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Review Your Cloud Environment: The Value for 1st Timers & Vets

Author: Kevin McMahon Posted In: AWS, Cloud

Today's business atmosphere is drastically different from what it was January 1, 2020. While companies were excited about prospects and future growth in the New Year, worldwide events forced leaders to pivot strategic direction and set new or modified goals for 2020.

Now, many organizations are hyper-focused on streamlining operations, cutting costs, and assessing everything for the business – technology environments included. Cloud teams must scrutinize uptimes, usage, cost, reliability of services, and other vital factors. More than ever, leaders need to clearly understand their cloud environment and identify potential risks that require action.

To help its clients, Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a free resource designed to optimize your workloads – the AWS Well-Architected Review. The review focuses on five main areas or pillars:

  • Operational Excellence
  • Performance Efficiency
  • Cost Optimization
  • Security
  • Reliability

Let's take a brief look at what the Well-Architected Review provides, as well as two examples of how we've used the Well-Architected Review to help clients optimize their cloud workloads.

How Does a Well-Architected Review Work?

The Well-Architected Review is based on a framework to help cloud architects build the most secure, high-performing workloads possible. As stated above, it focuses on the five pillars to provide a consistent approach for evaluation that allows designs to scale over time.

This free framework gives you access to knowledge and best practices used by AWS architects. It's a single and consistent process so you can monitor multiple workloads across your organization, bringing architecture considerations into your corporate governance process.

The AWS Well-Architected Review also supports continuous improvement throughout the workload lifecycle. You can track changes with point-in-time milestones and initiate new review processes to continue improving over time.

Here's how it works: First, identify the workload to document, then answer detailed questions about your architecture. Once completed, you can review your answers against the five pillars. Next, you can access videos and documentation or generate a report to summarize your workload review, viewing the results in a dashboard. You can compare your workload against the best practices used by AWS, and obtain guidance to produce stable and efficient systems so you can focus on functional requirements.

At a glance, this gives you:

  • readout with risk ratings based on each area
  • improvement plan to remediate risks

The value of working with a partner: The review is an intensive process that requires cloud teams to analyze their workloads. That's where an objective third-party consultant can help. Through the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program, experts trained in the review process can help organizations complete the Well-Architected Review, then walk you through the risks and provide tangible first steps on how to remediate issues identified by AWS. This boots-on-the-ground, outsider's perspective also helps establish a regularly repeated cadence of reviews that drives improvement over time.

At a glance, this gives you: 

  • readout with risk ratings based on each area
  • improvement plan to remediate risks
  • recommended timeline optimized to achieve both immediate and long-term goals
  • schedule of Well-Architected Reviews conducted regularly to set baseline and gauge improvement
  • guidance from AWS-expert third-party team, an outside set of eyes and perspective to keep you on track through the process

Who benefits from the Well-Architected Review?

As an AWS Well-Architected Partner, we have worked with multiple clients at varying levels of cloud maturity and optimization. Our experience shows there are two reasons organizations perform the Well-Architected Review:

  1. To Gain Understanding: Those that are unclear of where they stand and need to understand their overall architecture, or
  2. To Continually Improve: Those that need an objective way to set a benchmark and goals for improvement

Let's unpack how two of our clients, Entertainment Co.1 and Device Makers Co.1, benefited from an AWS Well-Architected Review for the first time, using SPR as their consulting partner.


Understand your tech environment – as it is today

Like many companies, Entertainment Co.'s had smart individuals managing their technical environment – but they were limited. In a stroke of unexpected timing, several IT experts left the company almost simultaneously, taking their institutional knowledge with them.

With key IT employees gone, corporate leadership realized:

  • they didn't fully understand the current tech environment
  • they were unaware of business-critical risks, and how to immediately address these issues
  • short-term issue resolution became completely reactive; in other words, they only fixed issues after they became apparent in production, rather than through internal IT expertise and testing
  • strategically, a near-term and long-term technical roadmap was unclear, especially when it came to security and cost optimization

The cloud environment that the IT experts oversaw ran a critical piece of the business – the revenue-generating website their customers used. With the knowledge-holders now gone, Entertainment Co. needed help and turned to SPR.

With limited IT resources now at Entertainment Co., the SPR experts noticed that the client's leadership could benefit from gaining a clearer picture of what other issues and risks needed remediation in the short term. We recommended the Well-Architected Review framework, which identified dozens of potential problems and risks. From a comprehensive report, SPR helped prioritize which existing issues were most pressing to fix, or which new tech initiatives would provide the quickest value if implemented.

The report revealed ways to drive near-immediate cost savings, and security issues to fix right away. It also created a backlog of the essential problems to be remediated soon and prioritized the order in which to address them.


Use an objective framework for benchmarking your cloud journey.

The U.S. arm of a global tech organization, Device Maker Co., knew they were in decent shape when it came to the cloud. They are an established, matrixed organization with an IT department looking to validate that they were on the right path.

To prove their goals were on track, Device Maker Co.'s IT leaders wanted to:

  • Validate their benchmarks
  • Use the review as a way to show internal stakeholders that their trajectory was correct, or if they should focus on another area in the upcoming quarter
  • Set up regular evaluations to act as an ongoing scorecard, checking off the recommended improvements, resolved issues, and performance drivers
  • Gain a competitive advantage by staying relevant through innovation, proving early on that these initiatives can justify the return on investment
  • Get an outsider's perspective as they were too close to the project and use a third party as a checkpoint review two years into the development process to make sure what they had done was on track
  • Understand how others in the industry were solving problems similar to them, under the same type of scenario

As opposed to Entertainment Co.'s concerns over cost and security, Device Maker Co. wanted to understand how to optimize performance. They worked collaboratively with SPR to undertake the AWS Well-Architected Review, focusing the review on two pillars in particular – operational excellence and performance efficiency.

Through the process, SPR helped increase Device Maker Co.'s familiarity with AWS serverless solutions, as well as identify gaps between the company's traditional vs. serverless development tools and processes. SPR's outside, objective recommendations helped the company see what they had been missing in their workloads, and what to do first to improve it rapidly.

How to Get Started

While you can approach a Well-Architected Review as a DIY project for your cloud team, there are AWS-certified expert resources to leverage. The AWS Well-Architected Partner Program members are trained on the Well-Architected Framework and can help implement best practices, measure the state of workloads, and make improvements where you need help. You can also learn more by joining an upcoming event, the AWS Serverless Immersion Day.

[1] Company name was changed to maintain client confidentiality.

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