Well-Architected Framework Series – Part 4 – Operational Excellence – Evolving into a well-architected Cloud with operational excellence!

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Well Architected

Well Architected Pillar: Operational Excellence

To ensure applications run effectively in production environments, it is vital for the operational processes to be streamlined. The operational excellence pillar ensures deployments are reliable, automated, and foreseeable building a strong foundation for well-architected solutions. It warrants speedy rollout of new features, issue fixes and enables a fix forward or roll back in case of errors.

However, for the pillar to offer maximum operational and architectural benefits, operations need to be distinguished as an accessible function that is in line with development and business values. Through continuous monitoring processes, this pillar can welcome operational improvisation as a cultural change.

The five pillars of the well-architected framework (WAF) are best practices for a cloud-driven transformation that contributes towards achieving essential business objectives like optimizing costs, enhancing efficiency, scalability, security, and compliance. Out of the five pillars, this article, the third in the WAF series, will illustrate everything one needs to know about operational excellence.

Design Principles for Operational excellence

Leading cloud providers AWS, Azure and GCP have defined certain disciplines under the operational excellence pillar and strongly recommend enterprises to adopt them to achieve continuous excellence.

  • Implement successful cloud ops practices:

Config management, testing, continuous delivery and DevOps are some of the matured software engineering practices that can be leveraged on cloud to configure and manage the entire set of application workloads. Provisioning infrastructure as a code to dispense cloud application and infrastructure environments that can be automated as well as version controlled in case of code changes is the key. Orchestrating workloads with DevOps concepts, facilitates build and release with CI/CD pipelines, enabling scripting of the entire operational procedures and limiting human errors while enhancing consistency, repeatability and better response to events.

  • Build adaptable workloads:

Implementing agility is the new norm and it is vital to design workloads with the flexibility to make small yet continual changes or updates that can be executed or undone without affecting the dependent systems. The setup must get adaptable to failures and become more effectual in defect detection and resolution with prompt roll back or roll out of changes as required.

  • Optimize operational processes:  

Operational procedures must be reviewed, validated and updated on a continuous basis to help improve overall effectiveness and provide a knowledge base to build and administer best practices across the organization. Progressive workloads lead to mature operational practices driving simplicity and transparency in the cloud environment. The orderly development in the processes eventually optimizes failure mechanisms leading to better incident monitoring, communication and management methods.

  • Foresee potential failures:

To keep a check on application reliability it is essential to identify potential areas of failure by conducting frequent DR drills using software engineering practices to understand the impact areas. Executing validation tests by creating simulated failure scenarios and recording team responses to set effective remediation and recovery measures is the key.

Essential areas of best practices for operational excellence in the cloud

Organizations need to understand, consolidate, deploy and deliver workloads while also encouraging automated repetitive processes to govern business priorities and outcomes. Solutions to address implicit risks associated with operations need to be appropriately devised by the concerned teams.

Metrics that provide a clearer picture on the heath of the workloads, operational activities and incident response patterns must be embraced and when business requirements or environments change, priorities also need to be reset.

Holistic cloud governance tools like Cloud Ensure provide solutions that incorporate all the above-mentioned and additionally offer enhanced security, performance, cost control, and strengthened cloud operations.

To bucket together there are 4 areas of navigating operational excellence on cloud:

  1. Organization

Organizational culture creates a direct impact on enterprise cross-functional teams and stakeholders who need to have a well-defined, shared understanding of the entire workloads with their pre-defined roles, priorities and intent towards business.

Successful operations teams ensure security and compliance with respect to organizational governance and regulatory standards are met with, while evaluating client needs. AWS Cloud Compliance, AWS Managed Services, Azure Compliance, Azure Security Center and Google Cloud Compliance resource center are a few services that enable teams to adhere to regulatory needs and capture as well as validate any deviation from standards while keeping analysis and review processes in check. Tools like AWS Well-Architected Tool, AWS Trusted Advisor, Azure Trusted Advisor and GCP Managed Services help monitor and optimize risks or threats pertaining to architecture and workload security, performance, reliability and cost while highlighting alternative approaches and impact on business.

Team capabilities lie in understanding individual and shared responsibilities, inter-dependencies, collaborative and decision-making abilities along with their ownership for applications, workloads, processes and infrastructure. Applying apt mechanisms like AWS Support and knowledge Center, AWS Documentation and Azure Advisor to measure achievements against set expectations and derive best practices from these learning, help organizations to evolve, accelerate and become more structured. AWS Organizations help manage operating models and AWS Control Tower broadens team capabilities while instilling governance and automation techniques. 

  1. Preparation

To design, provision and support operational excellence, comprehending the workload’s state and behavior on cloud is a must. Collating log, event and metrics data to monitor workload health, identifying when there is a risk to enable potent responses and triggering alerts concerning user activity, privileges or change in operational flows are some of the factors that enable restructuring. It speeds up change implementation in production and enhances detection and resolution of deployment and environment related issues as well.

Moreover, implementing regular, small and reversible change techniques that facilitate quicker feedback on quality, mitigating issues rising from deployment changes via manual as well as automated checks and increasing operational readiness of workloads, processes and resources are necessary.

AWS CloudFormation, Azure Automation and GCP Deployment Manager all provision for operations as code that can be consistently implemented across development, test and production environments that enhances productivity of operations teams, decreases incident occurrence by anticipating failures in advance and encourages automation support. AWS and Azure Resource Groups helps apply tagging as a strategy to identify resources, provide access controls and keep a check on performance.

Lastly, embracing procedures that are adaptable to the flexibility of cloud and ensuring optimization of development, pre-deployment and implementation activities is one of the key techniques to better cloud operations.

  1. Operations

Establish metrics that can calculate workload health and operations success including deployment and incident responses. Teams can collect and analyze metrics data, baseline it for evaluation, refinement or change processes, which can then be validated based on defined operational requirements that are in conformity with business outcomes and customer expectations.

Planned and unplanned operational events can be effectively managed through runbooks and even playbooks when study and remediation of errors come about. Incident responses must be prioritized based on impact and if an alert is raised, it must be correlated with an event, tagging the resource taking responsibility for it along with the escalation triggers. Operational status of workloads can be communicated to customers, DevOps teams and other business stakeholders through notifications and dashboards. AWS CloudWatch, AWS X-Ray, CloudTrail and VPC FlowLogs, Azure Monitor and Google’s Stackdriver are some services that generate automated dashboard view of workloads and operational metrics in addition to identification of workload issues with appropriate root-cause analysis and resolution.

  1. Progression

Continuous phase-wise development and maintenance of operational excellence is a must. Conducting post incident analysis of impact areas, applying preventive measures, communicating about factors contributing to the incremental upgrade to relevant teams and routinely prioritizing and assessing new feature requests, issue resolution and compliance adherence are some techniques that work towards improvement of operational processes.

Additionally, employ and share these learnings as best practices, engage cross-functional teams to analyze and brainstorm on lessons learned to help them identify opportunities to enhance cloud operations. For instance, on AWS, log data is exported to Amazon S3 and associated metadata is stored on AWS Glue Data Catalog. Amazon Athena integrates with AWS Glue to analyze log data by querying it using standard SQL. Tools like Amazon QuickSight, Azure Data Explorer, and Google Cloud’s Data Access and Analytics Solutions help envision, explore and analyze data to recognize events that may drive enhancement. 

Conclusion

In the volatile and rapid changing cloud world, defining operational priorities and goals, implementing incremental changes based on the set objectives and monitoring cloud heath as a continuous service guarantees optimal operational excellence.

Thus, achieving operational excellence on the cloud, ensures proactive remediation, prevention, and automation of workloads on the cloud, offering better visibility and continuous improvement. A combination of native technology, governance tools & the right cloud manpower can ensure your organization not just reaches but maintains operational excellence as it’s not a destination but a journey.

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