Get to Know the AWS Well-Architected Framework

A Well-Architected Review is the first step on the long and winding road to a better cloud.
Experts Discussing AWS Architecture

As Charles drove into work, he found himself worrying once again about his clumsy, dated cloud architecture. As CIO of a mid-size fintech firm, it was his primary task to make sure the company was running a high-performing and resilient cloud infrastructure.

He turned on the radio and smiled as one of his favorite Beatles songs came tumbling out of the speakers.

'Let it be,
Let it be,
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be.'

Even as he sang along, Charles knew that, in his case, that wasn't the solution. Letting it be would mean falling further behind. After a few years on the job, he finally understood the power and potential of AWS to transform his company. He was aware that best practices had changed considerably over the past few years and that, without a dedicated team of engineers, their cloud architecture had fallen behind.

What Charles needed was some fresh perspective on his cloud infrastructure, a few hours of solid consultation and a roadmap on how to manage his assets for future growth. That's exactly what the Amazon community calls a Well-Architected Review (WAR), and it's one of the secrets of success to a faster, cheaper and more rewarding Amazon cloud experience.

The Long and Winding Road

Statue of the BeatlesPeople often say 'there are no second chances', but in the cloud that's simply not true. It's built to evolve and grow constantly. The key to a world-class digital product is the ability to review and improve it and not get caught up in regrets about mistakes. Sometimes, even the best band in the world put something out that they didn't like but had lost control of, and wanted nothing more than to take another bite at the apple.  

In January 1969, the Beatles got together to make their twelfth studio album, Let It Be. It was supposed to be a 'back to basics' record that would dispense with all the bells and whistles of their more experimental work, like Sgt. Peppers or Abbey Road.

Things didn't go well. George Harrison quit then rejoined, the band swapped studios, changed producers, shelved the idea of a tour and slowly imploded. When all the songs were recorded and mixed, they gathered again to listen to the album....and ended up rejecting it. Twice. 

By early March 1970, the Beatles had essentially broken up. That's when business manager Allan Klein hired studio legend Phil Spector to come in, finish and release the album, which he did in May 1970. 

Many of us have lost control of projects we really cared that were released to the public too soon by people who just don't get it. When that happens, you can end up being forced to use assets and systems that you know aren't right, but that somehow gets baked into the company processes.  

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In the studio, Phil Spector was known for his lavish 'wall of sound' productions, and he wasted no time in adding a choir and strings to McCartney's stripped-down piano version of The Long and Winding Road. Paul hated the new production, but at that stage, there was nothing he could do about it, and he was forced to live with it for over twenty years.

Finally, in 2003 the remaining Beatles found an opportunity to revisit the album, think about what they had done and update it for a new audience. They released a quieter, more thoughtful album, calling it 'Let It Be...Naked' which was still trademark Beatles but better represented the product they had wanted to deliver all those years ago.

WAR. What Is It Good For?

Working on an AWS Instance at School

Arriving at work, Charles realized he was tired of living with what he had and making the best of it. He needed to get in a pair of external eyes that he trusted to review his architecture and make suggestions. He needed a well-architected review that used outside consultants and product experts who have the advantage of being exposed to best practice on hundreds of different projects and infrastructures--they accumulate lessons learned quickly, understand what your architecture should look like, and they can share these insights with you.  

The well-architected framework was developed by AWS to help customers build secure, high performing, resilient, and efficient cloud infrastructures. A structured review of your existing environment by a certified AWS Solutions Architect Professional is one of the most valuable exercises that you can undertake, and all it will cost you is time. Amazon is so committed to the benefits of a well-architected review that it is willing to pay the costs of the remediation project. 

Schedule a meeting for a well-architected review right now.

The Five Pillars of the Well-Architected Framework 

AWS understands that everyone wants to build secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient cloud infrastructures. In order to service that need, they have identified five key pillars to a Well-Architected Framework.

In a comprehensive webinar on the subject, account manager Dominic Brown unpacked the details of the five key pillars and the approach that Privo takes when addressing each of the pillars:

Learning About Managed DevOps
Reliability:

The ability of a system to recover from infrastructure or service failures, dynamically acquire computing resources to meet demand and mitigate disruptions or transient network issues.

With CloudWatch as the key service, the key consideration of this pillar should be long-term growth prospects, as well as auto-scaling and an understanding of how failures will be managed.  

Cost Optimization:

The ability to avoid or eliminate unneeded cost or sub-optimal resources. How can you go global without quadrupling your costs? How can you avoid having resources that don't make you any money?

Using Cost Explorer and other bespoke told, we find ways to rebalance the instances you're using and find any hidden cost drivers that clients may not be aware of. This is one of the most important pillars to investigate at the outset of any project before a situation occurs where clients are unaware of what they are paying for. Expenditure awareness is a focus area of this pillar and we make use of cost allocation tags to identify waste and understand which workloads are profitable.  

Performance Efficiency:

The ability to use computing resources efficiently to meet system requirements, and to maintain that efficiency as demand changes and technologies evolve.

This pillar gives you ways to measure everything from CPU rates to latency, storage resources and so much more that has a direct relationship to performance. Because AWS is constantly evolving, you have to find ways to keep learning on the job. How do you keep up with new releases and how do you understand when performance isn't efficient? All of this forms the basis of the third pillar.

Operational Excellence:

The ability to run and monitor systems and to deliver business value and to continually improve supporting processes and procedures.

 It's focused on understanding business needs and then any incidents and events that might occur during operations...It needs to be able to evolve and to measure what you need to improve.  

Security:

The ability to protect information, systems, and assets while delivering business value through risk assessment and mitigation strategies.

Security is a huge responsibility and a review would include how to detect malicious activity, classify data sensitivity levels, apply encryption and so much more. On top of this, it's very important to run a service like CloudWatch which will automate responses to security events. 

In Amazon's own words, 'the Framework provides a consistent approach for customers and partners to evaluate architectures, and implement designs that will scale over time. The AWS Well-Architected Framework includes strategies to help you compare your workload against our best practices, and obtain guidance to produce stable and efficient systems so you can focus on functional requirements. 

To really understand the Five Pillars and how much you will be getting out of a Well-Architected Review, take the time to watch the  full Privo webinar right now.

Find Answers To Your Toughest Questions

There are some questions that you simply have to know the answer to.  They have a direct impact on your ability to grow and keep pace with the competition in a fluid and dynamic marketplace. 

"Is my infrastructure built to scale?" "Are there any gaps in my infrastructure security that I'm not seeing?" "How can we make our security so good that it's a competitive advantage?" "Where will my assets be in five years time?" 

As an APN partner, Privo believes that the best way to find answers to these questions is via a 2 - 4 hour session with a small group of stakeholders in a face-to-face or whiteboard session. This is followed up by a report a few days later and a Scope Of Work (SOW) for remediating some or all of the findings. It's a simple, but effective strategy that is not too time-consuming. And if that SOW is signed within a month, AWS provides up to $5000 in service credits to offset the costs of the consulting work. That's how much they believe in the Well-Architected Review process.  

Going over AWS Cost Optimizations
When Do You Need It?

No one can know all the answers. The cloud is too big, and growing too fast, for anyone to be on top of all aspects of it. When AWS proposed the well-architected framework in a whitepaper during 2015, the goal was to provide an understanding of key differences between traditional IT environments and the cloud. Too often, folks would come onto AWS, which is a self-service platform, and deploy huge numbers of servers without thinking of the foundational practices that the cloud was built on. 

The Well-Architected Review was so well received that in 2017, Amazon began bringing in consulting partners to help customers use the key best practices from the well-architected program. These partners can provide 'deep AWS knowledge and hands-on experience architecting, building, migrating, and optimizing architectures that follow the AWS Well-Architected Framework.' 

Your AWS cloud infrastructure doesn't manage itself. You have to stay proactive and engaged in order to get the most out of it. If you feel like you've lost touch and are unsure about how to proceed, then consider these five reasons that companies engage partners to undertake a review.

To get an independent assessment of your infrastructure: You don't know what you don't know. Let people who have worked on multiple projects bring the lessons they have learned to your architecture. Reviews should be applied at key milestones in the product life cycle, as a matter of best practice. 

To plan a migration or prepare your infrastructure to scale: Your assets are most vulnerable during a migration to the cloud. Don't do it without expert help and guidance.  It can be used to refactor a workload ahead of a potential migration. 

To tighten security controls ahead of an audit: In so doing, you are able to address foundational areas that are often neglected.  

To reduce your AWS bill, or do more with your current budget: A well-architected review will provide a bird's eye overview of your project, show you where you are spending too much, and suggest ways to realign your assets in more cost-effective and affordable ways.  

To modernize your existing AWS environment: You can build a backlog of potential improvements or develop a roadmap as you look to nurture a consistently evolving structure on your applications. No matter how well you structured your AWS environment, the passage of time makes a refresh necessary. 

In no time at all, you'll be able to tell if you're optimizing workloads, so that you run more efficiently and cost-effectively. You'll mitigate any risks by having a better understanding of what the risks are as you build and optimize, and you'll come into contact with new AWS services that let you build and deploy workloads faster and respond to problems that require new solutions. 

What Do Results Look Like?

One of the earliest companies to benefit from Privo's AWS expertise was MediaZilla, a small team who recognized a need for interactive content in the video production community. They could foresee that editors would one day want to deliver finished video from an editing suite to a producer's big screen TV, complete with menu options and touch navigation controls. 

They built the platform on AWS and it worked beautifully, but after two years they came to a crossroads and realized that, in order to grow, they would need to rebuild the platform they'd launched on AWS. Now they could see what it was capable of, and they could see where they fell short. 

Should they hire new engineers or engage a team of DevOps competency partners? They chose the latter and their AWS account manager connected them with Privo.

“We started the engagement by doing a well-architected review, and from there it morphed into more,” says Adam Perry, principal solutions architect at Privo. “We were excited about the engagement because we found the team at MediaZilla was extremely intelligent, motivated, and had a clear vision for what they wanted to achieve.” 

MediaZilla’s team found instant value in the AWS expertise Privo engineers brought to the table. “A huge amount of the value Privo provides has been training on AWS,” says co-founder Michael Guastamacchio. “They’ve done a lot of knowledge transfer, learning, and growing with our team.”

The review put MediaZilla onto a growth trajectory that always put the user's needs first and used AWS platforms to create immersive viewing experiences for anyone using its services. 

Best Practice Quality Is Available To You Too

When you engage Privo for a Well-Architected Review, one of our Senior Solutions Architects dives in to assess your infrastructure, learn about your business and team, and provides guidance on your future plans.

Privo engineers have been through extensive training to ensure our recommendations align with AWS best practices for building, modern cloud-native architectures.  For companies that engage us in a WAR, Privo is in a position to be able to offer 10 hours of consulting to begin work on any glaring plans that we may discover in your infrastructure. 

At the very least, the 'low hanging fruit' problems will be solved quickly and easily.

Take The Next Step

The rate of change is accelerating in the cloud. More and more companies are coming on board and pushing the technology forward. If you step back and take a big picture, you'll notice that industries are being disrupted at an unprecedented pace. What you really need from your infrastructure is the ability to let your own people innovate and adapt to keep up with the pace of change. 

Whether you're already on AWS, or you've decided that it's time to migrate - you'll find that a Well-Architected Review is an invaluable tool for getting it right. 

So if the journey towards a better cloud feels like you're on 'The Long and Winding Road', take comfort in the fact that it's never too late to change course and get your cloud migration on track. 

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Take the first step.  

for a risk-free assessment of your cloud infrastructure.