A Guide to the AWS Well-Architected Framework

| Author , tagged in Healthcare Industry, Healthcare, aws
Cloudticity, L.L.C.

There are so many inherent advantages to migrating a company’s data to the cloud. Scalability, redundant backups, and flexibility are just a few. That being said, the quality of an organization’s cloud experience depends on following sound design principles.

The best practice design principles are typically called “The Well Architected Framework.” It’s a way to achieve operational excellence regardless of the cloud vendor you select. Following this framework ensures that the cloud services you depend on are secure and available at all times.

The cloud will be the preferred way of managing company data and resources for the foreseeable future. For this reason, it’s key to implement designs that ensure computing resources on the AWS Cloud, or that of another cloud provider function at a high level of performance efficiency

The six Pillars of the well-architected framework align with the best practices recommended by several vendors; including the “Azure Well-Architected Framework” and the “AWS Well-Architected Framework.” However, the principles are helpful regardless of the cloud provider you select.

The best cloud architects incorporate these Pillars and their associated design principles in everything they do. So let’s take a deep dive into what these Pillars are and how any company can achieve operational excellence through the Well-Architected Framework.

Performance Efficiency Pillar

Efficiency is at the heart of cost management, and overall resource availability. By achieving well-architected efficiency, a company can ensure they meet all of their business needs, serving their customers at the highest level and ensuring profitability for years to come.

There are a few design principles that should be followed when it comes to achieving performance efficiency. In many ways, it’s best to begin this discussion of architectural best practices with the concept of performance efficiency. 

Having this as an overarching concern from start to implementation will have a positive effect on the other Pillars, as efficiency is so deeply rooted in solid security, sustainability, and reliability.

Let’s look at some of the design principles inherent in performance efficiency.

First, when new technologies emerge, it often makes sense not to be an early adopter as an organization. Instead, democratize advanced technologies. 

There’s often a steep learning curve associated with new applications as technologies evolve. If you have a third party cloud provider, let them handle the learning and implementation phase of adoption. If the new tech can boost profitability for your organization, it can be purchased as a service.

Second, locating cloud services closer to your customer base can ensure low latency and ease of use. This means that maintaining a global presence may be required. By taking a customer-centric point of view, you can evaluate the experience based on their location, and let this guide data center selection.

Third, utilize serverless architectures. When you don’t need to manage and maintain physical servers, you cut your workload dramatically. This frees up the IT team for other tasks, and allows you to do more with a lower headcount.

Finally, have mechanical sympathy as a consistent approach to your overall efficiency. This means that you understand all your machines and what they are capable of. This can help guide purchasing of equipment and managed services.

Reliability Pillar

For an investment in cloud migration to make financial sense, system reliability must be as good as an on-premises system, and ideally better. Lapses in reliability have wide-ranging effects and therefore need to be avoided at all costs. Sound design principles can vastly improve reliability.

The design principles that make up the Reliability Pillar help to ensure that the system availability is maintained, and any interruptions are quickly dealt with.

The first principle is to design the system in a way that failure recovery can be an automatic process. While human eyes will be needed to address the root cause, automation can bring a system back online much faster.

Second, utilize a test environment to ensure that recovery procedures work. This ensures that backups are verified and will function as expected in the event of a full or partial system failure.

Third, analytics must be used to have a complete and accurate understanding of capacity. Proper scaling requires knowing exactly how much cloud capacity an organization has.

Finally, while changes to cloud environments are a necessary part of boosting performance and ensuring long-term reliability, those changes need to be carefully and deliberately made. Any change can impact the infrastructure and cause unanticipated problems, so they need to be carefully planned and monitored.

Remember that availability needs to be a priority in architecture from the very beginning. 

Cost Optimization Pillar

There’s a major difference between traditional IT equipment purchases and the cloud. Under the traditional model, any hardware purchased is a capital expenditure and approached on a three to five-year basis. Cloud financial management looks at the money spent as operational expenditures.

There are five design principles to consider when building out a system that will be cost-optimized.

It starts with your organizational culture. Cost awareness is necessary for all team members. Budgets should be prepared and reviewed. Any cost overruns need to be understood at the root level.

Next, implement a consumption model that allows for flexible usage dictated by business needs. Cloud computing’s consumption-based payment model encourages minimizing wasteful usage.

Third, make use of tracking metrics. These metrics can help measure global efficiency across different end users.

Fourth, make sure to leverage the fact that cloud providers are providing the service of “heavy lifting.” They are the ones investing in physical servers and data centers. Make sure your company isn’t making redundant expenses in this area.

Finally, budgeting is made much easier through the use of tagging. This attributes each expense to individual departments and users. It allows any company to more accurately predict and track return on investment (ROI).

Operational Excellence Pillar

The Operational Excellence Pillar focuses on building cloud infrastructure with efficiency in mind from start to finish. Efficiency shouldn’t simply be viewed as a result. It needs to be constantly evaluated, and changes to the design may need to be made on a continuous basis, as needed.

Within the Operational Excellence Pillar, there are five different design principles to guide architectural system design.

First, operations must be in the form of code. This way, they can be propagated to the entirety of applications and infrastructure.

Second, when changes are made, they need to be small and incremental. This way, if there are any failures that take place after changes are made, finding the root cause should be fairly easy. Once a chain of changes is made, tracing the problem code becomes a much more difficult task.

Third, bring the entire team on board when it comes to reviewing and refining operations. When you have a broad range of stakeholders, it will be much easier to track how one change may affect other operating areas.

Fourth, failures within the cloud need to be anticipated. When companies adopt this mindset, it's quite a bit easier to search for the problem code, then remove it.

Finally, look at operational failures as an opportunity for growth. Share data from failure with all teams, and look for ways to improve in the future.

Security Pillar

There’s no doubt that there’s potential for a greater risk to security when your data center is part of a public or hybrid cloud. Locking down a single on-premise server is inherently easier than managing data across the vastness of a public cloud.

Still, the advantages outweigh the risks as long as an organization takes steps to adopt a strong security posture. As long as they stay vigilant to emerging threats, the cloud can be just as secure as on-premise data centers, if not, more so.

Several recognized design principles are viewed as best practices when it comes to approaching the Security Pillar.

First off: access control. The operating principle should be “least privilege.” That is, every end user should have the least amount of privilege they need to do their job, and nothing beyond that. Duties should also be heavily separated. By keeping access to data limited, there’s less chance of intentional or accidental corruption.

Second, robust logs. Cloud automation allows for the logging of nearly every event. When you have audit logs, you can fairly easily determine where a breach occurred and who was responsible for it.

Third: defense in depth. It’s often said that defensive layers are like swiss cheese. If one has a hole, the next layer can stop the intrusion, and the next layer beyond that, and so on. This means that security must be a concern at all levels of system architecture.

Fourth: adopt automation. This allows for the rapid scaling of security controls when necessary. Automation can also help with keeping data protected and encrypted both in transit and at rest.

Detecting attacks as quickly as possible is key to providing robust and continuous security. Using automation and logs, can help tell the difference between an attack, and an error. Once an attack is confirmed, it's essential that response teams are ready to move in to protect data and lock down the system.

Building security certainly ranks among the most important Pillars of the well-architected framework. Without it, a company faces existential risks. By following these five design principles, they can promote data protection and deal with security events before they become catastrophic.

Sustainability Pillar

While long-term company sustainability is certainly a goal of cloud migration, the Sustainability Pillar is concerned with the real-world environmental impacts of cloud workload. While the cloud itself isn’t a tangible thing, the working operations can take their toll on the environment.

Consider the electricity used to run servers and computers. There are often toxic materials that are disposed of in out-of-date equipment. Raw materials for internal components need to be mined and transported globally, which uses fuel and creates a large carbon footprint.

Today’s customer expects an authentic commitment to sustainable principles in every company they interact with. By following the six design principles, cloud designers can have a beneficial impact on the world around us.

First, having a big-picture view of full cloud workloads can determine environmental impact. This view needs to be from start to finish, including the full lifecycle of a device from creation to disposal.

Second, sustainability goals can be long-term. It’s not feasible to change overnight. Instead, bring in all team members to consider what’s possible and how it can be achieved.

Third, design efficiency is of paramount importance to achieving sustainability. This means cutting redundant resources, or consolidating workflows to reduce power consumption.

Fourth, as newer technologies and methods arrive on the scene, see how they can boost efficiency and reduce environmental impact. As stated in the performance efficiency Pillar, make any adoption of new technology a carefully planned process.

Fifth, managed services can help place data where it has the least environmental impact. Utilizing automation to move lesser-used data to cold storage facilities can encourage lower power consumption.

Finally, when you provide services for customers that don’t require new equipment purchases, you are encouraging longer lifespans for existing devices. This ensures that less e-waste ends up in landfills, and manufacturing can scale down.

Ready For a Well-Architected Review for Healthcare?

You might be curious how your cloud environment stacks up against Well-Architected benchmarks. If you’re in healthcare, Cloudticity can conduct a Well-Architected Review at no cost to you. Sign up now to see if you’re eligible and get your Well-Architected Review today!

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