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How to pick your favourite Well Architected Framework Pillar

Designing and developing systems is similar to constructing a physical building. If the foundation is not solid, it may cause structural problems that undermine the integrity and function of the building. So you need to look at all six well-architected framework pillars for your workloads.

Dave, Mark, and Mike pick their favourite AWS Well-Architected Pillars

Dave Anderson  

This is our last chat about the AWS Well-Architected Framework Pillars. This is the big one! What’s your favourite well-architected pillar? Over the past six episodes, we have gone over the well-architected framework from AWS. As a recap, we think this is a fantastic framework. It’s about your workload. Like a physical building, if the foundation is not solid, it may cause structural problems that undermine the integrity and function of the building. So you need to look at all six pillars for your workloads. And that’s what you do to effectively produce sound and stable systems.

Well-architected framework pillars

The first one is operational excellence. I’ve got some blurb here: it’s the ability to run and monitor systems to deliver business value, and continually improve support, processes, and procedures. That’s a good one.

Security: the ability to protect information systems and assets, while delivering business value through risk assessments and mitigation strategies.

Reliability: the ability for systems to recover infrastructure or service failures, acquire computing resources to meet demand, and mitigate disruptions such as misconfigurations, or transit network issues.

Performance efficiency: the ability to use compute resources effectively to meet system requirements, and maintain efficiency.

Cost optimization: the ability to avoid or eliminate unneeded cost.

Sustainability: guidance and how AWS can help you reduce your footprint and best practices to improve the sustainability of your workloads.

So there are six really solid pillars. The moment of truth has arrived! Mike, I will ask you first: what is your favourite pillar?

Operational Excellence

Mike O’Reilly  

They’re all my favourite! I always go back to the first well-architected pillar. It’s the first one in the well-architected reviews: operational excellence. The reason I like this one is because I’m a big fan of continuous improvement and getting yourself into a sustainable way of working. How do you learn from failure or react to certain things? How do you have visibility of everything around you? If you can assemble that apparatus and those behaviours, then you can begin to eat into the other pillars. For example, operational excellence gets into how to observe if something’s working in production, or if something’s failing in production.

If something’s failing in production, how do you deal with it? Do you have ‘run books’? Do you have playbooks? What’s your playbook say about this scenario? It’s fundamental and core. It’s where I start. If I’m going into a new team or area, I’ll always start with operational excellence. This one is very consistent across all squads and all parts of the organisation. That’s probably my favourite, because I know it so well and I rely on it.

Dave Anderson  

Mark, what about you? 

Sustainability Pillar

Mark McCann  

They’re all very good and very strong pillars. But I think my favourite well-architected pillar now is the new one, the sustainability pillar. I think it if you have all other things in place, the sustainability pillar will really drive you to that next level. If you’re trying to deliver a sustainable solution, you can’t do that without having a good handle on the other five pillars. So I think sustainability and the sustainability pillars and the questions within them, are a forcing function for good practices, processes, and architectural choices that the other pillars are continuing. With our serverless first mindset and approach, I think it lends itself well to the sustainability pillar. I think sustainability is probably my favourite now. Also, we want to make sure that we leave the world a better place than what we found it. So if we don’t deliver sustainable workloads (especially with the exponential growth of compute devices in the digital era) it’s not going to be good for the long-term health of the planet and for the people on earth.

Security, Reliability, and Cost Optimization

Dave Anderson  

Very good. I am going to cheat and pick three well-architected pillars! The three I’m thinking about are security, reliability, and cost optimization. The reason why I like those three is because they’re things that a different team does. If a team thinks they’re really good but completes one of those pillars, they realise there’s a bunch of stuff they’ve never thought about but actually is their responsibility. The most shocking one is probably cost optimization. Most teams don’t really think about the cost. There’s usually an IT manager somewhere who does it. It’s magic and it happens in the background. But when you start asking teams about how they monitor or control their cost and optimise for cost, it spins their head.  I like the shock factor of that and also the fact that it’s about real money. If you make a tweak, you can actually save your organisation money. It’s green dollars and not pretend money. So I always enjoy it when teams are connected back to reality. I think that’s interesting.

Photo by Sara Scarpa on

Mark McCann  

With carbon score tools coming online that same sort of conversation can happen: what’s your carbon score? Do you know what your sustainability for print is? I’m looking forward to that as well, for the exact same reasons.  It will allow us to ask better questions of teams.

Your architecture is your cloud bill

Dave Anderson  

As you say, Mark, your architecture is your cloud bill. I think that is a great question. When a team tells you about a fantastic thing that they’ve built, and you ask what it cost, it levels everything. If it’s in the thousands, you’re thinking uh oh, okay? In relation to the well-architected pillars, AWS will often come and do an audit, which I think is a good service. But they also talk about the self-service option. We’ve used it a number of times. It’s like a self-help tool for teams. Let the teams use the well-architected pillars as good practice, to see where they would like to improve. So it’s designed to be used as a support function for the teams and not a judgement on the organisation.

Mike O’Reilly  

It’s a safe space. It’s very conversational and helps you to set goals and connect teams together. There are teams that do certain things well and others that want to aspire to that. So it’s awesome.

Whole team exercise

Mark McCann  

We’ve written a couple of articles about this on It needs to be a whole team exercise and a collaborative facilitated exercise. It’s not a ‘one and done’. It needs to be done regularly and over time. It can’t be used to judge teams or beat teams. It’s got to enable them with better information, better questions to ask, and then empower them to actually improve.

Mike O’Reilly  

Use those milestones.

Dave Anderson  

There’s an interesting thing that I find with this. People ask about what’s compliant. What’s the mark that you need to pass well architected? I think not! One team’s good security might be another team’s bad! Because it depends on the workload and what the requirement is. So it’s not the fact of what’s good enough. It’s the fact of how confident you feel you meet your requirements. Every workload has different requirements. That’s the way you need to think of it. You can’t judge a team. You can ask: ‘Are you happy that you’ve done what you needed to do?’. And the framework helps you to do that.

Is your solution well-architected?

Mark McCann  

There’s a great question, that you use a lot Dave: ‘Is your solution well architected?’ By listening to what a team has to say in response gives you a good idea of where they’re at on their journey.

Dave Anderson  

Maybe we should end with our famous saying that we used to use all the time: ‘Are you well architected? It’s like when the doctor asks if you eat your ‘five a day’. You can say no and you’re being honest. You can say yes, but you eat fruit pastilles instead of fruit so you’re lying to your doctor!  Or you can say yes and you’re informed and educated. We know that ‘five a day’ means five portions of fruit and veg. So if you lie to your doctor, it’s only you that you’re kidding. It’s the same as well architected. If you ask a team of architects, they can say no, we have work to do, or yes we are. Or the fun starts when they try to pull the wool over your eyes. That’s when it gets interesting. 

Mike O’Reilly  

There’s no point in being defensive. It’s a safe space.

Dave Anderson  

It’s your own workload! So that’s the craic! That was the well-architected framework.  You can see more on, Twitter @ServerlessEdge, YouTube, and our Podcasts. Please like, subscribe, and follow! Thanks very much.

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