the backstage goodness, are there any contenders or alternatives to Backstage?

  • Cortex provides a developer portal commercial offering but is a much 'smaller' offering and does not have the high quality and high quantity of plugins.
  • Opslevel provides a commercial monitoring solution that enables some of the backstage features.

From this Developer Experience (DX) roundup:

FAANG and startup companies are increasingly building DX teams to work with platform teams to improve overall organisational productivity and development velocity. Spotify’s Backstage, the open source platform for building developer platforms is gaining traction because organisations want developers to spend more time coding and less time thinking about and working on infrastructure.

We evaluated our choices and decided that Backstage would improve the development experience the most. Therefore, we're implementing a ZEN Backstage Developer Portal.

We can help

If you have a environment or are considering setting up a backstage portal, ZEN Software has experience setting up and guiding organisations with Developer Portal projects. You don't want to miss ZEN Software's Agile Analytics product and the integration with Leverage DORA DevOps Metrics, SRE Error Budgets and ML insights into your sprints! Agile Analytics integrates very well with Backstage.

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We’re confident we can supercharge your software operation.