Is your AWS Workload Well-Architected? Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this blog post we discussed the importance of a solid architectural foundation when deploying applications to the AWS cloud. We introduced the AWS Well-Architected Framework and how it can benefit organizations looking to improve the cost effectiveness, security, performance and reliability of their cloud deployments. We left off with the question of how to actually put the Well-Architected Framework into practice.

Recently I have been going to physical therapy for a bum knee. I started with one physical therapist a few months ago. I showed up to the sessions. In those, I would discuss my progress with the therapist, and he would instruct me in various stretches and exercises to perform at home. After a couple months there seemed to be little improvement in my knee condition. So I changed to a new physical therapist. The new physical therapist also gave me stretches and exercises to do at home. After only a few weeks with the new therapist, my knee condition improved significantly.

What was different between the two physical therapists? Why was I more successful with the second therapist than the first? The answer is that the second therapist did one thing the first therapist did not do. When I showed up for my physical therapy sessions, the second physical therapist actually made me do the stretches and exercises there in front of him so he could verify I was doing them correctly. He caught mistakes immediately and showed me how to correct my performance. Simply being instructed on how to do the exercises was not enough—the key was in getting feedback on how I was actually performing the exercises.

Maximizing Benefits of the AWS Well-Architected Framework

So, what does this have to do with Well-Architected workloads in AWS? In last week’s blog, I talked about the Well-Architected Framework from AWS that provides prescriptive advice on how to design and maintain well-architected workloads. But just as with my experience with the physical therapists, just knowing what to do is not enough. Without continual review of how you are actually implementing the design principles and best practices of the framework, you might not be getting the best benefit of what the framework has to offer.

Why a Well-Architected Review?

This was the motivation for AWS to complement the Well-Architected Framework with a review process called Well-Architected Reviews. A Well-Architected Review is a formalized process for looking at your AWS workload implementation from the perspective of the Well-Architected Framework. The review is able to uncover risks and potential improvements in your workload.

The purpose of a Well-Architected Review is to gain understanding in order to identify tangible recommendations. One thing the review is NOT is an audit. The goal of the review is not to see how many checkboxes can be ticked off in order to get a passing grade. While an audit may uncover areas of deficiency, often some bad practices are hidden or glossed over in order to get a checkbox ticked. A Well-Architected Review, on the other hand, is an open honest discussion. There is no passing grade, there is only understanding and improvement.

What is Involved in Well-Architected Review?

The process for a Well-Architected Review is pretty straightforward. There are several steps:

  1. Preparation – An AWS Certified Solution Architect independently examines your workload in AWS, looking around the workload account(s) to see how the workload is implemented, what policies are in place, what resources are used, etc.
  2. Review Meeting – The solution architect sits down with technical and business stakeholders. The group walks through the Well-Architected Framework to understand how the workload adheres (or not) to the best practices of the framework.
  3. Readout – The solution architect meets again with the workload stakeholders and presents findings and recommendations. Improvements and remediations are prioritized.
  4. Implementation – Urgent and low hanging fruit changes are implemented in the workload as soon as possible.
  5. Follow-up Review – Several weeks after the initial review, the solution architect validates that the implementation of the workload changes adhered to best practices.

Outcomes of Well-Architected Review

The immediate outcome of a Well-Architected Review is an action plan for implementing improvements to the workload. Some improvements might be long term actions, However, the plan should contain at least several changes that can be implemented within the first week or two after the review. This is because momentum is critical. Statistically, if an organization starts making improvements immediately after the review, the likelihood of continuing to make improvements is high. But if an organization sits on the review findings/recommendations until months later, then momentum gets lost. The likelihood of implementing needed changes goes down. Returning to my earlier physical therapy analogy—the second therapist did not simply tell me what corrections to make to the exercises, he made me do the corrections right away so I didn’t forget how to do the exercises properly.

A Well-Architected Review should not be a one-time event. A workload that is well-architected today might not still be well-architected six to nine months from now. As features are added to an organization’s application, the architecture will likely evolve over time. And bad habits easily resurface. A periodic review is essential to ensuring the architecture stays on track following the AWS good design principles and best practices. There is also the fact that AWS itself is constantly evolving. As mentioned in the previous blog, the rate of introduction of new services and features in AWS is staggering. What was the best choice for implementing a capability in an organization’s workload six months ago might not still be the optimal solution.

Benefits of Well-Architected Review

The benefits of a Well-Architected Review affect the entire organization, Ultimately, they will touch all the different stakeholders involved with a workload with their different concerns:

  • Security – Are there any lurking security issues that might cause the system to be compromised?
  • Operations – Can we reduce overhead in managing the systems?
  • Finance – Are we overpaying for AWS resources?
  • Customer Support – Can response time to customer-impacting incidents be reduced?
  • Product Management – Can we make customers happier with application availability and getting new features out faster?
  • Developers – Can we get code deployed and tested more efficiently?

Conducting a Well-Architected Review doesn’t take much time. Preparation time is usually a few days of effort by a Solution Architect. The review meetings typically consume a few hours. As an investment, a Well-Architected Review is not expensive. The payoffs, however, can be huge and highly impactful. It’s definitely time well spent.

Is a Well-Architected Review in your future?

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Peter Panec, Senior DevOps Engineer, Solution Architect
Peter Panec, Senior DevOps Engineer, Solution Architect
[email protected]