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AWS Well-Architected Framework: What it is, and how to use it

Here's how the AWS Well-Architected Framework can help you apply proper design principles and best practices for the cloud.

Jun 08, 2023 • 6 Minute Read

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  • Has your organization been in the cloud for years, but it needs to implement some new architecture, or evaluate the current workflow of how each workload is handled? 
  • Is your organization new to the cloud and currently reviewing how costs, efficiency, or scalability can be improved by migrating to the cloud?
  • Are you new to the AWS cloud and needing to know some important guidelines to follow while building?

These are all situations where the AWS Well-Architected Framework comes in handy. In this article, we’ll explain how this framework can help you apply proper design principles and best practices for the cloud.

What is the AWS Well-Architected Framework?

The AWS Well-Architected Framework is a collection of best practices and guidelines for designing and operating reliable, secure, efficient, and cost-effective systems in the cloud. It is designed to help organizations understand the trade-offs and decisions they need to make when designing and operating cloud-based systems and applications.

The framework is primarily focused on six pillars that are essential to a well-architected system: Operational Excellence, Security, Reliability, Performance Efficiency, Cost Optimization, and Sustainability. 

However, the benefit of the framework doesn’t end there — it includes AWS Lenses, and AWS Guidance papers. These papers shine a light on general industries like the game industry, and specific scenarios like disaster recovery.

Why is the AWS Well-Architected Framework useful?

The Framework can be used to fine-tune your resources and design patterns to curb costs and environmental impact, while improving performance, reliability, security, and operations. It can help to put a four-dimensional view on your designing, building, evolution, and flow of your environment across every milestone.

The Framework can also help to shine some light into the business end of the pillars, which we will expand on below.

The six pillars of AWS Well-Architected Framework, explained

As mentioned above, the framework focuses on AWS's six pillars: Operational Excellence, Security, Reliability, Performance Efficiency, Cost Optimization, and Sustainability. From start to finish, the Framework includes the six pillars.

Each pillar is composed of design principles, and best practices that describe how to apply those design principles. The design principles have some overlap, but each application of them is precise in how it should be carried out to apply to the relevant pillar.

1. Operational Excellence

The operational excellence pillar focuses on the ability to support development and run workloads effectively. This will mean diving into operations metrics and continuously evolving processes and procedures over time. 

The pillar dives into four best practices: organization, prepare, operate, and evolve.

Because this pillar focuses on operations, it has a strong business end to ensure that organizations are able to carry operational excellence across them as a whole - not just across a workload or workflow.

2. Security

The security pillar focuses on protection - protection of data, systems, and any assets, really that you have in the cloud or interacting with your cloud environment. This means strong control, awareness, and management. 

The pillar dives into six best practices: security, identity and access management, detection, infrastructure protection, data protection, and incident response.

Security is a beast in and of itself, and the pillar is robust reflecting that. Depending on your workload requirements, security might seem daunting. The Framework helps to ensure that you understand all of the check-boxes necessary to maintain a strong security stance. Thankfully, AWS has provided several services that make security management easier.

3. Reliability

The reliability pillar aims to ensure a workload performs correctly and consistently. This means setting a strong foundation, architecture choice, and preparing the unexpected. 

The pillar has four best practices: foundations, workload architecture, change management, and failure management.

One of the main factors that can impact reliability is resiliency or the dynamic elasticity of the workload and how your workload recovers from and mitigates incidents. The pillar thoroughly covers how to implement resilience in your architecture.

4. Performance Efficiency

The performance efficiency pillar focuses on using computing resources efficiently to balance meeting system requirements and efficiency through the evolution of your workload and technologies available to use. This means compute optimization, vigilant monitoring, and consistency. 

The pillar has four best practices: selection, review. monitoring, and tradeoffs.

Tradeoffs offer a valuable perspective shift when considering what is important to implement for a workload. Some workloads have rigid cost boundaries or specific requirements that dictate what resources have to be implemented. Sometimes workloads have more flexibility and allow for trade offs like reliability for cost optimization, and that is when you can make a shift in your design to implement different architectures to meet different goals.

5. Cost Optimization

The ever popular cost optimization pillar zeroes in on how to continuously run your workload while meeting the lowest price point. This means understanding costs, resource selection, and continuous optimization over time. 

The pillar has six best practices: practice cloud financial management, expenditure and usage awareness, cost-effect resources, manage demand and supply resources, and optimize over time.

Usage awareness plays a major part in cost optimization because there are resources that incur costs for sitting such as elastic IP addresses and snapshots. These types of resources may not be in use or even necessary to have sitting available, but are incurring costs, so cleaning up resources should be practiced with regularity. 

To learn more about this pillar and cost optimization in AWS, check out this blog post.

6. Sustainability

The sustainability pillar shines the spotlight on the environmental impact of your workload. This includes energy consumption and efficiency, as well as resource usage. 

The pillar dives into six best practices: region selection, user behavior patterns, software and architecture patterns, data patterns, hardware patterns, and development and deployment patterns.

AWS has committed to being 100% renewable by 2030 and are well ahead of that goal and expecting to be renewable by 2025! Their commitment and implementation of this sixth pillar takes how we utilize the cloud and adds another dimension to our considerations. 

Meeting workload requirements can now include sustainability goals, leading to better growth - sustainable growth and a brighter future for everyone and everything depending on our planet for survival.

What is the difference between the AWS and Azure Well-Architected Frameworks?

There are some key differences between AWS and Azure's take on the Well-Architected Framework. You'll notice a difference in pillars and a difference in depth.

AWS includes best practices for each pillar both for your environment AND your organization. There are design principles that lend a deeper focus to how an organization can support the environment in each pillar. So, having the business aspect is helpful for any businesses just entering into the cloud and are kind of clueless. AWS offers that aspect of support and depth.

Azure has a hard focus on best practices for your environment and does NOT go into the business side of each pillar. Some businesses don't need that level of support and may prefer a Framework that cuts to the chase. Azure is also missing the Sustainability Pillar and that is a big piece of the Cloud puzzle - for me and some businesses who are actively pursuing leaving a smaller carbon footprint in their cloud endeavors

How can I learn more about the AWS Well-Architected Framework?

Committing to learning more about the AWS Well-Architected Framework is a big step, but an important one to really understand and set a strong foundation for utilizing the cloud in the best way possible. Each pillar acts as a cornerstone to your design and having a full understanding of each one can strengthen the way you implement solutions, evolve your architecture, and maintain that architecture over time.

If you are ready to dive into the AWS Well-Architected Framework, check out the AWS Well-Architected Framework Deep Dive course where you can explore each pillar in depth. The course covers 12 AWS Lenses, 3 Guidance papers, 2 case studies, and includes how to apply and review the Framework using the Well-Architected Tool.

Thank you so much for joining me today, gurus! I hope this helps to clear up any questions you had about the Framework. Don't forget to join our Discord server. Deep breaths, baby steps, and as always, keep being awesome!