The AWS Well-Architected Review is an established method that energy and utilities companies can use to comprehensively assess their AWS cloud environments. It can help you maximize value, reduce risk, and ensure that you — and your customers — get the most out of your AWS investment.
Do you know if your cloud infrastructure is meeting its full potential? Are you wondering if there is a better, easier or more cost-effective way to manage your cloud environment?
The AWS Well-Architected Review addresses these questions, giving you a comprehensive assessment of the architecture of your cloud-based solutions. By providing valuable insights into current performance, as well as actionable recommendations for improvement, the Well-Architected Review helps energy and utility organizations meet their goals of delivering reliable, efficient and cost-effective services to their customers.
In this blog, we explore the Well-Architected Review process, describe the pillars of focus addressed during the review, review its core benefits, and provide an overview of how Centric can help support the review process.
What is the Well-Architected Review?
The AWS Well-Architected Review framework is a documented set of foundational architecture principles enabling you to evaluate your AWS environment and ensure it meets cloud best practices. The review provides a clear, consistent approach to evaluate your systems against the important qualities of a well-architected cloud framework and provides actionable recommendations to help achieve higher results.
Pillars of Focus
The Well-Architected Review has six primary focuses – security and compliance, operational excellence, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimization, and sustainability. During the review process, each is assessed to ensure they align with best practices.
Security and Compliance
Security is paramount for utility and energy services companies, as any breach could have severe consequences for grid stability, customer data protection, and operations. The Well-Architected Review assesses the security of your cloud environments, helping identify vulnerabilities and recommending best practices to enhance security. By ensuring compliance with industry-specific regulations, such as NERC CIP and AWS Security Standards, utilities can achieve their goals of maintaining the trust of customers and regulators. Using the security and compliance assessment includes a review of data classification and protection measures, ensuring appropriate encryption policies are in place, as well as data retention methods, and more to follow Privacy by Design (PbD) principles.
In this context, operational excellence refers to the efficient and effective management of an organization’s cloud infrastructure. Many energy and utility organizations struggle with moving from a largely on-prem infrastructure to one that is cloud-first. The scope of this pillar of the review involves looking at how automation, monitoring and incident response are configured to ensure operational processes are streamlined and that resources are used optimally.
Utility companies must ensure high availability and disaster recovery capabilities, especially during major events such as storms or other mass outage events. Energy companies also must ensure the high availability of their services and support both load balancing and demand response for their customers.
Given these high needs, the review focuses on assessing the organization’s architecture for fault tolerance and disaster recovery readiness. Recommendations may include risk mitigation tactics, such as multi-region deployments, automated backups, and redundancy to minimize service disruptions and ensure the uninterrupted delivery of essential services to customers.
This pillar is about optimizing the performance of cloud resources. It includes considerations for resource provisioning, scaling, and efficient use. The aim is to deliver high-performance applications while avoiding over-provisioning, which can lead to unnecessary costs and maintenance.
Cost management is a significant challenge for energy and utility companies. As part of the Review, recommendations are made to optimize cloud costs. Elements of the assessment may include identifying underusing resources, implementing cost-saving strategies, or leveraging AWS services like AWS Cost Explorer to control expenses effectively. Through these cost optimization measures, the investments in the recommendations compiled during the Well-Architected Review process pay for themselves.
The sustainability pillar is focused on minimizing the environmental impact of cloud operations. Energy and utility organizations have strong goals around sustainability targets, and your cloud strategy can be a strong component to reducing your carbon footprint. This facet of the Review includes identifying methods of optimizing resource usage, reducing energy consumption, and promoting sustainable practices to contribute to an environmentally responsible cloud ecosystem.
In addition to the pillars, AWS Well-Architected Review also supports the concept of lenses, which provides a way to consistently measure your architecture against specific industry or technical approach best practices. For example, AWS offers a serverless lens, which is focused on designing, deploying and architecting your serverless applications in the cloud.
Other lenses are industry-based, such as financial services and government lenses. There is not currently an energy and utilities lens offered by AWS, which is why working with a vendor partner who brings this expertise can be a strong value add.
Core Benefits of the Well-Architected Review
The core benefits of performing a Well-Architected Review include:
- Reducing potential security and compliance risks.
- Supporting faster build and deployment timeframes.
- Improving reliability and availability of AWS services.
- Ensuring consistency and reducing redundancies across your cloud strategy.
- Reducing potential costs and identifying organizational efficiencies.
- Supporting a continuous improvement approach within your organization.
Setting Up a Well-Architected Review Process
Despite the many valuable benefits of establishing a Well-Architected Review process within your organization, you might struggle with where to start in defining the tools, people and processes for effective implementation. Below, we have addressed each of these core components with actionable recommendations on how to get started.
Ownership of the Well-Architected Review process should fall within your DevOps organization, with cloud architects taking the lead in the review and implementing its recommendations. Each team member should acknowledge they are responsible for the quality of the architecture, with continuous review processes established. Particular areas of focus – for example, security and compliance – should be assigned to an individual to champion, but all team members must maintain accountability for adhering to the pillars.
AWS provides a wealth of support to assist with managing the Well-Architected Review process. Two essential resources are the AWS Well-Architected Review framework and the AWS Well-Architected Tool. The Well-Architected Review framework provides a wealth of resources to assist in the Review process, including specific guidelines on evaluating each pillar and lab environments to assist with training and skills development.
In addition, the AWS Well-Architected Tool, a free feature of the AWS Management Console, provides a framework for the cloud architecture evaluation. The tool assists with the evaluation and provides a mechanism to track progress for enhancements over time.
The complexity of your cloud environment grows and evolves over time. Therefore, team leadership must ensure that a structure for ongoing formal review occurs and that the pillars are incorporated throughout your DevOps lifecycle on an ongoing basis. The Well-Architected Review is not a one-and-done exercise. You should review all major milestones in your development lifecycle, such as when adding a new application to your IT infrastructure.
Many organizations will choose to use a third party to assist with their initial Well-Architected Review, with the idea outside perspectives will be helpful when identifying any gaps in current understanding and infrastructure. This approach can also provide support in setting up your organization by demonstrating best practices through repeat experience in implementing similar processes at other similar organizations.
The Common Components of the Well-Architected Review
The Well-Architected Review process consists of three primary steps: discovery, workshop and reporting.
Step 1: Discovery
An introductory call, typically with a solution architect, will help your stakeholders understand the scope of the workloads, infrastructure and business purposes to maximize the Review and anticipated outcomes. You will also need to coordinate access to the workloads that will fall under the scope of the review and share your infrastructure architecture diagrams.
Step 2: Well-Architected Review Workshop
The AWS Well-Architected Framework model provides insight into your workloads and step-by-step guidance to a better, more cost-efficient cloud. Solutions architects will use their expertise to undertake a deep-dive analysis of the performance of your existing AWS workloads, usually through a half-day collaborative workshop that covers each major pillar. They will then recommend how these workloads can be rearchitected if needed, so that they adhere to best practices and meet your business goals.
Step 3: Report Development, Findings Presentation, Next Steps
The discovery, workshop, and environment analysis lead to an action plan for completing the recommended remediations. This report will include the recommendations sorted by priority and impact, associated levels of effort, dependencies, high-level costs, and anticipated timeline.
Once all parties agree on the action plan, you can apply for AWS service credits to offset the cost of implementing the recommended improvements or remediation work.
Investing in a Well-Architected Review is a proactive approach to ensure your AWS infrastructure is cost-effective, performant, secure, and resilient. It helps align your architecture with best practices and industry standards, reducing risks and ensuring your utility can effectively meet its operational and business objectives.